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Urban Agriculture is Growing in Marin County

By Julia Van Soelen Kim, North Bay Food Systems Advisor

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As local food gains popularity, more and more townsfolk and city dwellers are growing their own food—converting their front lawns into vegetable gardens, raising small flocks of chickens in their backyards, building community gardens, and transforming empty lots into micro-farms—and Marin County is no exception. From Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy’s bountiful school garden that produces food for the school meal program to Larkspur’s 32 year old community garden, urban agriculture is flourishing in Marin. And now urban gardeners and farmers have a new online resource to consult on urban agriculture and a host of local opportunities to connect with where their food comes from.

This July, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources launched a new website ucanr.edu/urbanag to provide practical, science-based information about urban agriculture. The website provides information on a range of issues including production, food safety, business management, and laws and regulations related to producing food in backyards, at schools, in community gardens, and on a few acres.  The website is quickly becoming “a wonderful clearinghouse for all the information one would need to get started” (Director of an urban farm).

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A state-wide team of UCCE farm and food systems advisors, policy and advocacy experts, urban planners, agricultural economists, and others created the new urban agriculture website in response to the results of a UC survey of urban farmers in California. The research team found that many urban farmers had similar kinds of challenges and could benefit from science-based information to help them with gardening and farming in urban areas. According to UCCE Los Angeles County Advisor Rachel Surls, who spearheaded the project, many urban farmers are beginning farmers and “they need basic information on planting, pests and irrigation, as well as information that's more specific to farming in the city.” For example, urban farmers must navigate local laws and regulations that impact farming, including zoning and health codes, urban soils may be contaminated and may need remediation, and farming close to neighbors in the city brings its own special challenges.

The website has drawn positive feedback from urban farmers across the state, as well as from community advocates, city planners, and others looking for science-based information and best practices on which to base new urban agriculture policies. One community advocate explained, "We are working on a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance for both city and county....huge thanks for the wonderful lit review. It's helping us to make our case!" and a city planner exclaimed, “This is an amazing resource! I wish I had this when I starting working on my city’s zoning update.”

Here at UC Cooperative Extension Marin, we not only work on agricultural topics that pertain to farmers and ranchers in predominately rural West Marin, we also work on diverse topics related to urban agriculture. From diagnosing pests on urban trees, to our team of Master Gardener volunteers providing information to community and school gardens, we are eager to serve urban growers. Through all our work, we hope to foster an appreciation of the long history and vital importance of Marin County agriculture and promote an understanding of where our food comes from.

If you consider yourself an urban gardener or farmer, there are many ways to connect with others and learn more! Explore the new Urban Agriculture website and stay up-to-date on Facebook at UC ANR Urban Agriculture and Twitter @UCUrbanAg.  Use our Marin County Garden Map to locate demonstration, school, community, or institutional gardens near you, and take our short survey to suggest potential new community garden sites in Marin County. And lastly, be sure to attend our third Community Garden Summit on October 25, 2014 to learn from and network with other community and school garden enthusiasts!

Save the Date for Marin’s Third Community Garden Summit!

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Date: October 25, 2014

Time: 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

: Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, Multi-purpose Room

Event Details
: Attend the third Marin Community Garden Summit and raise awareness about the demand for community gardens in the county, the need for management support at school and community gardens, and solutions to the problems. Hear from inspiring speakers. Learn from panel discussions on policies and best practices for Marin's school and community gardens. Find information at educational tables on urban agriculture including composting, hen keeping, winter vegetable growing, propagation, honey bee keeping, fruit tree growing and optimal greenhouse use. Attend a tour of the Bayside MLK School garden and eat lunch prepared by the Conscious Kitchen school meal program. For more information, visit ucanr.edu/gardensummit3.
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