There is an opportunity to transform vacant lots into food production centers that can serve the immediate users and neighborhood, as well as integrate into a city-wide food system. Looking at each level – Household, Neighborhood, and City – this section explores the policies and regulations, community engagement, and site conditions necessary to effectively plan and implement small and large-scale food production.
For the purpose of this section, we define two scales of urban food production. A community garden is a dedicated space for community members to come together and share ideas and grow plants for food and recreation. Urban agriculture is an intensively cultivated operation for the production of crops for sale or distribution through farmers markets, restaurants, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. Each scale can vary in costs and time depending on a site’s condition and the level of planning done prior to planting. Site conditions must be considered to determine soil conditions, soil amendments, cover crops, and plant selection. It is always important to develop a sustainable plan of implementation and maintenance prior to starting. Plans should account for various elements like tools, labor, water source, and community involvement.
Additional considerations of vacant land use for urban food production follows.
Urban Food Production at Different Levels
Individual households adjacent to a vacant lot could explore the option to “adopt-a-lot” from the City’s vacant lot inventory and manage the property for a small annual fee. Cincinnati does not have a formal lot adoption program, however, one could be modeled off of other local and national examples. Baltimore, Maryland has a program which residents, neighborhood committees, or non-profits can use to “Adopt-a-Spot” for one dollar per year. The lots can subsequently be used for a personal vegetable gardens or other productive landscape, as long as the property is reasonably maintained.
On the neighborhood level, residents can achieve an economy of scale by working together to share the labor and the produce. Building partnerships with local non-profit organizations – like the Civic Garden Center, who provide education for garden start-up and maintenance – could create a CSA or market garden.
A city-wide food production system could help bridge the gap in food distribution to lower income populations. Once vacant lots fall under the purview of a county-wide land bank, there is opportunity to explore more comprehensive strategies for large scale food production.
Policy and Regulation
There are many policies and regulations that would influence urban agriculture. The issue of ownership is important to identify. Most of the vacant lots in Cincinnati are privately owned. Therefore before anything can be done on the lots, the owners would have to give permission or be willing to sell them. There may be different zoning and ordinances to consider as well.
When deciding such important things as what to do with vacant lots, the community has to be involved in the process. The community council or development corporation could serve as a source for valuable community input and garnering support for planning and implementing a garden. Do they want a community garden? If so, who would be responsible for it? Building support and knowledge among willing participants is essential to the success of any community garden. This is where The Civic Garden Center (CGC) can come in. They can help determine if a site is suitable for a community garden, offer a twelve-week training program for community gardening, and provide additional support and resources as the community garden flourishes.
Site conditions play a vital role in how viable agriculture could be on any given site. If a site does not receive full sun, then it may not be the greatest location for a vegetable garden. Most of the soils in Cincinnati are clay based, so using raised beds or mounding beds with compost is ideal. A soil test should be done to make sure the soil does not contain heavy metals. Even if a site has different grades, terracing can be an option to allow for gardening. An example of this is The Hillside Community Garden, located in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Delhi.
Interested in Food Production?
Once a resident or group of residents has determined a vacant lot could be used for food production, there is a lot of planning that must be considered before getting started. The two general categories of urban food production are community garden and urban agriculture, and each type requires different resources. Not every lot and every community are ideal candidates for a food production operation. Partnerships and a strategic plan are essential to the success of any urban food production endeavor.