Rooftop gardens, edible schoolyards, community gardening in vacant lots and corporate gardens—urban agriculture of all sizes and forms is spreading across the country. Urban farms not only improve food access and nutrition of city residents, but also offer the promise of improving cityscapes, building social cohesion and enabling economic growth. Yet there is little hard evidence to quantify the extent of these benefits and make the case for scaling up urban farming. The Design Trust for Public Space, a New York based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public space in New York City, is set out to integrate urban farms into the urban fabric with its new data collection methodology.
The Design Trust for Public Space developed the Five Borough Farm Data Collection Toolkit for collecting and interpreting urban farms data, as a part of the Five Borough Farm II project. The metrics were developed in collaborations with farmers and field-tested in the 2013 harvest season. The result is a user-friendly toolkit that is applicable across all types of gardens. The Design Trust for Public Space describes it as a “part how-to guide and part reference for urban farming” intended to “equip farmers and gardeners, support organizations, policymakers, and funders with the tools and information to measure, maximize and expand the benefit of urban agriculture.”
The Design Trust for Public Space partnered with Farming Concrete to leverage its existing web architecture and farm data reporting materials to bring the new toolkit online and make the data accessible to the public.
The Five Borough Farm Data Collection Toolkit is an essential advocacy tool for urban agriculture—it not only provides transparency on the impacts of urban agriculture, it also creates a platform for raising awareness, sharing information and inspiring discussions. In particular, the toolkit helps farmers, policymakers, urban planners and funders in three key ways:
Serving as portal for information on value of urban agriculture
This toolkit is intended to capture the diverse benefits of farming to individuals, communities, and the urban ecosystem by analyzing 16 protocols in 5 categories: Food Production Data, Environmental Data, Social Data, Health Data, and Economic Data. These metrics help make the case for the economic, social, and environmental values of urban agriculture to inform policymakers, urban planners, funders, as well the public.
Tracking progress or urban farms
With a systematic methodology for collecting urban farm data, farmers are able to track progress and compare results with other farmers. Each protocol is designed to help farmers tell meaningful stories about their farm work. The information is available to funders and urban planners to set and revise goals and determine whether, and how, to scale up.
Identify opportunities for improvement
In addition to storing and analyzing data, the online portal will also generate customized reports to participating farmers. Furthermore, the toolkit itself is full of information on good practices in urban agriculture. It includes detailed instructions on gathering the necessary data and the value of each protocol. The process of data collection thus provides an important learning opportunity to identify opportunities for improvement because it encourages farmers to engage more with their gardens. For example, one of the protocols is “changes in attitude about food” and in order to get the data, farmers need to do taste tastes on the farm.
Urban farms take different forms and occupy different spaces, but they are all motivated by the desire to improve the lives of urban residents and often serve more than one purpose. Until now, the benefits of urban agriculture are captured only in isolated case studies. The Five Borough Farm Data Collection Toolkit provides a systematic methodology for valuating urban agriculture and provides a platform for inspiring information exchange and engagement with urban farming across the nation.