Urban Ranching – A Phenomenon of American Home Cooking

Urban Ranching - A Phenomenon of Home CookingNothing enhances a recipe quite like natural, raw ingredients.  Take your cooking one step further - grow the ingredients yourself!  As awareness for a sustainable environment and the importance of a nutritious diet is on the rise, urban ranching is quickly becoming a phenomenon of urban living.  Tami Hons, urban ranching expert and co-creator of The Urban Rancher (hosted by the Texas A&M University), takes us on an insightful journey into this popular new lifestyle choice.

How did you become interested in urban ranching?

Several years ago, I began to recognize and feel the disconnect younger generations were having from the family farm. The backbone feeding America and the world had been reduced to “plows and cows” and was far from hip. If you asked children where their food came from, they generally said “the grocery store.”  Most didn’t realize bread was made from wheat, dollar bills were made from cotton, and a nice lawn or green space helped cool down the environment.

Although my family and I had a small garden and were avid composters and recyclers, at some point, I felt we needed to become land stewards of more than just a suburban lot. I created a website with a co-worker, The Urban Rancher at Texas A&M University, chronicling our quest to find and purchase one to ten acres, typical urban ranch size. Included in the website is information and links about necessary things needed to own rural acreage, like how to build a dirt road.  I quickly discovered there were lots of people wanting to migrate outside of the city limits. The Urban Rancher phenomenon and website even got mentioned in Time Magazine.

Can this revolutionary new trend contribute to a more nutritious culinary culture and influence cooking practices across the country?

Urban Ranchers usually know little or nothing about rural living, but want to try. They might want to escape the city, raise children with farm animals, vegetable and flower gardens, have a lush green yard, wildlife, or maybe even a pond or two with fish. 

This type of lifestyle connects people, just like it did decades ago. Today Urban Ranchers are getting tips from their local co-op, their kids have free range chickens and are collecting and selling eggs for spending money, eating and cooking fresh foods from their ranches and could very well be selling fresh produce by the pound to friends and neighbors, like my grandmother did.

There is a growing interest in local farmers markets by home cooks in search for fresh, locally grown produce.  What does it take to make the leap into creating one’s own ranch?

People are not only interested in local farmers markets where they can meet the people who actually grow the food, they are also joining Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms.  CSA farms allow people to buy shares in a farm’s harvest before the crops are planted.  In return, shareholders receive fresh fruits and vegetables weekly throughout the season.  Sometimes farms even include flowers, herbs, cheese, eggs and meat. 

For someone wanting their own organic Urban Ranch, a great source is Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). They offer valuable information and opportunities to apply for grants.

It is estimated that 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. How can urban ranching be incorporated into crowded city environments?  Are we talking about turning urban rooftops into blooming gardens?

People living in cities can grow fresh flowers and produce in container gardens. They can also create or join community gardens. Often times, city municipalities are willing to help.

There is a growing demand for organic ingredients by home cooks. To what extent does urban pollution and soil contamination affect urban ranching possibilities?

Contrary to popular belief, “The overall environment is much cleaner today than it was 25 years, especially our air and water. Unless there has been an external source of pollution, such as illegal or improper disposal of wastes, pollution and soil contamination should not be a problem,” said Dr. Frank Hons, Professor & Soil Scientist, Texas A&M University. I understand and respect people who want organic foods.  I enjoy them too, but I am not opposed to eating standard food either.  There is an attraction to eating something fresh, natural and unaltered.  

Do you think urban ranching and farming can, in the long run, act as an efficient aid in decreasing world hunger and the depletion of the natural environment?

Educated, conscientious passionate farmers and ranchers are our best hope for decreasing world hunger and depleting natural resources. People growing their own produce increase the overall food supply and potentially, reduce their carbon footprints.

“If you care about how your food is produced, learn about and become an active participant in the food system. As a customer, your food-buying dollars become your clout, and where you choose to spend those dollars, you vote for or against food production methods.”

A special thank you to Tami Hons for sharing her expertise and insight.

 

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