Yes In My Backyard: Embracing a local food future in development-supported agriculture

The rural-urban divide is becoming increasingly difficult to define. Decades after the migration into cities after the industrial revolution, people are now often lured out from cities into the country because of the rural landscape and slower pace of life (though not always supportive of the realities of the farming life and all the associated sites, smells, and sounds). Suburbs, on the other hand, offer an affordable compromise of fresh air while staying in tune with the bustle of city lift and jobs. While fresh air and jobs are becoming harder to find nationwide, suburbs are still the home for many who desire the cliché (archaic?) notion of the white picket fence and 2.5 kids. Historically, these suburbs have been short on the agrarian offerings. The separation of consumers from food sources, among other developments, has decreased concern for the food system and for agricultural livelihoods more generally. The “locavore” movement has developed in part as a reaction against this alienation from our food sources, but the geographical distance between consumers and farms has been a big barrier for participation. Recent trends in urban agriculture, community gardening, community supported agriculture, and farmers’ markets have brought farm-fresh food back to urban and suburban populations, with varying degrees of actual farming visible to consumers. The act of bringing the farm to the masses through urban agriculture has been deterred by local policies that penalize the behavior. But many individuals in cities all over the country are still leading the fight of bringing more agriculture to the city, thereby further graying the line between rural and urban the best of both sides are combined.

A recent story on NPR broadcasted a notch in the “win” column for urban ag: farming as a subdivision amenity. As the golf course industry becomes saturated, farms are apparently filling the gap for a desire for green spaces and local amenities.

“It’s called development-supported agriculture, a more intimate version of community-supported agriculture […] In short, the neighborhood plan is infused with the quaint, pastoral, even romantic view of farming.”

The New York Times first reported this trend in 2009, when Ed McMahon was first quoted as saying there were 200 such development projects in the works. With NPR reporting the same estimates, it would be curious to see if the development is stagnant, slow, or just underreported. It would also be interesting to find out the logistics of farming decision-making – do residents have a say in what crops are grown? What if the HOA decides they don’t like a rooster crowing every morning? Are the farms required to be organic? If not, how are pesticides handled so close to populations that are more dense than typical agrarian geography?

Regardless of these concerns – or perhaps because of these questions, the trend is worth noting. These developments will certainly attract people who seek out such local sourcing; for people in the growing locavore movement, this seems idyllic. But what happens when people are hit with the realities of the sights, sounds, and smells of the farming life? As one farmer friend commented, “there’s that undeniable fact that most neighbors can’t get along, let alone food/work being factor!” In my ideal world, where I could track down every topic that piques my interest, I would follow a few of these developments, interviewing farmers and residents, take an inventory of the relevant policies and permitting procedures to see how feasible and successful this strategy turns out to be. In the meantime, it is one more possible path for a changing food system.

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