The Healing Power of Americas Urban Farms

Urban farms are “growing” in America in response to the need to produce and supply produce for cities. Rural farms still provide the majority of commodity products such as wheat, corn and soybeans, some of which is shipped to other countries.  Urban farms serve a void by providing fresh vegetables and fruits to residents in their neighborhoods. 

Urban farms are an oasis in the city. Not only do they provide quality foods but they nurture our emotional and spiritual health as well. Urban farms can heal residents by providing a connection with the earth. They heal on many levels - physically, emotionally and spiritually.

People often say there is no room in the city for gardens and that you can not be productive in a small space. This is simply not true. I wrote an article on Victory Gardens for the Morning Chores website. When doing my research I was amazed at how much ( 36%) of our countries food was supplied by people gardening in their backyards during WWII. 

This article will look at the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits that urban farms bring to their locations and includes resources to find a local farm or CSA in your area. 

What is an Urban Farm?

An urban farm is any garden or livestock space within a city or metropolitan area. These gardens may be owned by non-profits, city governments, individuals, restaurants,  or cooperatives. The purpose of most urban gardens is to provide food for their communities. That food may be sold, given away or a combination of the two. 

Food may be sold at local farmers markets, to restaurants or directly to the consumer. Many modern urban gardens are Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects where food shares are sold to members. 

Food may also be given away to local food pantries, homeless shelters or churches. In the case of a CSA shares may be offered on a sliding scale or be free to low income persons. 

Gateway Greening Urban Farm in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo credit: EWood45

Gateway Greening Urban Farm in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo credit: EWood45

Physical Healing

Urban farms are the answer to many of our food problems. Issues with food transportation, food deserts, and poor health all stem from not being connected to quality food sources. 

An urban farm heals physically by providing fresh, organic, and nutritious food.  Many studies have proven the benefits of having fresh vegetables in your diet. They provide vitamins, minerals and fiber which our body needs. 

This is a great read!

Not everyone has equal access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The term Food Desert was coined to identify people who live far from a supermarket and have difficulty accessing it without transportation. In urban areas that is within one mile and rural areas it is ten miles. 

Where Does Your Food Come From? 

I taught low-income students in Covington and Cincinnati and was shocked to find out many of my students did not know where their food came from. If you asked them they would say the food comes from the convenience store or the food truck on the street corner (not a farm or garden).

Many urban students have limited diets. Their parents often lack transportation and funds to get to a larger grocery store with many options.  So they purchase food at “convenience “ stores in the ghetto that carry staples such as bread, deli meats, chips, and soda. The true meaning of food desert

 Inner-city students may only experience a farm as part of an elementary trip to a local pumpkin farm in fall. They often do not comprehend the bigger picture because they have never experienced seeing a garden. 

The first step in eating healthy is the knowledge of how food is grown. Urban farms can create a valuable learning experience for students. Having students come to the farm and actually see where and how food is grown is so important. 

Gemplers has great deals on garden tools and supports local farmers!

Gempler's Supports Farmers

Urban farms show children that food can be grown anywhere including in their city. They can teach students to grow a tomato in a container on their balcony or an herb garden in a window sill. 

Urban farming can introduce new foods to children who have a narrow diet. By tasting these vegetables at a young age they cultivate acceptance of new and more nutritious meals. 

When they help to grow those foods it gives them ownership which will change their lives. 

Take that one step further and urban farms can become a classroom that teaches families how to prepare nutritious foods. Many farmers markets such as Findlay Market in Cincinnati, Ohio, give free vegetables and fruits to persons that participate in their cooking classes. We need to give people the tools to succeed. 

At Fox Run Environmental Education Center we teach classes in organic agriculture, herbal medicine, green building and provide internships for young farmers!

Community Supported Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture is where a member (consumer)  buys a share of the harvest from a farmer. They then receive a bag of freshly grown food throughout the season. Many CSA farmers started in rural areas and drove to cities to deliver to their well off clientele. 

However, the model has continued to change and grow with need. Many CSA’s are now located within cities. They often include work shares, accept SNAP, or offer free shares to low-income residents. 

Greensgrow, an urban farm, and garden in Philadelphia make a portion of its shares available to low-income persons. They ask for donations from their full paying customers and members of the community. This allows the farm to still pay employees a living wage while at the same time giving back to the community. 

Emotional Healing

What happens when you take the time to just sit in a garden? Smelling the freshly tilled earth or a rose bush blooming. You sigh and relax. It is healing.

A new study by Natural England found that doing activities in a natural environment can lower levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. 

Horticultural Therapy has become an important part of recovery and mental health care. A horticultural therapist works with any group that can benefit from gardening and interacting with plants. This may be persons in hospitals, drug rehabilitation, nursing or veteran’s homes. 

Gardens bring people together. By using experiences in hospital garden areas Horticultural Therapy is used as a way of offering people hope and providing a sense of community. 

Tractor Supply

Connect With Nature

One of the sad commentaries about today's society is our disconnect from nature. Nature offers so much healing. The earth is like a calm center in the storm.

The famous neurological surgeon, Dr. Sacks, used to tell his patients to get to a garden, the beach or to a park to just sit and be. If they could not get there he took them himself. 

Being in nature is calming and invigorating at the same time. It replenishes us in a way that a walk in a crowded city simply can not do. Sacks stated that “I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.” 


Urban Agriculture as a Tool For Peace

Urban areas are often torn by violence and racial inequality. Gardens bring communities together. Yes, they are about fighting poverty and eating healthy foods. But there is so much more…

The urban garden brings people together in a way that builds friendships and builds a unified front. Groups form where people want to move from growing foods to the action of helping others grow food.

The impact of community gardens in city housing complexes, homeless shelters, and schools stems from efforts by urban farmers. 

Building upon the philosophy that we all deserve access to fresh food, we can bring in workers, students, people from the homeless shelter and all work together. Urban gardens make a big difference by having prisoners work in the garden

Modern urban farms are starting to consider the spiritual effects of gardening. Some such as Alices Garden and Seeds of Hope have installed a labyrinth so that persons can have a meditative walk in the garden. The labyrinth is thought to originate as a symbolic pilgrimage. While walking the labyrinth people are encouraged to meditate, contemplate and pray. Gardens are a desirable place to do this. 

Resources for Urban Farms

You can find Urban Farms to buy produce from, learn about local CSA’s or find out places to eat that carry local foods.

Local Harvest is perhaps the largest website connecting consumers to farms. You can plug in your zip code to find farms and CSA’s in your area. Check out our listing!

You can also check out your state’s Department of Agriculture website or call your local extension office.

Author, Ame Vanorio has 25+ years of experience living off-grid and as an organic farmer. She is the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center and a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She teaches classes locally and online about organic gardening, green building, living off-grid and wildlife conservation. In addition, she is a freelance writer and writes for several gardening, tiny house and pet websites. She lives a sustainable life on  her Kentucky farm with a myriad of domestic and wild animals. 

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