What makes you an urban farmer?

The term urban farmer resonates deeply within me.  Linking to concepts like sustainability and self-sustaining food production.  Recently I’ve been starting to wonder if I could call myself an urban farmer.  And that is where my confusion starts.  What exactly is an urban farmer?  And what do you need to do to be classified as one?

I first heard the term urban farmer used many years ago.  At that time it was being used to refer to mainly developing world urbanites who gained  income from  produce they grew on their tiny pieces of urban land.  I have heard of African women who kept a house cow or some  chickens.  They were assured of a high protein food source for their children and they made much-needed money by selling their extra milk or eggs.  To me, these people are clearly urban farmers.  They live in an urban setting, they produce food and they make money from it.  Farming as a food source and livelihood.



In the last few years, I’ve heard the term used more and more to describe developed world urbanites.  And this is where I start to become unclear about who and what  urban farming is.  Do you need to sell produce to consider yourself an urban farmer?  Are you an urban (subsistence) farmer if you don’t make any money but you produce over 50 % of your own food?   What if you just have a big vegie patch? Does the addition of livestock (e.g. chicken or bees) get you into the club? What if you don’t own land, live in a rented apartment and grow mushrooms in the second bedroom, which you sell to local restaurants for a tidy profit? Or if you live in the same apartment but grow herbs and some cherry tomatoes on your balcony for your own consumption?

Wikipedia (that font of all knowledge) defines urban agriculture as “the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in, or around (peri-urban), a village, town or city”

So let’s take an extreme case.  A person has a lemon tree in their back garden.  They give it a bit of fertiliser once a year and sometimes remember to water it.  Every year, it provides heaps of lemons.  Every year, they give their friends lots of lemons and sometimes they even make some lemon cordial, which they give away as Christmas presents.  Technically they fit the definition. But really, is this person an urban farmer?  Or, just a lucky sod with a bountiful lemon tree?

After much backwards and forwardsing in side my head, I think I may have resolved my quandary.  I have decided that urban farming isn’t just about the cultivating, processing and distributing.  I think the missing part in the Wikipedia definition is the intention.   If you live in an urban setting and just happen to have a lemon tree that you gratefully accept the lemons from, well, then, you’re probably  not an urban farmer.  But if you view that lemon tree as not just lemons but also a way for you (and maybe some of your neighbours or friends) to become a little bit self-sufficient and reduce your food miles just a bit.  If you see your lemon tree as playing a small role in helping to feed the 6 plus billion people on the planet. If you think of your lemons as a tiny part of the urban economy – maybe casual bartering with other urban food producers or it reduces your need for outside cash.  Well, then, I think that lemon tree owner could call themselves a small-time urban farmer.

And me?  I’ve decided I’m a still-got-lots-to-learn subsistence urban farmer.  And proud of it!

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18 Responses to What makes you an urban farmer?

  1. Cindy says:

    And so you deserve to be proud.

  2. bagnidilucca says:

    Every little bit helps! I think you are doin a great job or growing things and sharing your ideas.

    • Bee says:

      Thanks Debra! I have so many different thoughts going round in my head – it’s lovely to be able to share some of them with all of you.

  3. bagnidilucca says:

    Of course I meant doing a great job of growing things etc!

  4. eremophila says:

    I quite agree, it’s about conscious intention. Surely that multiplies the effect tenfold:-)

  5. In the US, much of what is dubbed urban farming is a movement driven by advocates who take pleasure in food growing as part of a lifestyle, or activists who hold strong opinions about the negative effects of our industrial food system. Ironically, a point that has gotten lost amid all our zeal to reconnect with the source of our food is that farming is an occupation. It not only takes intention. It requires talent, training, knowledge and business savvy. It is no different than any other highly skilled profession, and calling anyone who puts a bee hive or compost pile or a couple of chickens in their backyard a farmer demeans it.

    • Bee says:

      Roxanne, thank you for your comment. I love that some of my posts make people who read them think about their views on the topic and I especially like it when a comment, like yours, makes me think about mine! So I’ve been thinking about your point that to be a farmer requires a lot of skill and experience (summarising your point there). It made me think of a (definitely not urban) farmer who I was speaking with recently. He’d been on his farm for ten years. He said he was still learning at a very fast pace because every year is just so different to the last. So he still saw himself as a novice farmer. This was a man who was one of the more successful farmers in his area (from an innovation, sustainability and cash flow point of view). I think what I’m trying to say is that I agree being a good farmer (and possibly even being a successful farmer) does require all the skills and experience you mention – whether they are urban or rural. But I think I disagree that being proficient in these skills is a requirement for calling yourself a farmer (urban or rural ). The farmer I spoke with recently was a farmer the day he started working his land but his skills and experience about farming will grow for the rest of his life. I think that holds true for both rural and urban farmers. Thank you again for your thought provoking post

  6. Totally agree with you about intention being a key part of the urban farming definition. It’s great to see that something that used to be part of normal life (I grew up in an apartment building and back then nearly everyone used to have a few pots of herbs growing in their balcony) but was then lost to perceived convenience, is making it’s way back into our lives again. We’ve recently started growing our herbs and are very proud of them too 🙂

    • Bee says:

      I agree. This trend (I hope it is not a fad!) of people getting back in touch and involved in with where there food comes from is fantastic.

      It’s also great to see that the intention part resonates with you and a number of my other readers. I really was just “putting it out there” and i’m glad it works for others as well as me.

  7. herby says:

    Interesting thoughts to ponder. I’ve always wanted to be a farmer but live in an urban setting and grow vegetables (and fruit, when the trees mature). Our whole property is based on food production for ourselves and our family. But I have a day job and no intention of selling said food for profit.

    I wonder whether that makes me an urban farmer or just a bloke with a garden. Now my head hurts *LOL*. I really like this post and have shared it on my Facebook page as one of the two posts I share today.

  8. I love this post and I whole heartily agree it’s about intention. Here’s a link to one of my favorite websites on how to have a veggie garden in your window. It’s geared towards people living in urban places with little space to garden.

  9. Pingback: Solar Food Dehydration | Solar Power News

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