The Peri-urban Agriculture Network: Strategies for Agricultural Viability in Urbanizing and High Land-Use-Pressure Regions

Progress report for WRGR19-04

Project Type: Research to Grass Roots
Funds awarded in 2019: $49,928.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G169-20-W7507
Grant Recipients: Washington State University; American Farmland Trust; Rogue Farm Corps; Joe's Place Farms; Oregon State University; BiZi Farms; Clark-Cowlitz Farm Bureau; Shady Grove Farm; Oregon Community Food Systems Network; Clark County Food Systems Council; April Joy Farms
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Justin O'Dea
Washington State University
Hannah Clark
American Farmland Trust
Dr. Lauren Gwin
Oregon State University
Dr. Laura Lewis
Washington State University
Nellie McAdams
Rogue Farm Corps
Lane Selman
Oregon State University
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Project Information


Many peri-urban regions in the western US are in a state of acute juxtaposition between formerly rural agricultural communities and growing, modern urban centers. Urbanization challenges agricultural viability through land use pressures and a slow unraveling of historically land-based economies and culture. These agricultural circumstances can be very destabilizing, and highlight the need for agriculture to be efficient, well-informed, current, culturally networked, and unafraid to evolve and diversify. Current trends in are giving rise to unprecedented opportunities for an agricultural renaissance and growth of a diversified, multi-tiered agricultural economy that supports 1) agricultural enterprises on a wide range of scales 2) innovative value-added market structures and 3) preservation of a land-based culture that values farming and food.

We propose an educational initiative focused on strategies for sustaining agricultural viability in regions experiencing acute urbanization and land use pressure. The project initiative focuses on developing a Peri-urban Agriculture Network of producers and university, private, government, and non-profit stakeholder entities working in agriculture, community, and economic development. Key Network components are 1) an annual conference focused on information exchange and Network growth and 2) a website serving as a focal point for Network activities, aggregated information, and resources. Results from a myriad of relevant SARE projects will be highlighted in the project deliverables and will inform the project trajectory. Importantly, the Network will be developed to be ongoing, expandable, adaptable, evolving platform to move agriculture forward as a vital, contemporary economic enterprise and occupation in the peri-urban context with nationwide impact.

Project Objectives:
  1. Assemble an extended Advisory Team for the Peri-urban Agriculture Network and Conference – November 2019-January 2020
  2. Determine and establish an appropriate structure for the Network – November 2019-March 2020
  3. Determine select SARE projects and products to be highlighted within Network resources and conference – November 2019- November 2020
  4. Development and establishment of a Network website – September 2020-April 2021
  5. Development and establishment of a Network conference – September 2020-March 2021
  6. Post-conference assessment of needs for appropriate Network evolution – March 2021-April 2021
  7. Development of a post-project funding transition plan for the Network – September 2020-April 2021

The western US is in a unique situation as a national stronghold of large-scale agricultural commodity production, bolstered historically by a context of relatively low population densities. Meanwhile, as many western cities’ populations, economies, and cost of living rise, the viability of larger-scale agricultural commodity production near the urban fringe begins to erode. Conversely, contemporary cities with strong economies are also increasingly bastions of direct food markets, and innovative food-related businesses. Because the contextual dissonance facing many farmers in the peri-urban west is acute though, agricultural businesses under-informed about business evolution options are at risk of collapse. In accordance, farmland becomes at risk to be irreversibly lost to development. Similarly, those wanting to establish agricultural businesses in peri-urban regions because of emerging market opportunities also often face formidable barriers-to-entry with land and capital access.

Productive farmland lost to urban development is practically irreversible, but underlying causal circumstances may be managed to a degree. Policymakers and agriculture stakeholders can be educated to more effectively inform policies affecting farm viability, and about the long-term economic impact of agriculture and it’s benefits to a community’s quality of life, especially when farms use value-added business strategies. Education initiatives can help inform existing farmers about emerging markets, farm transfer strategies, diversified business structures, value-added approaches, and high-value specialty crops and agricultural products. Beginning farmers can also benefit from all of the former aspects, as well as education and networking for land and capital access, strategies for farmland rental negotiations, and farmer association/network development.

We propose an educational initiative focused on strategies for sustaining agricultural viability in regions experiencing acute urbanization and land use pressure through development of a Peri-urban Agriculture Network. This CFP was specifically targeted because the SARE project database is a goldmine of information and index of individuals doing work pertinent to the goals of this project. Because many peri-urban regions share similar circumstances and solutions for farm viability but conversely have their own set of constraints and opportunities, the diverse array of SARE projects from different regions are an additional asset to the project goals. Because SARE’s goals are proactive and target long-term sustainability, the list of potential SARE projects relevant to this project is exhaustive, but certain projects are more relevant than others, for instance:

  • Sustaining the Family Farm at the Rural Urban Interface: Farm Succession Processes of Alternative Food and Agricultural Enterprises and Traditional Commodity Farmers.
  • Making the Connection: Enhancing Agricultural Understanding in an Urbanizing Area
  • Building Community Support for Agriculture on the Urban Edge
  • Creating a web-based tool to link farmers with institutional land-lease opportunities
  • Growing a Sustainable Portland Metropolitan Foodshed
  • Profitability of Ethnic Vegetable Varieties for Sale in Urban Niche Markets

As part of the the proposed project we will comprehensively review the SARE database for likewise relevant projects. The final deliverables of a Network website and annual conference will then provide a concentrated, (and hopefully, perpetual) platform to magnify the educational impact of past SARE projects concerning peri-urban agriculture viability.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Joe Beaudoin - Producer
  • Steve Inzalaco - Producer
  • Dr. Laura Lewis (Educator and Researcher)
  • Justin O'Dea (Educator and Researcher)
  • Lane Selman (Educator and Researcher)
  • Bill Zimmerman
  • Dr. Brook Brouwer (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Lauren Gwin (Educator and Researcher)
  • Nellie McAdams - Producer (Educator)


Educational approach:

The project will establish an educational network regarding long-term strategies to keep farms and agricultural lifestyles viable in the face of urbanization pressures. The goal of the network is to educate and empower growers, university researchers and educators, private business, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations to work together on strategies for sustaining agricultural viability in regions experiencing acute urbanization and land use pressure. The platform to share information with the network is the development of a website which will host a resource library and information regarding network events.

One cornerstone of the educational approach will be an inaugural Peri-Urban Agriculture conference to be held in Clark Co. Washington in Spring 2021. Conferences offer farmers and other food systems leaders an intentional time and space to exchange ideas, learn, grow, and spur innovative thinking across sectors. The conference will consist of presentations, discussions, breakout sessions and workshops, a keynote address, and a social networking reception on a variety of topics relevant to Peri-Urban Agriculture.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Network Development Meeting

1. To review and discuss the mission and vision and clarify necessary revisions, modifications, language.
2. To review the project timeline and the "prototype" frameworks the project deliverables (the Network itself, the website, and the conference)
3. To identify any current networks, resources, and individuals that may be relevant assets to development of the deliverables, identify potential members of an Extended Advisory Team/steering committee
4. To introduce a discussion of longer-term network and conference development, funding strategies etc.


A meeting with the core advisory team for the development of the Peri-Urban Agriculture Network to orient key team members to the project and discuss first steps and establish a timeline.

Outcomes and impacts:

During the meeting, the Principle Investigator and Project Coordinator presented introductory materials regarding the topic of Peri-Urban agriculture and establish the framework of need for the development of a peer network of farms facing urbanization pressures, including background research on the use of the term "peri-urban". Advisory team members shared their perspectives on the priorities and desired outcomes for the network and conference. 

Outcomes of the meeting included:

  • clarifying the mission and vision statement for the network;
  • discussing outreach strategies and identifying key stakeholders for inclusion in network development activities as well as identifying priorities for inclusion of diverse perspectives from operations involved in a range of sectors, types, size, growing practices and identity groups. 
  • deciding on a name for the annual conference
  • proposing potential dates and local venues for a conference 
Website Development

To establish a website to as a focal point for Network activities, aggregated information, and resources. The website will be designed for efficiency, clarity, organization, expandability, and adaptability, with a high level of filtering and search functions. The website is expected be operational by the March 2021 conference and fully functional by project’s end in
April 2021.


Project coordinator initiated website development be securing a domain name and building out the framework to host information about the network and conference.

The Project Coordinator is building out an archive of resources that will be accessible to network members including land use planning and policy information, guides, toolkits, funding opportunities, legal advice, webinars, events, and other pertinent information for farmers operating in peri-urban regions. 

Development a Network conference

To plan an implement a multitrack conference to facilitate cross-regional and cross-disciplinary
information exchange on topics including, (but not limited to) farm business evolution, emerging premium markets, farm transfer strategies, diversified/novel/innovative, business structures, value added approaches, high value/ specialty agricultural products, land financing and capital access strategies, farmland rental negotiations, farmer association development, and select agricultural production economy issues.


Conference development is in its initial stages given that this project has just started. Thus far, a name, date and mission statement for the conference have been developed. The Project Coordinator has compiled a conference work plan including key tasks and milestones to be accomplished and has contacted potential venues. Outreach is underway to potential organizations and individuals to serve on the conference steering committee and to make sure the planning process is inclusive of a range of diverse perspectives, identities (particularly those typically marginalized and underrepresented by food and farming sectors), networking capacities, and connections to sponsorship opportunities. 

Learning Outcomes

20 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Since the project start date, the project and information on the effects of urbanization on peri-urban agricultural communities have been delivered through 5 presentations reaching a minimum of 88 farmers, and to 2 additional farmers that have joined the project's advisory committee. The aforementioned presentations also delivered project information to minimum of 20 educators and agricultural service providers that reported intent to either use knowledge gains to inform thier educational program development, or inform development of local policy and economic development initiatives. Each of these 5 presentations were in addition to the scope of the project's original proposed deliverables. The project and related information was also delivered to ~22 WSU Extension specialists at a statewide meeting in February 2020. In addition, 3 incipient educational collaborative relationships and 1 research grant proposal submission have resulted from the project. 


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.