The Rise of Urban Farming and Other Varieties of Sustainable Ag

My newest buzzword for 2011 is CSA. I'd never heard the term until recently, but now it seems to be popping up all over, as is interest in sustainable agriculture and urban farming.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture -- the practice of signing up with a local farm for weekly produce and, in some cases, meat and dairy. I first read about CSA in Kristin Kimball's recent memoir, "The Dirty Life," which is justly attracting rave reviews on Amazon. A Manhattan writer who gave up the city for love, she has been farming an organic spread, Essex Farm, in upstate New York since 2003, with her husband, Mark. Essex Farm provides a complete sustainable diet for its 150 members.

Kimball's book is an engrossing depiction of the back-breaking work and edible rewards of CSA. As a member of a CSA, you'll be eating more healthfully, deliciously and locally -- and your locally-grown purchases will reduce the carbon emissions often associated with food transport. But don't romanticize your organic farmer -- as Kimball points out, he or she is laboring hellishly long hours in arduous, if rewarding, work, to bring you your weekly CSA allotment.

Urban farming is also on the rise. Prince Charles of England (see my blog on his book) is one of its staunchest advocates. On a recent visit to Washington, DC, the prince spoke at a sold-out Future of Farming conference at Georgetown University, and visited Common Good City Farm, which produces vegetables, flowers and herbs on a half-acre lot in Washington's inner city. Farms like Common Good help to provide fresh, nutritious foods in "food deserts" -- areas in which affordable, fresh produce is difficult to come by. Common Good is alleviating this shortfall in a neighborhood where one-third of the residents live in poverty.

Urban farming comes in a variety of models. Some, like visionary Columbia University micro-biologist Dickson Despommier, advocate the development of high-volume vertical farms, carefully-controlled, multi-story structures that utilize the latest in aquaponics (farming fish and hydroponic plants in an enclosed symbiotic system) and LED lighting.

A vision of urban and vertical farming.

Next Page: More visions of urban farms.