Food Adventures with Connie

Archive for the category “urban ag”

So You’re Interested in Urban Agriculture… Part 3

The 2016 Urban Food Systems Symposium concluded with a day of farm tours on Saturday June 25.  I opted for Tour #3 which visited southern Kansas City and included a non-profit training farm for teenage boys, an urban livestock farm, and City Bitty Farm, home of Four-Season Tools, as well as a grocery store that specializes in locally grown foods and an urban homestead.  Here’s my photo journal of the day.

Boys Grow

Building banner at Boys Grow.

Boys Grow is a two-year entrepreneurial program providing young men, ages 14-17, a variety of experiences and vocational training opportunities in culinary arts, farming, construction, graphic design, sales/marketing, and public speaking.  Collectively, the youth create a different value-added product each year and work to get their product into stores around the KC Metro.

High tunnels on tracks at Boys Grow.

Under the guidance of the Boys Grow farm manager, youth are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the 10-acre farm, including these high tunnels on tracks to facilitate production of multiple crops in a single season.

Drip irrigation tubing laid out in rows.

While we were there, they were in the process of installing drip irrigation for the field-grown vegetables.

Check out this video to learn more about Boys Grow from Lidia Bastianich:

Bonnie View KC

Our second stop was Bonnie View KC where everything’s portable, even the milk shed!

Portable dairy goat housing and milk shed.

The above photo shows some of their Lamancha dairy goats with their portable housing and portable milk shed in the background.  The electric netting helps keep the goats in and predators out.  They also have livestock guardian dogs that help keep an eye on things.

Livestock guardian dog protecting dairy goats.

In addition to the dairy goats, they raise pigs and pastured poultry for meat and eggs.

Broilers in short portable pens.

Egg-layers on pasture surrounding by electric netting.

Here are the brooder houses where their chickens and turkeys start their life on the farm.

Brooder houses for young chickens and turkeys.

The chicks are received when they’re just one day old.  Chickens are four weeks old when transferred to pasture while turkeys stay here for six weeks as they are more fragile than young chickens.

City Bitty Farm

Our third stop was City Bitty Farm where they are perfecting the art and science of growing microgreens that they sell direct to local restaurants.

Microgreens in the greenhouse.

(They are also the home of Four Season Tools, so if you’re interested in a greenhouse, you might want to check them out.)

Trolleys for hoses and material handling maximize efficiency.

Trolleys for hoses and material handling maximize efficiency.

They also grow cherry tomatoes in the adjacent greenhouse.  The owner told us that if they ever get into vegetable production, it will be miniature varieties (get it, City Bitty?).

Cherry tomatoes in City Bitty Farm's greenhouse.

Edible flower production.

Edible flowers produced at City Bitty Farm.

We enjoyed a delicious local foods lunch and then learned about rinsing and spinning microgreens.

Washing, spinning, and packaging microgreens.

For more details about the postharvest operation, watch their videos (1 of 2) (2 of 2).

Local Roots

Our next stop was Local Roots, a grocery store that specializes in fresh, locally grown and raised foods.

Photos of the products inside Local Roots Market.

They had a great poster next to the front door titled Why Buying Local is Worth Every Cent.  Check it out the full image at

Top of poster, Why Buying Local is Worth Every Cent.

Loud House Farm

Our final tour stop was Loud House Farm, a small family farmstead where four generations live and work together, tending gardens, fruit trees, diary goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, flowers, and herbs and run a yoga studio.

Learning about herbs from the owner of Loud House Farm (far left).

In the photo above we were hearing about the variety of flowers, herbs, and edible plants being grown in the landscape.  Below is an espalier trained apple tree.  In other words, it has been pruned and tied to a trellis in such a way as to keep it growing in a flat plane.  This is useful if you want the tree growing against a garden wall or fence, or if you have a limited amount of space.

Espalier apple tree at Loud House Farm.

Goats are great for cleaning up underbrush.  The two brown goats below are an Oberhasli by Nigerian dwarf cross; the Nigerian dwarf in them will keep them relatively small, perfect for an urban farm.

Three of the goats of Loud House Farm.

That concludes my symposium farm tour experience.  Shout out to our bus driver, Ginger, who did an amazing job maneuvering a full-size tour bus down back roads and through residential neighborhoods without incident.

