Farmers market season is winding to a close in central Iowa, and I love to stock up on squash and apples at the market before the winter blows in.
Each year, I’m seeing more and more urban farmers at the market. Plus, there are school gardens and neighborhood gardens sprouting up all over the city and suburbs.
A project called Global Greens, started by Lutheran Services of Iowa in West Des Moines, gives refugees access to land and resources so they can grow their own food or start small-business farms.
And close to home, my town created a community garden this spring, inviting local residents to reserve their own little space of soil to plant tomatoes, peppers, lettuce or whatever they choose.
So like many people, I was excited to learn about a new bill introduced recently in Congress, the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016. The bill would increase assistance to urban farmers by investing in research, providing financial tools and opening access to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. It would even create a new urban agriculture office within the USDA.
American Farm Bureau has pledged its support for the bill. “As an organization that supports farmers of all sizes, commodities and production systems, Farm Bureau believes this legislation will build a stronger bond among all farmers – rural, suburban and urban,” says American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall.
The bill also recognizes that interest in farming as a career continues to grow, as shown by the record enrollment at Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture. And more and more, a lot of these graduates are coming from cities, not farms.
Recently, I met an Iowa State University horticulture graduate who didn’t grow up on a farm but now works on an eastern Iowa hops farm that supplies to local craft beer brewers.
His job is to use his horticulture training to develop a new hops variety that will allow brewers to craft a beer with a unique flavor that sets them apart from the competition.
Urban farms also help teach kids – and adults – who live in cities that their food doesn’t come from a grocery store; it’s grown by a farmer. In addition, urban farms provide much-needed green spaces in cities and inspire people to be active outdoors, try new foods and make healthy choices.
It’s encouraging to see this recognition for the diversity of agriculture – and to know that the next generation of farmers won’t be limited by fence rows.
By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's senior features writer.