Urban agriculture

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Lufa Farms greenhouses are constructed on the rooftops of Greater Montreal.
An urban farm in Chicago
A small urban farm in Amsterdam

Urban agriculture is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a village, town, or city.1 Urban agriculture can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, Urban beekeeping, and horticulture. These activities occur in peri-urban areas as well.2

Urban agriculture can reflect varying levels of economic and social development. In the global north it often takes the form of a social movement for sustainable communities, where organic growers, ‘foodies’ and ‘locavores’ form social networks founded on a shared ethos of nature and community holism. These networks can evolve when receiving formal institutional support, becoming integrated into local town planning as a ‘transition town’ movement for sustainable urban development. In the developing south, food security, nutrition and income generation are key motivations for the practice. In either case, more direct access to fresh vegetables, fruits, and meat products through urban agriculture can improve food security and food safety.

History

Huerto (vegetable garden or orchard) Romita, organization dedicated to urban agriculture located in the La Romita section of Colonia Roma, Mexico City.

Community wastes were used in ancient Egypt to feed urban farming.3 In Machu Picchu water was conserved and reused as part of the stepped architecture of the city, and vegetable beds were designed to gather sun in order to prolong the growing season.3 Allotment gardens came up in Germany in the early 19th century as a response to poverty and food insecurity.4 Victory gardens sprouted during WWI and WWII and were fruit, vegetable, and herb gardens in US, Canada, and UK. This effort was undertaken by citizens to reduce pressure on food production that was to support the war effort. Community gardening in most communities are open to the public and provide space for citizens to cultivate plants for food or recreation. A community gardening program that is well-established is Seattle's P-Patch. The grass roots permaculture movement has been hugely influential in the renaissance of urban agriculture throughout the world.

The idea of supplemental food production beyond rural farming operations and distant imports is not new and has been used during war times and the Great Depression when food shortage issues arose. As early as 1893, citizens of a depression-struck Detroit were asked to use any vacant lots to grow vegetables. They were nicknamed Pingree's Potato Patches after the mayor, Hazen S. Pingree, who came up with the idea. He intended for these gardens to produce income, food supply, and even boost self independence during times of hardship.citation needed

During the first World War president Woodrow Wilson called upon all American citizens to utilize any available open space for food growth, seeing this as a way to pull them out of a potentially damaging situation. Because most of Europe was consumed with war, they were unable to produce sufficient food supplies to be shipped to the U.S., and a new plan was implemented with the intent to feed the U.S. and even supply a surplus to other countries in need. By the year 1919 over 5 million plots were growing food and over 500 million pounds of produce was harvested. A very similar practice came into use during the Great Depression that provided a purpose, a job, and food to those who would otherwise be without anything during such harsh times. In this case these efforts helped to raise spirits socially as well as to boost economic growth. Over 2.8 million dollars worth of food was produced from the subsistence gardens during the Depression. By the time of the Second World War the War/Food Administration set up a National Victory Garden Program that set out to systematically establish functioning agriculture within cities. With this new plan in action, as many as 5.5 million Americans took part in the victory garden movement and over 9 million pounds of fruit and vegetables were grown a year, accounting for 44% of U.S.-grown produce throughout that time.citation needed

In 2010, New York City saw the building and opening of the world's largest privately owned and operated rooftop farm, followed by an even larger location in 2012.5 Both were a result of municipal programs such as The Green Roof Tax Abatement Program.6 and Green Infrastructure Grant Program7

With its past success in mind and with modern technology, urban agriculture today can be something to help both developed and developing nations.

A tidy front yard flower and vegetable garden in Aretxabaleta, the Basque Country

Perspectives

A vegetable garden in the square in front of the train station in Ezhou, China

Resource and economic

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has defined urban agriculture as:8

[A]n industry that produces, processes and markets food and fuel, largely in response to the daily demand of consumers within a town, city, or metropolis, on land and water dispersed throughout the urban and peri-urban area, applying intensive production methods, using and reusing natural resources and urban wastes to yield a diversity of crops and livestock.