For a complete report of my experience at the 2016 Urban Food Systems Symposium check out Part 1 and Part 2.


So You’re Interested in Urban Agriculture… Part 2

Here are some highlights from day two of the Urban Food Systems Symposium hosted by K-State Olathe June 22-25, 2016.  Check out Part 1 for more information about the symposium and highlights from the first day of presentations.

Nancy Creamer

The morning began with invited speaker Nancy Creamer.  Nancy is the director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and a distinguished professor of sustainable and community-based food systems at North Carolina State University.  I worked with Nancy in my previous Extension role, but I learned more about CEFS and their breadth of projects from her presentation than I did the entire time I worked in NC.

In her presentation, Building a Local Food Economy in North Carolina, Nancy described the development of a statewide action plan, From Farm to Fork: A Guide to Building North Carolina’s Sustainable Local Food Economy, designed to involve and engage stakeholders.

As with many states, NC had numerous producers and consumers interested in local foods, but they were missing the critical processing piece to get the raw product to consumers.

Slide 13 from Nancy Creamer's presentation.

Nancy described conferences that were organized to grow interest in local foods, creation of Firsthand Foods, and the NC 10% Campaign where individuals and businesses can pledge to spend 10% of their food dollars on local products.  These programs were a lot of work and now stand as models for what can be accomplished in other states.  One practice that Nancy shared that can (and, in my opinion, should) be adopted across the country is to designate an Extension Agent in each county to act as a local foods champion, posting local food events on the county Extension webpage, serving as a liaison between producers and the land-grant university, and pledging to serve local foods at Extension events.

Slide 46 from Nancy Creamer's presentation.

Nancy also talked about development of a statewide food policy council.  Numerous community food policy councils had popped up across NC and the statewide council could unify and magnify their efforts.  Several resources for food policy councils were developed through this process and are available at

Slide 63 from Nancy CReamer's presentation.

Nancy concluded with a list of things we can do to support local foods in our states:

  • Develop and action plan
  • Establish a state food policy council
  • Support and network local food councils
  • Support statewide food assessment
  • Establish procurement goals
  • Support local food infrastructure
  • Support business development
  • Support Farm-to-School
  • Work to improve access to healthy foods
  • Grow more farmers
  • Support urban farms and gardens
  • Support farmland preservation
  • Support Cooperative Extension
  • Remove barriers and level the playing field

This presentation was full of so many great examples and suggestions.  I encourage you to view the complete set of Nancy’s slides for more information.

Sarah Taylor Lovell

Next we heard from Sarah Taylor Lovell who teaches sustainable landscape design at the University of Illinois (read about the work of her Multifunctional Landscape Analysis and Design lab at  Her presentation was titled Planning Urban Spaces for Sustainable Food Production and dealt with the multifunctionality of urban landscapes.  Urban agriculture offers us more than just food production; it would be hard to make a case for urban agriculture based on food production alone with development pressures and land being at a premium.

Slide 6 from Sarah Taylor Lovell's presentation.

Instead, we should consider landscape multifunctionality which offers a framework for planning urban spaces and includes cultural and ecological functions of landscapes as well as what we tend to think of as urban agriculture (including production of food, fiber, flowers, and livestock).

Slides 7 and 9 from Sarah Taylor Lovell's presentation.


  • Rather than bringing in materials and creating/exporting waste (open system), is a closed system the urban ideal? Is it realistic?
  • When considering a landscape’s multifunctionality, we need to include the site-specific context and needs of users. In rural areas, the primary user is the landowner, while in urban areas the primary user is the community and neighbors.
  • Rather than keeping agriculture and conservation separate, we should integrate them (land sparing vs land sharing).


  • Map marginal and underutilized land.
  • Recognize the extent of potential contamination.
  • Map public fruit trees for gleaning.
  • For public spaces, integrate edible landscaping alternatives.
  • Integrate floral plantings to attract beneficial insects (biological control agents).
  • Consider dedicated community orchards (not just community gardens).
  • Add value and reduce risk for urban farmers with infrastructure.

Slide 52 from Sarah Taylor Lovell's presentation.

  • Improve visual quality as viewed from outside. A creative design encourages public education.

Slide 53 from Sarah Taylor Lovell's presentation.

  • Control flow onto as well as off of the site (during stormwater events, for example).
  • Respect and reflect cultural heritage.

