An innovative cross-departmental collaboration, Urban AgricultureStat, was launched in June with a proposal from the Cincinnati City Council. The aim is to increase the urban agriculture footprint in Cincinnati and invest in opportunities to develop devastated plots for urban agriculture.
“Many cities, including Cincinnati, have very successful urban agriculture programs, and many of those programs are expanding,” said Larry Falkin, director of the environmental and sustainability bureau. “We are currently working in the garden on around 40 municipal plots.”
OES, in collaboration with other city departments including law, health, economic development, planning and water, is developing a pilot project to convert public land or buildings into city farms.
“The next step will be to submit a report to the city council,” says Falkin. “OES always seeks to learn from the successes and failures of our own programs and those in twin cities.”
Sidestreams Garden in Madisonville
As urban agriculture grows in popularity around the world, the benefits – open green spaces, absorption of carbon and heat, sourcing local food, and developing local economies – are weighed against the possible disadvantages. Agriculture requires a lot of space and water, which limits land development opportunities and could affect a city’s drinking water supply.
Cities like Austin, Detroit, and Vancouver have received complaints from community residents about land use, access, smells, and especially neighborly involvement and inclusion. RE: VISION in Denver has successfully worked with residents to develop a comprehensive urban agriculture program. Community organizations have planted neighborhood gardens across Cincinnati.
“For the past several years, we’ve had conversations with residents about what we should do as a community with vacant lots in Lower Price Hill,” said Mary Delaney, executive director of Community Matters. “After many conversations and some vision meetings, we heard the desire for space for the garden.”
Community Matters hired a resident leader to coordinate the garden project and involve the community. So successful was the trial of converting an empty lot on St. Michael Street into a garden that two additional gardens were created and four neighborhood teenagers were hired as summer gardening apprentices that year.
“I believe that urban farming is a great way to activate vacant properties and encourage residents to“ own ”the land,” says Delaney. “Urban agriculture could also be a source of employment. I think Waterfields, a local aquaponics company that started out in Lower Price Hill, is a great example of this. They have a great business model and are keen to provide sustainable wage jobs for local residents. “
In the coming months, Urban AgricultureStat will work with community stakeholders to research and plan a future expansion of the city’s urban agriculture program.