Environmental

The Council on Agriculture, Science and Technology, (CAST) defines urban agriculture to include aspects of environmental health, remediation, and recreation:9

Urban agriculture is a complex system encompassing a spectrum of interests, from a traditional core of activities associated with the production, processing, marketing, distribution, and consumption, to a multiplicity of other benefits and services that are less widely acknowledged and documented. These include recreation and leisure; economic vitality and business entrepreneurship, individual health and well-being; community health and well being; landscape beautification; and environmental restoration and remediation.

Modern planning and design initiatives are often more responsive to this model of urban agriculture because it fits within the current scope of sustainable design. The definition allows for a multitude of interpretations across cultures and time. Frequently it is tied to policy decisions to build sustainable cities.10

Food security

Access to nutritious food, both economically and geographically, is another perspective in the effort to locate food and livestock production in cities. With the tremendous influx of world population to urban areas, the need for fresh and safe food is increased. The Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) defines food security as:

All persons in a community having access to culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate food through local, non-emergency sources at all times.

Areas faced with food security issues have limited choices, often relying on highly processed fast food or convenience store foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients, which may lead to elevated rates of diet-related illnesses such as diabetes. These problems have brought about the concept of food justice which Alkon and Norgaard (2009; 289) explain is, "places access to healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food in the contexts of institutional racism, racial formation, and racialized geographies…. Food justice serves as a theoretical and political bridge between scholarship and activism on sustainable agriculture, food insecurity, and environmental justice." 11

Impact

Economic

Urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) expands the economic base of the city through production, processing, packaging, and marketing of consumable products. This results in an increase in entrepreneurial activities and the creation of jobs, as well as reducing food costs and improving quality.12 UPA provides employment, income, and access to food for urban populations, which helps to relieve chronic and emergency food insecurity. Chronic food insecurity refers to less affordable food and growing urban poverty, while emergency food insecurity relates to breakdowns in the chain of food distribution. UPA plays an important role in making food more affordable and in providing emergency supplies of food.13 Research into market values for produce grown in urban gardens has attributed to a community garden plot a median yield value of between approximately $200 and $500 (US, adjusted for inflation).14

Social

The needs of urban landscaping can be combined with those of suburban livestock farmers. (Kstovo, Russia)

There are many social benefits that have emerged from urban agricultural practices, such as improved overall social and emotional well-being, improved health and nutrition, increased income, employment, food security within the household, and community social life. Urban agriculture can have a large impact on the social and emotional well-being of individuals. Individuals report to have decreased levels of stress and better overall mental health when they have opportunities to interact with nature through a garden. Urban gardens are thought to be relaxing and calming, and offer a space of retreat in densely population urban areas 15

UA can have an overall positive impact on community health, which directly impacts individuals social and emotional well-being. There have been many documented cases in which community gardens lead to improved social relationships, increased community pride, and overall community improvement and mobilization (2). This improvement in overall community health can also be connected to decreased levels of crime and suicide rates 15

Urban gardens are often places that facilitate positive social interaction, which also contributes to overall social and emotional well-being. Many gardens facilitate the improvement of social networks within the communities that they are located. For many neighborhoods, gardens provide a “symbolic focus,” which leads to increased neighborhood pride16

When individuals come together around UA, physical activity levels are often increased. Everything that is involved in starting and maintaining a garden, from turning the soil to digging holes, contributes to an individual’s physical activity. Many state that working in agriculture is much more interesting and fulfilling than going to the gym, and that it makes getting exercise “fun.” In addition to the exercise that individuals receive while actually working in gardens, many people say that the majority of the exercise they receive through urban agriculture is actually getting to the gardens—many people either walk or ride their bike to the sites, which provides many physical benefits 17

UPA can be seen as a means of improving the livelihood of people living in and around cities. Taking part in such practices is seen mostly as informal activity, but in many cities where inadequate, unreliable, and irregular access to food is a recurring problem, urban agriculture has been a positive response to tackling food concerns. Due to the food security that comes with UA, a feelings of independence and empowerment often arise. The ability to produce and grow food for oneself has also been reported to improve levels of self-esteem of self-efficacy 15 . Households and small communities take advantage of vacant land and contribute not only to their household food needs but also the needs of their resident city.18 The CFSC states that:

Community and residential gardening, as well as small-scale farming, save household food dollars. They promote nutrition and free cash for non-garden foods and other items.