Overall, we need to shift our mindset in the United States to acknowledge that urban food production is an asset, not a liability, and take advantage of all the production, ecological, and cultural functions it offers.

If this topic interests you, read Sarah’s article Multifunctional Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Land Use Planning in the United States.

Oral Sessions

The rest of the afternoon was spent attending short oral presentations to hear about urban food system research and extension programs from across the country.  (The slides for the following presentations have not been posted yet so you’re stuck with what I captured on my iPhone.  I’ll swap them out as soon as I can.)


Katherine Kelly, Developing New Farmers at Cultivate Kansas City

  • Bulk purchasing of supplies helps keep costs down, encourages farmers to work together (share equipment, coop sales together, swap services and equipment/supplies, grow transplants for each other, etc.)
  • When a participant is accepted into the Juniper Gardens Training Farm they receive a 4-year lease on a quarter acre of land, get a farm sales number, are required to take 20 workshops, save 30% of their income to cover sales tax, and begin to capitalize their income to build their business so at the end of the four years they have the skills and experience to start their own urban farm.

Juniper Gardens Training Farm slide from Katherine Kelly's presentation.

Jacqueline Kowalski, The Kinsman Farm: A Case Study of an Urban Incubator Farm

  • It is important to address zoning to allow for urban ag production
  • Established a land use and planning working group to come up with a plan for how to handle vacant lots, address concerns with land tenure and site insurance
  • Requirements to lease a plot at the Kinsman Farm include paying $250 per year, completing the Market Gardener training program, giving a business plan presentation, and being interviewed by the land committee. In return, market gardeners receive access to land, water, tools.  For more information, check out Jacqueline’s slides from an Information Session on the Kinsman Farm Application Process.

Infrastructure slide from Jacqueline Kowalski's presentation.

  • Extension’s role in the farm: site management, coop development, technical support, business development support
  • Recommendations: consider institutional capacity, consider long-term commitment, think carefully through long-term partnerships, make expectations clear from the beginning, everything in writing

Brien Darby, Creating the Feeding Communities Project, and Urban Agriculture Training Program Designed for the Colorado Front Range

Brien shared information about urban food initiatives at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  They offer an urban farming course and have a training manual titled Feeding Communities: A Handbook for the Urban Farmer that would be a great resource for your bookshelf.

Feeding Communities curriculum slides from Brien Darby's presentation.

Eleni Pliakoni, Increasing Access to Local Food by Extending Shelf Life of Fresh Vegetables

Challenges for scaling up slide from Eleni Pliakoni's presentation.

Kansas Case Study slide from Eleni Pliakoni's presentation.

Eleni described a project focused on tomatoes and spinach grown in a high tunnel vs open field.  Results show that use of high tunnels reduced preharvest produce losses and increases marketability.

She also showed that a 10% ethanol wash reduced rot decay of tomatoes and that modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) can extend shelf life at 13°C (non-ideal storage conditions).

Finally, Eleni shared results from a study of day-neutral strawberry production in high tunnels, with and without evaporative cooling.  The variety that produced the greatest total and marketable yield was Portola, followed by Evie 2 and Seascape, but consumers preferred Monterey and Albion.  Seascape and Albion do not perform as well post-harvest.

Slide of yield per plant for strawberry varieties grown in high tunnels from Eleni Pliakoni's presentation.

Ariel Agenbroad, Mobile Farmers’ Market Pilot Project Brings Everyone to the Table

Ariel gave a great presentation about the mobile farmers’ market in Boise, Idaho.

Slide of mobile farmers' market from Ariel Agenbroad's presentation.

Pilot Year Outcomes slide from Ariel Agenbroad's presentation.

Best practices if you want to try this in your community (what they learned in year one and implemented by year two of the project):

  • Make sure mobile market can accept SNAP benefits
  • Use Extension interns to help staff market and offer food prep demos outside
  • Include a stop at a retirement community (SNAP recipients, lack convenient transportation to regular market) and stop at Extension Office (may require special permit for sales at a county site)
  • Consider small, ready-to-eat items
  • Stock produce the demographic will eat

Candice Shoemaker, Evaluating the Local Food System of Manhattan, Kansas: Producer and Institution Perspectives

We have a lot of work to do to get greater local food sales to institutions like schools and hospitals.  It is useful to learn about the perspectives of those institutions and local producers so we can come up with solutions.  This kind of research is a great example of the role land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension Service can play in helping local food producers reach these markets.

