Video Recordings of the Urban Agriculture Symposium


Urban Agriculture Save The Date_screen quality

The full video has now been posted. You can click on the title of the panel to view the recording on the Sustainability Collaborative’s YouTube channel.


September 30

8:30-9:00         Continental Breakfast

9:00-9:05        Welcome

GW President Steve Knapp

9:05-9:30         Host Overview: Why this symposium? Why does urban agriculture matter? Can it scale?

  • Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of Sustainability, GW
  • Sabine O’Hara, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Science, UDC
  • Michael Hamm, C.S. Mott Chair of Sustainable Agriculture, Michigan State University
  • Deborah Atwood, Executive Director, AGree


9:30-10:00       Keynote, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)

10:00-10:25     How Can USDA Help? The USDA Tool Kit

Elanor Starmer, Administrator, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service

10:25-10:30     Yoga Stretch with Grace Fisher GW ’19

10:30-11:00     Social Justice and Urban Agriculture

  • Moderated by Michael Hamm, MSU
  • Malik Yakini, Co-Founder, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, MI
  • Lauren Shweder Biel, Executive Director and Co-Founder, DC Greens, DC
  • Karen Washington, Co-Founder, Black Urban Growers, NYC

11:00-11:30     Business of Urban Agriculture

  • Moderated by Sabine O’Hara, UDC
  • Meredith Sheperd, Founder, Love and Carrots, DC
  • Tyler Baras, Special Projects Manager, Hort America, TX
  • Mary Ackley, Founder, Little Wild Things City Farm, DC
  • Jeremy Brosowsky, Founder and CEO, Agricity, DC

11:30-12:00     Financing of Urban Agriculture

  • Moderated by Kathleen Merrigan, GW
  • Lillian Salerno, USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development
  • Marc Oshima, Chief Marketing Officer/Co-Founder, Aero-Farms, NJ
  • Kristof Grina, Founder, Uptop Acres, DC

12:00-12:15    Nic Jammet, Co-Founder of SweetGreen

12:15-1:10       Lunch 

1:10-1:15         Welcome Back

1:15-1:30         Dynamic Dialogue: Student views on Urban Agriculture

  • Moderated by Ariel Kagan, Sustainability Student Advisor, GW
  • Kayla Williams, GW
  • Antonio Cosme, MSU
  • Tornia Anderson Morgan, UDC

1:30-1:50         Video message Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI) 

Introduction and Q&A with Katie Naessens, U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry

1:50-2:10         Urban Livestock Do’s and Don’ts

Neith Little, University of Maryland Extension

Jeff Semler, University of Maryland Extension

2:10-2:40        Land-Based Innovations Panel

  • Moderated by Deborah Atwood, AGree
  • AG Kawamura, Former California Secretary of Agriculture and Farmer, CA
  • Destinee Henton, Ohio Outreach Coordinator, Alliance for the Great Lakes, OH
  • Chris Bradshaw, Executive Director and Founder, Dreaming Out Loud, DC

2:40-3:10         Non-Land Innovations Panel

  • Moderated by Michael Hamm, MSU
  • Marc Oshima, Chief Marketing Officer/Co-Founder, Aero-Farms, NJ
  • Mchezaji Axum, Director of the CAUSES Center for Urban Agriculture, UDC
  • Anastasia Cole Plakias, Vice President and Founding Partner, Brooklyn Grange, NY

3:10-3:15         Let’s Move! with Grace Fisher, GW ’19

3:15-3:30         Reaching Urban Youth

Debra Eschmeyer, Senior White House Policy Advisor for Nutrition

3:30-3:45        Conversation between Ms. Eschmeyer, Rebecca Lemos-Otero (Co-Founder, City Blossoms, DC) and Maddie Morales (Former FoodCorps Fellow)

3:45-4:15        Panoramic View of Urban Agriculture 

  • Moderated by Kathleen Merrigan, GW
  • Holly Freishtat, Baltimore City Food Policy Director
  • Ashley Atkinson, Co-Director, Keep Growing Detroit, MI
  • Laine Cidlowski, Director, DC Food Policy Council, DC
  • Michael Wilson, Director, Maryland Hunger Solutions, MD

4:15-4:30        Milan Urban Food Policy Pact

Tom Forster, Milan Pact Awards Coordinator and Professor at the New School, NYC

4:30-4:45         Research Needs and Opportunities 

Ann Bartuska, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics

4:45-5:00         Crowd-Sourcing Ideas for Policymakers

Launch of a process to collect ideas for a farm bill & closing thoughts

Kathleen Merrigan, Sabine O’Hara, Michael Hamm, Deborah Atwood

Below is an excerpt from The Hagstrom Report on October 12, 2016. Published here with permission from the Hagstrom Report. To view the issue in its entirety click here.


The Hagstrom Report

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 | Volume 6 Number 169

Merrigan: Urban agriculture not in competition with rural

Urban agriculture is about more than food and is not in competition with traditional rural agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, the former Agriculture deputy secretary and current director of sustainability at George Washington University said recently after she sponsored a day-long conference on urban agriculture proposals.

“This was a forum about urban agriculture. But what I heard repeatedly was respect, admiration for farmers in rural America,” Merrigan told the attendees at the end of the conference she held on the GW campus on September 30.

Kathleen Merrigan

Kathleen Merrigan

Michigan State University, the University of the District of Columbia, the Sustainability Collaborative and AGree, the foundation-funded effort on the future of agriculture, joined George Washington University in sponsoring the conference.

“People want a piece of the farm bill, but it is not an either-or,” Merrigan continued. “There is an opportunity to do complementary work.“

But urban agriculture “is important due to the increasing urbanization of the country,” she added.

