We were thrilled to introduce Mill, a revolutionary data aggregator for urban agriculture, to an eclectic group of industry experts and decision makers, including NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, PP, RTPI, on December 9.
We gathered farmers and gardeners, government officials, and representatives from support organizations, as part of our seminal Urban Agriculture Task Force, to review this first-of-its-kind tool to analyze urban farming by numbers at the NYC Parks’s beautiful Arsenal building in Central Park.
Design Trust executive director Susan Chin and Green Thumb director Nancy Kohn representing our project partner NYC Parks Department welcomed the enthusiastic group including, in addition to Commissioner Silver,
Susan tracked the development of our Five Borough Farm project leading up to the launch of our ingenious data aggregator Mill. The previous second phase of the project culminated with an insightful publication providing recommendations to maximize the benefits of urban agriculture that cover so many areas, from community health, social capital and economy, to education, youth development and intergenerational learning.
There needs to be quantifiable data, however, in order to maximize these benefits. So we equipped a large number of farmers and gardeners with the data collection toolkit. We collaborated with Farming Concrete to create the Barn data system allowing farmers and gardeners to input and track their production online.
Now in the third and final phase of the Five Borough Farm project, we’re launching Mill, which provides access to raw data aggregated anonymously, and reports from that data for use of general public, policymakers and funders. It can be identified by type of farms and gardens or geographic location and by indicator, such as compost or crop.
Mill offers key data visualizations. This is the first of its kind in the world.
In addition to a detailed instruction for Mill presented by Farming Concrete’s Mara Gittleman, Commissioner Silver discussed growing urban agriculture in Raleigh, NC, where he served as the Chief Planning & Development Officer and Planning Director. He contrasted Raleigh's approach to urban agriculture viewed through the lens of a growing city, as opposed to a vacant land strategy within the complexity of NYC's density.
In 2010, Raleigh City administration formed a work group comprised of city staff and community advocates with a goal to look at ways to remove obstacles to citywide gardening efforts on private property, and examine opportunities for urban agriculture on public lands.
The work group’s findings indicated, far and foremost, the need for zoning changes to expand use of privately owned lands for urban agriculture. The proposed zoning changes include allowing single-family home owners to have backyard gardens, restaurants to grow fresh produce in their kitchens, and allowing produce stands in churches, schools and hospitals.
As for expanding the use of public land, the City of Raleigh developed a program to spare surplus public land as community gardens. All left over vacant areas like irregular shaped land parcels and odd triangular lots were identified as surplus public land.
Raleigh maintains an inventory of all city-owned surplus property, which could be given to gardeners on a no-cost zoning permit. This permit allows the city to track land use and make funding and other opportunities available to community gardeners throughout the city.
Where would community gardens fit in NYC zoning table? There is no Land Trust in Raleigh; all gardens are on privately owned land. In NYC there are Land Trusts and Green Trusts. So zoning codes are applied through these intermediary entities.
Our new data aggregator Mill is, for sure, a huge milestone in understanding the value of urban agriculture. It will advance how the government conceptualizes, prioritizes and supports urban agriculture citywide, on amounts required for funding, land, fencing, soil, compost and technical assistance. We’re hoping for Mill to instigate an inspiring momentum that would help urban agriculture enthusiasts in tackling regulatory and financial challenges in NYC.
Urban agriculture crosses so many policy areas and environmental issues. There has been no data and no clear understanding about the value of urban agriculture.