Institution Perspectives of Local Food slide from Candice Shoemaker's presentation.

Highest Concerns of Producers Regarding Sales to Institutions slide from Candice Shoemaker's presentation.

For more information on this study, check out the MS thesis of Angela Anegon titled Evaluating the Local Food System of Manhattan, Kansas: Producer and Institution Perspectives.

Colleen Synk, Gathering Baltimore’s Bounty: Characterizations of Urban Foraging Behaviors, Motivations and Barriers

I attended another presentation about this project on Day 1 of the symposium, but Colleen’s talk was more about how the data was collected (using an iPad which logged GPS coordinates of where foraging was occurring) and about the motivations and barriers reported by urban foragers.

Slides from Colleen Synk's presentation about Bountiful Baltimore.

Motivations and Barriers slides from Colleen Synk's presentation.

  • Urban foraging is a way to embrace a sense of place
  • Urban foraging is culturally relevant (more common in ethnic cultures) – who’s teaching them plant identification, risks?
  • Social network pathways will be useful when sharing the study results with foragers
  • Many parks across the country prohibit foraging (what can we do to change this?)
  • Foraging may help combat invasive species
  • People tend to forage items not available at market, not able to survive storage, so they’re not competing with producers

These were just the sessions I attended.  For the full conference schedule and presenters’ slides, visit the Urban Food Systems Symposium website at

Wayne Roberts

Wayne Roberts was the symposium banquet speaker with a presentation titled How Food Strategy Creates Cities Most Likely to Succeed.  I’ve followed Wayne on social media for a while and was excited to hear him speak in-person.


  • Use food as a platform for introducing other subjects (i.e. teaching people about a foreign culture)
  • There are three personality types that dominate the food movement: warriors, workers, and weavers
  • Consider the quadruple bottom line of urban agriculture: food production, employable skills (communication, socialability), health, and reduced transportation costs for food
  • Cities can be a harbor for pollinators who may find rural areas too hostile
  • If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest contributor to global warming after China and the United States
  • Preventing food waste reduces cost
  • The United States could do more to learn from urban agriculture in other countries around the world (e.g. Toronto food programs from Brazil)
  • Farmers’ markets help us develop a relationship-based food system and may help reduce salt and sugar consumption because people are eating fresh, whole foods
  • Community ownership of public space housing community gardens and farmers’ markets leads to cleaner cities
  • Gardens are a great place for working parents to spend quality time with their kids
  • Gardening is an anti-isolation device (isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 1.5 packs of cigarettes per day)
  • Food is a tool that can save people from being wasted (Wayne shared an example of a program that gets juvenile delinquents involved in community gardening and teaching production/handling/processing to kids)
  • By cleaning up vacant lots and providing an opportunity for food production instead, groups effectively compete with gangs for youth

And the final take-away I have from Wayne’s talk is that though everything we heard over the last two days sounds great, we as practitioners shouldn’t just come into a neighborhood with a set agenda.  It’s important to work with the community to identify their issues and what they want to do about them.  It’s better to work with someone who needs and wants help rather than try to push our “great” ideas on them.

I sat at a table of college students who kept up a lively conversation that was entertaining as well (you wouldn’t believe what they asked me about my home state of Oregon).  And the meal of local foods was amazing.  Did I mention the entire menu included local foods?  Symposium organizers set a very high standard for future events (each meal contributed $14.78 to local farmers).

Menu from the Urban Food Systems Symposium banquet.

So You’re Interested in Urban Agriculture… Part 1

June 22-25, 2016 I had the opportunity to attend the Urban Food Systems Symposium in Olathe, Kansas.  There were great speakers, time for discussing the topic with researchers, Extension educators, students, and practitioners from across the country, and delicious local foods.  Oh, and a whole day of farm tours.  If this conference is held a second year and you hold or desire a position in urban agriculture, I highly recommend attending.  For more information, check out the KSU summary of the event.

I took pages and pages of notes and nearly 300 pictures throughout the symposium, many of which were shared in real-time on Twitter.  Below are some highlights from Day 1 of the symposium presentations.  See Part 2 for Day 2 and Part 3 for my tour experience.

Julian Cribb

The conference began with Keynote Speaker Julian Cribb’s talk, The Age of Food: Feeding the world in the era of ‘peak people.’

