Preserving the Environment

This App Helps Urban Farmers Get Their Crops Growing

November 28, 2014
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This App Helps Urban Farmers Get Their Crops Growing
Urb.ag allows users to see what, where, and how they can farm within Boston’s city limits. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Urb.ag helps cut through the red tape.

Across the country, urban farms are cropping up and making a difference in communities where food deserts have persisted. The idea is simple, but execution can be tricky.

Which is why a new app is aiming to help expedite the process by identifying potential areas to set up anything from growing vegetables to farming bee hives. Urb.ag is a mobile app developed by Fathom Information Design and was first developed for Boston after the city passed legislation allowing commercial urban farming in December 2013.

While Article 89, the new zoning policy, was heralded as a way to open up the city for commercial farming, Fathom designer Terrence Fradet recognized that understanding the policy was going to be difficult for most people who might want to start a farm. With support from the city, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and funding from the Knight Foundation’s Knight Prototype Fund, Fathom launched the app over the summer.

Urb.ag, which derives from urban agriculture, maps out the process of how to obtain zoning permits, submit necessary applications and explains the dense, municipal codes that are required to launch such a business. A user simply enters the Boston address into the app to begin the process, which then prompts a series of questions about whether you want to farm on the ground or roof, use hydroponics or conventional planting, etc. After customizing an ideal farm, the app clues you into the next steps on which government body to obtain permits from and where to apply.

“The way that zoning legislation works, you have different divisions, and within that there are subdistricts, and within that there are parcels,” a data lead on the project Alex Geller tells Fast Company. “You really quickly fall into a rabbit hole.”

Urb.ag, on the other hand, hones in on the location of where someone might want to start a farm and then applies the exact codes and what is required of the new law. For food deserts and other communities facing health problems, simplifying the process for urban farming could be a solution they’re seeking.

“You hear a lot of talk about food deserts and you hear a lot of talk about the obesity epidemic, and it all falls back on the idea that healthy food is less accessible for certain sectors of the population,” Geller tells Boston magazine. “I think what’s so cool about urban agriculture is in a city, where you have a coalescence of different populations, that seems like a point where it’s most especially important to make healthy food and local food accessible at a reasonable price.”

While the app is only available in Boston, it has potential to shape urban farming elsewhere and help government create better connections with citizens looking to transform urban agriculture.

MORE: No Soil? Or Sun? This Urban Farm is Raising Fresh Food in a Whole New Way

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