Merrigan’s comments are important because her conference came at the end of a week in which Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had announced that she would introduce an urban agriculture bill that would make urban farms eligible for many Agriculture Department programs. Stabenow contributed a video to the conference, as did Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who said she would introduce an urban agriculture bill in the House.

Bills that make urban areas eligible for USDA programs have traditionally made rural advocates nervous because they see more federal government programs benefitting cities and suburbs than rural areas. Many USDA rural development programs have specific guidelines that say communities above a certain size are not eligible.

USDA farm programs, on the other hand, have never had a place for urban agricultural initiatives such as farming on vacant lots or vertical vegetable farms, because those activities have never been taken seriously by either Congress or USDA officials whose jobs are to insure crops that are produced on a commercial scale or to provide subsidies to farmers subject to weather disasters or low prices.

Stabenow has said the goal of her bill is to make urban agriculture projects eligible for USDA programs. She has acknowledged, however, that she has not defined urban agriculture, although the advocates say the difference between urban agriculture and gardening is that the food produced from agriculture is sold or at least given away by nonprofit groups that sponsor the farms.

There were some advocates at the conference who talked about making urban areas more self-sufficient in food. But it was clear from the small numbers of acres the advocates were talking about that urban agriculture could never feed the population of even a small town, much less a city, and could not produce the meat or the feed for animals grown for meat.

Ashley Atkinson, the co-director of Keep Growing Detroit, said she dreams of a “food sovereign city” in which the majority of fruits and vegetables are grown within the city. Detroit has 200 acres in urban farms, Atkinson said, but there are 30 square miles of vacant land within the city. Growing the majority of fruits and vegetables would take 5,000 acres, she said.

Laine Cidlowski, the director of the Washington, D.C., Food Policy Council, said the district now has more than 50 community gardens and nine “full scale commercial or nonprofit farms,” but they occupy only 27 acres. Her council’s goal is to double the acreage in 20 years but she acknowledged that “land values are so high, that is a huge barrier.”

Laine Cidlowski

Laine Cidlowski

“Big agriculture is not the enemy,” Cidlowski said. “Urban ag is not designed to put big ag out of business. We completely depend on them. Urban farms are amazing teaching tools. We would never feed the city. But it is important to have these teaching tools.”

Cidlowski also noted that the nation’s capital has only a three-day supply of food at any one time. That supply is evident when there is a big snow storm, she noted, but asked, “What if there were a real crisis?”

The advocates also acknowledged that the ideas they are using in the cities came from rural farmers.

“We learned everything we know from rural farmers,” said one advocate.

They also discussed the complications of farming in cities beyond the availability of land.

One factor that urban farmers have to take into consideration is remediation of soil that has been used for manufacturing and other commercial and residential uses. One advocate said, however, that vacant lots can be cleaned up fairly quickly and easily because they are small.

Several advocates urged anyone interested in raising animals in the city to be careful because municipal ordinances often restrict the presence of farm animals and, even if they don’t, neighbors may object to chickens or pigs with their noise and odors.

“To get a green thumb you have to kill a lot of plants along the way,” one advocate said. “That view is not acceptable with livestock.”

Farm animals, the advocate noted, need to be protected from cats, dogs and even hawks.

“You could get a nuisance ticket,” the advocate continued. “Neighbor relations is important. Contact the neighbors before you get the animals.”

Neighbors are fine with plants being killed, as people learn how to raise them, but the same is not true with animals, one speaker noted. There is also the issue of what one speaker delicately called “manure management.”

Aeroponics, the process of growing plants without the use of soil, is a popular idea but it is highly capital intensive, noted another advocate.

Growing conditions and access to water are also issues. Former school grounds are good locations for urban farming because they have water supplies, one advocate noted. There may be warehouses available, but they are often too shady, another speaker said.

Advocates also see urban farming as a way to improve the environment and to teach kids about raising food and eating healthy.

Several panelists talked about the importance of establishing urban agricultural commissions.

Holly Freishat, the Baltimore city food policy director, said there need to be nonprofit farm organizations, not just for-profit farms, to achieve the goals of environmental protection and encouraging healthier eating.

Holly Freishat

Holly Freishat

Urban agriculture advocates need to “think regionally” about protecting nearby farm land, she said, as well as the issues of food waste and food recovery.

Other advocates see food production as part of a larger political agenda.

Michael Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, said Maryland is the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the world, but still has people on food stamps.

“I think the goal ought to be ending hunger in 20 years. We can’t get there just depending on North Dakota and Kansas to grow our food,” he said.

Wilson noted that he worked on Capitol Hill for an urban member of Congress and for a union representing food workers before going into food advocacy. To accomplish the goal of getting a piece of the farm bill, Wilson said, the projects to bring food production to urban areas and fight hunger need to be tied to the consumer movement, the civil rights movement and the welfare rights movement.

“The anti-hunger work we do is connected to the anti-poverty work,” he added.

Deb Eschmeyer

Deb Eschmeyer

Ann Bartuska, the Agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics, said she is proud of the urban farming tool kit that USDA Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator Elanor Starmor presented to the conference because it shows what can be done with current programs. But she added that research on urban farming has to be done differently than a lot of agricultural research because the spaces are smaller.

Debra Eschmeyer, an Ohio farmer who is executive director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign against childhood obesity and works on the White House kitchen garden, noted that the first lady has managed to create an interest in gardening and healthy eating without having her own budget.

“I hope folks realize we are in a really amazing time in this work. I feel like we have so much momentum. We have all the social media. The first lady does not have a budget. We have Snapchat. Twitter, Instagram. When I started working in this space all we had was a press release. Lots of people are livestreaming. I feel this is a new era in our work.”