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UF/IFAS to explore how to support urban farming across Florida

As Florida rapidly becomes more metropolitan and urban agriculture expands, a UF/IFAS grant funds research to address the challenges and opportunities urban farmers face.

The research will characterize existing urban agriculture operations across the state and identify the areas with the most activity. Then, UF/IFAS faculty will participate in workshops to develop research and Extension projects to fill any information gaps related to urban food production.

“Florida is historically an agriculture state with agriculture being one of the top three economic drivers,” said Catherine Campbell, UF/IFAS SEEDIT grant recipient and assistant professor. “Forty-four out of 67 counties are currently classified as urban counties, according to USDA data. Urban agriculture is one way to maintain and support Florida’s agricultural roots while responding to increased populations, urbanization and demographic changes for Florida residents.”

With Florida’s rapid urbanization, farms located directly within cities and farms on the periphery of urbanization will be of interest to researchers seeking to understand the operations’ issues and opportunities.

“The idea with this project is to understand where the core hubs of urban agriculture are located, the production systems being used, who the urban farmers are and how we can help them,” Campbell said. “That may be through helping individual producers or assisting in community development. Research tells us that a larger proportion of urban farmers are minorities and women, so this is an opportunity to serve these populations in ways we have not before.”

Given that 13% of Florida residents and approximately one in five children are food insecure, a key benefit urban farms can provide is increased access to food, Campbell said. While the SEEDIT grant proposal for this project was developed prior to COVID-19, recent events have made access to food a more visible issue.

“With disruptions to the food supply chain due to COVID-19, awareness of food systems and the importance of local food production and direct to consumer food sales have increased,” she said. “These community food systems are subject to fewer disruptions and can allow communities to be more self-sufficient.”

This research will provide a foundation to learn more about how it impacts food access, the incidence of diet-related diseases, and other individual and community health factors.

“Urban agriculture holds a lot of promise and possibility, but there are also a lot of challenges and that is what this project hopes to address,” Campbell said.

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