When you think of farming, does your imagination conjure up grazing livestock, tractors, families clad in overalls and red barns full of hay? Or maybe you picture vast swaths of tall, green crops stretching from horizon to horizon.
Those familiar images aside, a new type of farming is growing in popularity across the U.S., one that doesn’t require either 40 acres or a mule. Urban farming, or growing food in a densely populated area, is now practiced in many cities — including Dallas. Urban farming can yield many benefits, and, as long as you know the regulations, you can make it a reality right in your own neighborhood.
The Benefits of Urban Farming
It can be hard to know where the produce, dairy and meat found in most chain supermarkets has come from and what went into producing it. As concerns grow over the use of pesticides and hormones in food production, consumers are looking for fresh, local and organic food they call feel good about consuming. Urban farming is a natural solution to this need.
Moreover, urban farming can also be cost-effective. Depending on what you choose to grow and the logistics of your operation, there’s a good chance taking more responsibility for the food you eat can save you money on your grocery bill, especially if you tend to splurge on pricey organic items. Urban farming can also strengthen local communities, reduce the prevalence of “food deserts” (areas that lack access to affordable, fresh food) and even improve the environment.
How to Start Your Own Urban Farm
Due to increasing demand, resources have popped up all around the city to help residents get their start in urban farming. Companies like Dallas Urban Farms take on the upfront legwork, designing and installing an urban farm based on your needs and preferences directly on your property. They also specialize in hydroponic technology — gardening without soil — meaning you can operate an urban farm even without a sizable backyard or garden area. Edible Landscapes Dallas offers a similar service.
Urban farming is also deeply community-based, and numerous organizations around the city are working to bring residents together to grow food and feed each other. The first of these organizations to begin operating in Dallas is Bonton Farms. This 1.25-acre urban farm is located in the South Dallas community of Bonton, which is classified by the USDA as a food desert. The organization has grown tremendously over the past decade and now manages one of the largest urban farms in the United States. Other community-based farming projects in Dallas include Big Tex Urban Farms in Fair Park and Eat the Yard in Oak Cliff.
Many of these organizations also have education and outreach initiatives (or extension services), providing free assistance and helping residents start their own farms at home. Resources like the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solution’s “Guide to Urban Agriculture in Dallas” can even walk you through the step-by-step process of establishing an urban farm.
Regulations to Keep in Mind
Of course, urban farming doesn’t only have to be about cultivating plants. Depending on your access to land, it can also include raising animals. This is where it’s especially important to do your research ahead of time and look up the city codes that apply in your neighborhood. If you live within Dallas city limits, you can keep chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, goats, sheep and horses at your residence. Dallas also allows beekeeping. However, areas such as University Park and Highland Park have stricter guidelines. If you do plan to keep animals, it’s best to join an urban farming coalition or beekeeping organization in order to make sure you’re abiding by all city ordinances and providing optimal veterinary care.