Honeybees by the hedges? Chickens by the carport? Goats in the garden?
It might be more common than you think.
One of the trends in gardening and agriculture I’ve seen over most of my six-year career as an extension agent has been the growth of people within the city interested in growing their own food.
It turns out I’m not the only one who has noticed. Urban agriculture is growing all over the country.
More and more, people are putting raised beds and fruit trees in their yard, building chicken coops, and even adding beehives to their gardens.
The trend has been on the rise in big cities for a while now — New York, Detroit, San Francisco. While we may not think of West Virginia being particularly urban, there are plenty of places — the Kanawha Valley is one — where the population is mainly urban.
Urban agriculture can find many forms — from home growers producing their own food, to farmers finding farmland in the city or in peri-urban areas, and community gardeners growing food together in a shared space.
There’s a growing interest in growing food in the urban setting. There’s also a growing homesteader movement, where people are cooking and preserving their own food (and other DIY things like sewing, crochet, knitting and carpentry).
Here in West Virginia, we are starting to catch up with the trend. Two years ago, Charleston City Council passed an ordinance allowing commercial agriculture in the city, allowing homeowners to have up to six hens and three beehives, and encouraging community gardens throughout the city.
Other cities, including Morgantown, have expressed interest in drafting rules promoting urban agriculture. It is seen as a growing trend and many cities are adopting it as a progressive policy.
Not only does the city benefit from the increased variety of food and culture (and more food security for families), but these policies are attractive to young millennials.
While the new rules in Charleston allow a vegetable garden anywhere on your property and a certain small amount of animals (though you can have more if you have an acre or more of land), some homeowners, like those in homeowner associations and community associations, may find further restrictions against even vegetable gardens, at least any visible from the street.
It’s not unusual, however, to hear of avid gardeners fighting the excessive rules by homeowner associations these days. A quick Internet search shows several instances of fighting the rules or going rogue with their gardening and other agricultural pursuits. I have to admit that I knew of several chicken keepers in Charleston before they were decriminalized.
Those interested in urban ag in the Charleston area should check out the Kanawha Urban Ag Alliance at KUAA.co (that’s .co, not .com) or on Facebook.
In seeing this trend, especially in our area, I brought together a partnership of organizations last year to host the first annual West Virginia Urban Agriculture Conference.
Not really knowing what to expect, we hoped to get at least 100 people interested in attending the conference. Boy, were we surprised! Over 230 people attended the first conference, and this year it looks like more might come.
This year, the West Virginia Urban Ag Conference will be hosted in the fall by my institution (WVU Extension Service), West Virginia State University Extension Service and the Capitol Conservation District, along with partners from the West Virginia Farmers Market Association, state Department of Agriculture and more.
If you are interested in learning about agriculture before then, check out the West Virginia Small Farms Conference hosted by the WVU Extension Small Farm Center, Feb. 26–28, which is moving from Morgantown to the Charleston Civic Center. You can find information and registration at smallfarms.ext.wvu.edu.