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Does agriculture belong in cities?

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

For farmers, life can be pretty isolated. Most of the food Americans eat isn’t grown anywhere close to where we live, so when I decided to take an active role in local food, I assumed it meant our farm -- and our family -- needed to move to rural Georgia.

Out there I lived my permaculture dreams, and while we had loads of amazing memories and I learned more than I could have imagined (mostly the hard way), the the isolated toiling and the weeks before seeing close friends or family eventually wore us out.

And so, just as we thought about what life could be like if we moved closer to Atlanta, I read The Permaculture City by Toby Hemenway. It completely changed my way of thinking. This book paints a fantastic picture of the endless possibilities that urban environments can bring to agriculture and communities that live close to these resources. The key lesson is, when we design our spaces for food and ecology, it also solves a lot of the other issues we face.

Cities are where the people are; People are where innovation lies.

Let me wax poetic for a moment. I often dream of a long walk in an urban environment, where there is food and flowers everywhere and your senses are delighted in all the sounds of bees and birds. Growers and homeowners are working outside sharing food, plants, and stories. Without the sounds of power tools you might hear laughing and other noises that are otherwise drowned out.

Why do we waste so much time and so many resources -- gas, heavy machinery, loud noises, synthetic chemicals -- on all the useless landscapes that that litter our communities? What if we used our landscapes to help fix the problems of food insecurity, erosion, canopy loss, pollinator habitats, climate change, and many other problems? Cities are perfectly ripe for these ideas to thrive and start fixing the problems.

Cities can once again be full of thriving communities with landscapes that feed our minds bodies and souls. We have all the things we need right in front of us, the main resource being people. We are innovative enough to put people in space, surely we can make this happen.

See, I'd started a rural farm to try to build a community from agriculture, but after 8 years of building my farming business, I realized that community already existed in cities. What they were missing was nature, and a connection to the natural world. We decided to move back to Atlanta, and immediately began working with cities, nonprofits, landscapers, and local farmers to create Productive Urban Landscapes, and Roots Down came to life!

A revolution is born.

And so I decided to move back to Atlanta. I immediately began working with local officials, nonprofits, landscapers, and local farmers to create what we called Productive Urban Landscapes, and Roots Down roared to life! I've taken all that I learned about growing, community building, and ecological systems, and am now applying them to all the wasted space in the average city. The verges, exit ramps, medians, vacant lots of scrub grass, all of these interstitial spaces that make up the "dark matter" of urban living can be reborn as verdant, fragrant, and productive landscapes that nourish the natural world and communities alike.

Cities are where the people are, where our hopes and dreams, our desires and plans reside. They are the seat of our collective power, and urban environments desperately need a deeper connection to the natural world.

That's why Roots Down focuses on cities, because we believe that reimagining urban spaces as productive landscapes is one of most elegant methods of building a greener, more just, and equitable future.



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