USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been assisting urban farmers for over 10 years. Since 2010, NRCS state offices have provided more than $18 million to 130 entities in the form of grants and agreements to support urban agriculture and conservation projects.
From 2014 to 2019, NRCS completed more than 18,000 conservation practices totaling $41 million on urban farms covering more than 100,000 acres. NRCS can provide urban farmers with technical and financial assistance to make critical on-farm improvements in a variety of ways. This includes things such as:
Soil health practices: NRCS can help urban farmers develop strategies for improving soil conditions tailored to a farm’s specific needs through things like nutrient management plans and cover crop practices. NRCS can also provide best management practices to help farmers avoid growing crops in contaminated soil.
Irrigation and water catchment systems: NRCS develops irrigation water management plans to assist urban farmers such as rainwater catchment, automated pumps, pipelines and water-efficient drip irrigation systems to help reduce water use, soil erosion and maximize yields.
Managing weeds and pests: NRCS can help with pest management practices – advising on crop rotations and various types of mulches to reduce weeds and manage insects that harm crops. NRCS can also help with the installation of bat and owl boxes, promote beneficial insects, and companion plantings.
High tunnels: High tunnels extend the growing season and protect plants from harsh weather, air pollution and pests. By making local produce available for more months in the year, fewer resources are used to transport food. NRCS helped producers construct over 18,500 high tunnels on farms around the nation – 9,000 were constructed between 2016 and 2019.
Pollinator habitat: Pollinator habitats help to increase production yields by attracting birds and beneficial insects, such as butterflies and bees. Pollinator plantings provide habitat along with providing nectar as a food source contributing to a healthy ecosystem that is essential for farmers to grow food.
Windbreaks: Plants can help to reduce soil erosion, conserve energy, reduce heating bills, and serve as a sound barrier in urban neighborhoods and provide shelter for plants and create habitat for wildlife.
Energy efficiency: Urban Farming is part of the green infrastructure movement. Recommendations from NRCS Energy Audits have funded conversions of combustion motors such as those in irrigation pumping systems to the use of electric, solar or gravity fed systems. Audits also encourage the use of high efficiency heating and cooling systems that reduce costs.
To learn more, go to farmers.gov or contact your local USDA Service Center.