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!