Like the Victory Gardens of the 1940′s, interest in urban and residential gardening has exploded across the United States.
An increasing number of chefs plan their menus for the day by sourcing vegetables and meats from local farmers or farmer’s markets. Some restaurants even have their own organic vegetable gardens, serving their own home-grown vegetables.
Jennifer Oldham with the financial website Bloomberg reports plans are underway to grow lettuce under the flight path of the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta, and homeowners near downtown Denver are turning lawns over to farmers who plant, weed, water and harvest crops from their yards in return for a share of the harvest.
Sundari Kraft, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading,” says “People are sick and tired of mowing and fertilizing. We have a stack of applications, enough to double what we do now.”
Oldham claims Kraft and a team of apprentices raise tomato forests, white eggplants, rainbow chard and other genetically pure vegetables for 11 homeowners who live minutes from downtown. Kraft sells the crop at farmers’ markets and to 30 families, who fork over $450 for a 20-week supply.
Oldham points out that documentaries such as “Food Inc.” and books like Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” has fueled the demand for locally grown produce by urbanites.
Oldham notes that the USDA’s release of its 2011 National Farmers Market Directory reveals that more farmers are marketing their products directly to consumers than ever. The directory lists 7,175 markets, up 53 percent from 4,685 in 2008.
“There’s a major trend that has serious legs,” said Matt Liotta, chief executive of PodPonics LLC, which will start growing watercress, arugula and other lettuce varieties hydroponically in recycled shipping containers on eight acres outside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the next two months.
Liotta’s shipping containers or “grow pods” are outfitted with organic hydroponic nutrient solutions, computer-controlled environmental systems to regulate temperature, humidity, pH levels, and CO2; and lights that emit specific spectrums at different points in the day.
Liotta says PodPonics signed an 11-year lease at the Southside Industrial Park with a unit of the Atlanta Development Authority, and expects to hire as many as 30 workers.
“If you talk to longtime observers, they say five or six years ago they knew every farm plot and everyone involved,” said Jerome Chou, director of programs for New York’s Design Trust for Public Space. “Now that’s impossible. It’s growing so fast across all sorts of racial, class and demographic lines.”
Urban agriculture would grow faster if the federal government supported farmers’ markets as it does large commodity producers, who receive billions in subsidies, said Jeffrey O’Hara, an economist at the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, in an interview.