MU professor to use $20,000 grant to promote urban agriculture

Monday, September 12, 2011 | 6:27 p.m. CDT; updated 9:18 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 12, 2011

COLUMBIA — Cities around the nation are expressing interest in urban agriculture, and Mary Hendrickson, MU Extension professor of rural sociology, wants to make it easier to share their experiences.

She will be assisted by a $20,000 grant that was recently awarded to Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. The cities have directed the money to Hendrickson, who plans to use the $20,000 to employ a team of graduate students. 

"We’re going to try to do a scan on what’s happening in urban agriculture and how cities are working with it," Hendrickson said. 

The grant is distributed annually by the sustainability network, an organization that brings together directors from 44 cities in the U.S., said Barbara Buffaloe, sustainability manager for the city of Columbia.

Hendrickson said her team will survey urban agriculture issues such as zoning policies and food and sale ordinances. The result will be an online database that will allow cities to search and access information about urban agriculture.

"We want to get a better feel for what’s out there," Hendrickson said. "That way, if a city somewhere gets a request to do backyard chickens, they can find cities that have done it."

Adam Saunders, president of the board of directors for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, sees the value in such a plan.

"I've had the luxury to travel to many places around the country and world and observe many different agricultural uses," he said. "We have a lot to learn from others, and we also have a lot to teach."

He admires programs such as the Intervale Farms Program in Burlington, Vt., where a collection of local farms produce 8 percent of the city's food supply.

"Columbia does pocket community gardens well," Saunders said, "but there's potential for more." He would like to see community plots grow large enough to supply a family with most of their food, and maybe even become capable of large-scale commercial production.

Buffaloe thinks the potential for advancement in urban agriculture is promising. "Urban agriculture is a hot topic right now," she said, "and Missouri is an ag-friendly state."

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