Urban Agriculture



Instructor Contact: ramabie@ucanr.edu

Instructor Bio: Rachel Surls, Ph.D., is the Sustainable Food Systems Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County, part of the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. From school gardens to urban farmers, over her 34-year career she has been involved in a wide array of projects related to food production in cities. For nearly a decade, she led a team of researchers and educators who provide training, technical assistance and resources for urban farmers in California. She is currently writing a book about urban farming in the United States, and for the past year has been traveling to visit farms and interview farmers around the country. In addition to her training as an agronomist and educator, she is an agricultural historian and has written about the history of urban farming. For more information about the instructor, see: https://ucanr.edu/?facultyid=2208

stop 06 wow (48)

Course Overview

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a farmer, even though you live in the city or suburbs? This course will help you get started. Urban farms can be found in wide variety of locations, from vacant lots to backyards, to rooftops and warehouses. Many urban farms have social goals such as improving access to healthy food and offering educational opportunities for youth. Others are strictly for-profit, and include both backyard operations and sophisticated tech startups. In this course, you’ll learn from examples of successful urban farmers around the country, including how to find and secure land, how to structure an urban farm business, and how to meet community needs. We’ll look closely at production methods, as well as the social, economic, environmental, and policy dimensions of urban farming. This course will benefit anyone planning an urban farm, currently developing or scaling up their urban farm, or simply curious about urban agriculture and how its fits into the larger food and agricultural system. Although the focus is primarily domestic, we also explore urban agriculture around the globe.


Student Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Explore the varied forms of urban farms in the U.S. and the ways in which they can benefit communities
  • Analyze and identify barriers, challenges, and limitations in urban agriculture
  • Identify strategies and steps for starting an urban farm, from land acquisition to production and marketing
  • Learn about and analyze production issues specific to urban farming
  • Conduct an in-depth case study of an urban farm
  • Develop a plan and personal resource library specific to their individual goals related to urban farming

Course Format: The course will include weekly reading, lectures, videos, research, and writing assignments.

Course Textbook: Readings will be provided via Blackboard. There is no formal course textbook.


Course Outline and Weekly Topics

Week 1: An Overview of Urban Agriculture in the U.S.

What does urban agriculture look like around the United States? What forms does it take? How does today’s urban agriculture compare with historical models? How does urban agriculture benefit communities? Who are urban farmers and how are they different from “traditional” American farmers? What are the opportunities and challenges in urban agriculture?

Week 2: Planning an Urban Farm

Preparing to start or expand an urban farm, including business planning, finding and securing land, engaging the community, funding, and how local land use policies impact planning.

Week 3: Production Considerations for Urban Farms, Part 1

Design of urban farms, along with production issues, that are especially important on urban farms, including soil, composting, and intensive production practices.

Week 4: Production Considerations for Urban Farms, Part 2

Continue with production issues, including water management, pre- and post-harvest food safety, pest management, and attracting pollinators.

Week 5: Emerging Urban Farm Systems

Vertical farming, rooftop farming, edible insect farming, aquaponics, food forests, agrihoods, and controlled environment systems that are emerging in urban agriculture.

Week 6: Animals and Bees in Urban Agriculture and Urban Farm Showcase

Incorporating chickens, goats, and other animals, plus integrating beekeeping into urban farms. Students will view different urban farms around the U.S. through the eyes of their classmates as they explore varied content and resources presented in student case studies.

Design of urban farms, along with production issues, including soil and water, pest management, composting, and food safety.


The course has a total of 1000 possible points, allocated as follows:

  1. Homework (2) =100 points (10% of grade)
  2. Plan and Personal Resource Library=150 points (15% of grade)
  3. Participation in discussions=200 points (20% of grade)
  4. Blog posts (2) =250 points (25% of grade)
  5. Urban Farm Case Study-300 points (30% of grade)


This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program and will count toward the Associate of Science degree as well as the Online B.S. degree.  Online classes cost $482/credit.

To begin planning for the future, see….

Annual Class Schedule

NOTE: The UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Certificate has been declared eligible for Veterans Educational Benefits. For instructions see: Veterans Benefits.

%d bloggers like this: