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Script 29.8

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Content:  The space beside roads and public right of ways can be made into productive land for city farmers.

Script

How can you grow food in the city if you do not have any land? All around you there are only houses and buildings, roads and traffic. But take another look at those roads. Is there land beside them?

Often there is. And often nobody is using it. Why not grow food beside a road? You can earn money and feed your family better by farming roadsides and public right of ways.

Many people who live in cities in different parts of the world grow food or graze animals on strips of land beside roads or canals. They also use public utility right of ways such as the land around a power line or railway tracks. This kind of urban agriculture is called roadside or right of way farming.

In Nairobi, Kenya, many of the roads between the centre and the outskirts of the city have crops along their edges. If you were to drive or walk along these roads, you would also see cattle grazing.

In the town of El Salvador, in Peru, some of the streets are very wide. People use half of the roadway to grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers. And in Jakarta, Indonesia, people rent the space underneath and beside elevated toll roads. They use the space to grow food.

Farming on roadsides and right of ways has some special advantages. For one thing, because they are right on the road, roadside gardens are easy to get to. That makes taking seeds, fertilizer, or water to your garden easier. It is also simpler to deliver your products to market. You might even be able to sell your produce right on the roadside.

The engineers who build roads usually level the land beside them. That means most roadside land is flat, so it is less difficult to farm. But it may not be very fertile soil, so you will have to be prepared to work at making it better.

Roadside farming is cheap, too. Since the land is public, rent is usually low. In fact, you might be able to use the land free.

Roadside farming is not just good for you and your family. It is good for the whole city. Roadsides look better when they have plants growing along them, and the plants keep the air cleaner by cutting down on dust and absorbing some of the exhaust from passing traffic.

Roadside farming has many advantages, but it may also give you a few problems to solve. First of all, you will have to find out whether you can use the public land you want to farm. You might have to get permission from a local authority or make an arrangement to rent it.

Protect roadside crops from theft:
Roadside farmers also worry about people stealing their crops. It is more difficult to protect your crops from theft when they are growing on a public roadway than when they are in your own garden or field. But you can reduce the risk. Some roadside farmers grow low‑value crops that are not worth stealing. Or they grow root crops like cassava or potatoes, which are less visible and harder to steal. Others harvest their roadside crops before they are completely ripe. That way they get their produce before a thief does, but they also lose some of the value of their work.

In El Salvador, Peru, roadside farmers build low fences around their crops to protect them, and ask neighbours to keep a sharp eye out for thieves. The local police also help.

In Dar‑es‑Salaam, Tanzania, some roadside farmers work together to protect their crops from theft. They set up a small hut by their roadside crops, and take turns spending the night there to guard against thieves.

Water for your roadside crops:
Before you start farming on the roadside, you will need to think about where you will get water for your roadside crops. In some places, roadside farmers arrange for water to be delivered by tanker truck to steel containers which are placed near the centre of their plot of land. Other roadside farmers whose plots are near neighbours who have piped water make agreements to use the water once a week, or when they need it. They use hoses or watering cans to get the water to their plots. Many roadside farmers depend on rainfall.

You might be lucky enough to have a river, stream, or pond near your roadside or right‑of‑way garden. If you do, you can probably use that water to irrigate your crops. But first find out whether the water is polluted. It may contain things that are dangerous to your health. If it does, and you use it to water your crops, then the food you grow may not be safe.

Protect your roadside crops from lead:
Soil beside roads is especially likely to contain poisonous lead which is used in gasoline, and lead dust in the air will settle on the food you grow. This lead is spread in the exhaust from cars, trucks, and buses. Roadside farmers need to protect themselves and their crops from lead.

There are several ways you can protect yourself from lead. The most important decision is what to grow. Do not grow leafy greens, like spinach or lettuce on the roadside, because they hold dust which may have a lot of lead in it. For the same reason, you should not eat the green tops of other plants that you grow by the road, such as carrots, beets, or sweet potatoes. Fruiting plants such as tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, or cucumbers are safest from the effects of lead. Wash them thoroughly before you eat them to make sure there is no dust on them which might contain lead from exhaust. If you grow root vegetables, peel them before you eat them, because lead concentrates in the peel. Corn or maize is an excellent plant to grow by the roadside because its own leaves protect the cobs from lead in the air.

You need to be especially careful if your small children farm with you. They are likely to get soil in their noses or mouths, and lead is most harmful to children.

You can help protect your roadside crops from lead by using mulch, because it cuts down on dust. Lead from exhaust builds up in dust. When the soil you farm is dry, the dust can blow onto the plants, or you can breathe it as you work. But if you cover your soil with mulch, it will stay moist, so there will be less dust.

What is mulch? It is a layer of leaves, cut grass, dead plants, wood chips, straw, hay, or other material placed on top of soil. It cuts down on weeds, erosion, and nutrient loss. You can use newspaper or black plastic bags for mulching, but make sure the newspaper has no coloured ink in it. Coloured ink contains lead. When you are gardening near a busy roadway, you should not use waste from plants you have grown there as mulch because they will contain lead.

If you want to begin roadside or right‑of‑way farming, you will have to do some planning. You will need to make arrangements to use the land you want to farm, and to protect your produce from theft. You will need to think about where to get water. And you will need to think about protecting yourself and your crops from the lead in vehicle exhaust. You will also need to decide on crops and planting schedules, keeping in mind market prices and your family’s food needs. You might find it easier to begin if you work with a few other people, rather than alone.

Think about roadside farming in the city. Imagine yourself carrying home tomatoes, corn, and peppers that you have grown yourself. A productive roadside, where you grow crops or graze animals, improves city life. Making the most of roadsides and other unused public land can increase your income and help feed your family.

Acknowledgements

This script was produced as part of a series funded by the United Nations Development Programme.

Information Sources

Jac Smit, RCD Consultants, 1711 Lamont Street N.W., Washington, D.C., 20010, U.S.A., fax: 202‑986‑6732.

“How to avoid lead contamination of your garden,” published by Ecological Agriculture Projects, P.O. Box 191, Macdonald College, Ste‑Anne de Bellevue, QC, H9X 1C0, Canada.