Urban Agriculture


July 6 – August 13, 2021


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 farms, over her 30-year career she has been involved in a wide array of programs related to food production in cities. She coordinates a team of researchers and educators who provide training, technical assistance, and resources for urban farmers in California. Rachel is a member of the leadership board of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, and is active in its Urban Agriculture Working Group, which advocates for policies that make it easier togrow food in the city. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, and in that capacity worked with small-scale farmers in Honduras. In addition to her training as an agronomist and educator, she is agricultural historian and has written about the history of urban farming. For more information about the instructor, see https://ucanr.edu/?facultyid=2208.

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Course Overview

Urban farming has become popular in the past decade, and can be found in a wide variety of locations, including vacant lots, parks, backyards, rooftops, and warehouses. Some urban farms are managed by non-profit organizationsaddressing issues such as food justice and lack of green space, while others are for-profit venturesthat take many forms, from private mini-farms to sophisticated start-ups.In this course, we’ll look closely at modern-day urban agriculture, including 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. We will touch on some international examples of urban farms; however our focus will be primarily domestic.


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 a site, engaging the community, funding, and how local land use policies impact planning.

Week 3: Production Considerations for Urban Farms

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

Week 4: Emerging Urban Farm Systems

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

Week 5: Animals and Bees in Urban Agriculture

Incorporating chickens, goats, and other animals, plus integrating beekeeping into urban farms.

Week 6: Urban Farm Showcase

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.


The course will have a total of 1000 possible points, allocated as follows:    Points

Urban Farm Case Study                                                                                             300

Urban Ag Blog Posts (2 x 150 points each)                                                              300

Urban Agriculture Plan and Personal Resource Library                                     150

Quizzes (2 x 75 points each)                                                                                       150

Participation (Responding to weekly prompts on course discussion board)   100

Total                                                                                                                               1000


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.

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