Slide 19 from Julian Cribb's talk.

He talked about our reliance on irrigation and fossil fuels to bring food to the table and said, “we need to change how we produce food and how we reward farmers.”  One solution he presented was the use of fresh algae as a fuel source.  He said everything you can produce from dead, fossilized algae (petroleum), you can make from fresh algae and algae are resistant to climate change because water doesn’t experience the drastic temperature fluxes of air.

He also talked about the need to learn about native edible plants from indigenous populations before that knowledge is lost.  We currently eat about 300 of the available 26,000+ edible plants on the planet.


  • The only way to fight the current food system is to educate consumers.
  • We need to design cities and buildings to recycle water and nutrients.
  • The beauty of small-scale producers is that they can sell direct and spin a story around their product – large corporations can’t do that. We will always have both, but they’re different, meet different needs, reach different consumers.
  • We need to teach our youth to value food.

Slide 30 from Julian Cribb's talk.

  • Helping populations become food secure, sharing our knowledge, will reduce wars.

Ken Meter

Next we heard from invited speaker Ken Meter who spoke on The Long Tradition of Urban Agriculture in the U.S. and its Future.  He shared several historical photos and drawings of cities that dedicated public space to food production.

Slide 40 from Ken Meter's talk.


  • Urban agriculture includes peri-urban areas.
  • We are all involved in food systems.

Slide 6 from Ken Meter's talk.

  • Urban food systems involve collaborative networks.
  • The vision for local food economies is to build health, wealth, connection, and capacity. We’re currently failing in all four.
  • Youth are an export crop of rural America.
  • Rural America lacks the investment/capital to supply urban food needs.

Slide 51 from Ken Meter's talk.

  • Regarding existing farms inside city limits, how do we ensure they’re allowed to continue producing food amidst development pressures?
  • How will any urban area survive unless it grows its own food or includes adjacent food production in city planning?
  • There is something magical about producing food for your neighbors (vs for commodity market), and it provides more profit.
  • Eating local makes us see the consequences of our choices so we make better choices.

Slide 96 from Ken Meter's talk.

  • Gardening and food teach us to slow down. Everyone should learn to produce food so they understand the process.

The rest of the day was devoted to oral and poster sessions.


Jessie L. Vipham, Concepts of Sustainable Intensification for Urban Food Systems

  • Have you ever considered that urban constraints are similar to those of small-holder farmers?

Slide 13 of Jessie Vipham's presentation.

Ross Wagstaff, Factors Contributing to and Limiting Vegetable Crop Productivity Across an Urban to Rural Transect in Greater Chicago, Illinois

  • Wind speed is reduced in urban environment but so is light intensity (urban is cloudier than rural).

Slide 4 from Ross Wagstaff's presentation.

Slides 29 and 30 from Ross Wagstaff's presentation.

Chris Zuidema, Development of a Human Health Risk Assessment Framework for Consumption of Foraged Items in the Urban Environment: a Baltimore, MD Case Study

  • Examples of items foragers reported collecting:

Slides 17-20 of Chris Zuidema's presentation.

  • Urban foragers anticipate upstream pollutants, dog waste, and vehicle pollution when foraging in “green space” and field maintenance chemicals, runoff, pesticides, and fertilizer when foraging “commercial” sites. Little concern for prior site use and residual heavy metals in soils.
  • Example: Cadmium and Hen of the Woods. Risk is based on dose.

Slide 29 from Chris Zuidema's presentation.

For more information on the Bountiful Baltimore project check out

Ganga Hettiarachchi, Managing Urban Garden Soils to Minimize Potential Soil Contaminant Transfer to Humans

  • Researchers did not see lead accumulation above tolerance in leafy or fruiting crops.

Slides 9 and 10 from Ganga Hettiarachchi's presentation.

  • Lab cleaning, with a detergent rather than just washing with water, decreases lead on leafy and fruiting crops.
  • Even with peeling, carrots grown in contaminated urban soils can exceed the tolerance for lead.

Slide 11 from Ganga Hettiarachchi's presentation.

  • Increasing urban garden soil pH reduces vegetable lead and cadmium uptake but increases arsenic availability.

These were just the sessions that I attended on June 23.  For the full conference schedule and presenters’ slides, visit the Urban Food Systems Symposium website at

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