How to become an urban farmer

Urban farmer Sunil Patel (left) partnered with restaurateur Charlie Hodge to bring a "farm to glass" experience to Sovereign Remedies cocktail lounge. Photo by Cindy Kunst

With side lots, vacant spaces and rooftops transforming into agriculture enclaves hidden throughout the city, it may seem that urban farming has become the en vogue approach to agriculture across the country and in Asheville and Buncombe County.

Becoming an urban farmer comes with a quick learning curve full of chances for success or failure. One of the first steps in the process is determining what you want to farm and where.  There are a number of classes that can help you understand the mechanics of urban farming and also aid in selecting your crops or livestock.

Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project supports farmers through marketing and training and hosts the annual Business of Farming conference to orient farmers to the business side of agriculture.  ASAP also helps to create direct access to consumers through the Asheville City Market and Mountain Tailgate Market Association. More information is available at
asapconnections.org.

Buncombe County Cooperative Extension provides access to a number of learning resources regarding farming and gardening. The Extension also offers access to grants and courses on food preservation. More information is at buncombe.ces.ncsu.edu.

Organic Growers School provides organic farming and gardening educational programs through annual conferences in the fall and spring, in addition to other learning opportunities throughout the year. Find out more at organicgrowersschool.org.

Fifth Season Organic Gardening offers urban farming supplies and tools for indoor growing. Fifth Season also offers the ability to purchase supplies in larger quantities through its wholesale operation. More information is at fifthseasongardening.com.

Living Only Through Urban Sustainability sells urban farm implements, animal feeds and aquaponic and hydroponic supplies. LOTUS also offers a range of classes including vermicomposting, beekeeping, chicken keeping and introductions to hydroponics and aquaponics. Visit lotusfarmandgarden.com
for more information.

Sow True Seed offers heirloom and traditional seeds that are open-pollinated, nonhybrid and GMO-free. More information is at sowtrueseed.com.

Villagers retails tools, books, supplies and resources for homesteaders and urban farmers.  Villagers also offers a number of workshops focused on subsistence living and life on the urban farm. Find out more at forvillagers.com.

Among the many steps to tackling any urban farming venture is a mastering of the permitting requirements. Regulations may govern everything from structures, such as greenhouses or storage sheds, to permits on each type of animal being raised to enclosure inspections by animal control. Deed restrictions or homeowners association rules may also come into play, and, if you’re thinking about opening your farm to visitors, parking may even become an issue.

Before engaging in any urban farming adventures, it’s best to run your plans by your local government to make sure you aren’t going to run afoul of any land-use or animal control regulations.
Urban farming is still evolving and gaining popularity, and an ongoing step is staying involved in the conversations about farming resources and the policies that govern them. The Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council serves as a moderator and host of many of these discussions at meetings. You can find out more at abfoodpolicy.org.

Josh O’Conner is an urban farmer and zoning administrator and planner for Buncombe County.

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About Josh O'Conner
Josh O’Conner is an urban/land use planner with a passion for urban agriculture. He can be reached at @kalepiracy or @joshoconner on Twitter or e-mailed at josh.oconner@gmail.com.

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