This allows families to generate larger incomes selling to local grocers or to local outdoor markets, while supplying their household with proper nutrition of fresh and nutritional produce.

Some community urban farms can be quite efficient and help women find work, who in some cases are marginalized from finding employment in the formal economy.19 Studies have shown that participation from women have a higher production rate, therefore producing the adequate amount for household consumption while supplying more for market sale.20

Due to the fact that most UA activities are conducted on vacant municipal land, there have been rising concerns about the allocation of land and property rights. The IDRC and the FAO have published the Guidelines for Municipal Policymaking on Urban Agriculture, and are working with municipal governments to create successful policy measures that can be incorporated in urban planning.21 Including UA in local plans and as proper land use will continue to help impoverished communities gain a better well-being while fighting urban poverty.

Localized food production in urban and peri-urban areas contributes to local economies by creating jobs and producing valuable products. Some researchers indicate that unemployed populations in large cities and suburban towns would decrease if put to work by local food movements. Schools have foreseen the asset of local food production and are beginning to incorporate agricultural sections in their curricula and present it as a career opportunity. Urban agricultural projects are beginning to open a new labor market in areas that have been negatively affected by industrial outsourcing of jobs.

Energy efficiency

Edible Oyster Mushrooms growing in an apartment in San Francisco from used coffee grounds

The current industrial agriculture system is accountable for high energy costs for the transportation of foodstuffs. According to a study by Rich Pirog, the associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, the average conventional produce item travels 1,500 miles (2,400 km),22 using, if shipped by tractor-trailer, 1 US gallon (3.8 l; 0.83 imp gal) of fossil fuel per 100 pounds (45 kg).23 The energy used to transport food is decreased when urban agriculture can provide cities with locally grown food.

Pirog also found that traditional, non-local, food distribution system used 4 to 17 times more fuel and emitted 5 to 17 times more CO2 than the local and regional transport.24

Similarly, in a study by Marc Xuereb and Region of Waterloo Public Health, they estimated that switching to locally grown food could save transport-related emissions equivalent to nearly 50,000 metric tons of CO2, or the equivalent of taking 16,191 cars off the road.25

a windowfarm, designed to incorporate discarded plastic bottles into pots for hydroponic agriculture in urban dwellings' windows

Carbon footprint

As mentioned above, the energy-efficient nature of urban agriculture can reduce each city’s carbon footprint by reducing the amount of transport that occurs to deliver goods to the consumer .26

Also these areas can act as carbon sinks 27 offsetting some of carbon accumulation that is innate to urban areas, where pavement and buildings outnumber plants. Plants absorb atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and release breathable Oxygen (O2). The process of Carbon Sequestration can be further improved by combining other agriculture techniques to increase removal from the atmosphere and prevent release of CO2 during harvest time. However, this process relies heavily on the types of plants selected and the methodology of farming.25 Specifically, choosing plants that do not lose their leaves and remain green all year can increase the farms ability to sequester carbon.25

Reduction in ozone and particulate matter

The reduction in ozone and other particulate matter can benefit human health.28 Reducing these particulates and ozone gases could reduce mortality rates in urban areas along with increase the health of those living in cities. Just to give once example, in the article “Green roofs as a means of pollution abatement,” the author argues that a rooftop containing 2000 m² of uncut grass has the potential to remove up to 4000 kg of particulate matter. According to the article, only one square meter of green roof is needed to offset the annual particulate matter emissions of a car.

Soil decontamination

Vacant urban lots are often victim to illegal dumping of hazardous chemicals and other wastes. They are also liable to accumulate standing water and “grey water”, which can be dangerous to public health, especially left stagnant for long periods. The implementation of urban agriculture in these vacant lots can be a cost-effective method for removing these chemicals. In the process known as “Phytoremediation,” plants and the associated microorganisms are selected for their chemical ability to degrade, absorb, convert to an inert form, and remove toxins from the soil.29 Several chemicals can be targeted for removal including heavy metals (e.g. Mercury and lead) inorganic compounds (e.g. Arsenic and Uranium), and organic compounds (e.g. petroleum and chlorinated compounds like PBC’s).30

Phytoremeditation is both an environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and energy-efficient measure to reduce pollution. Phytoremediation only costs about $5–$40 per ton of soil being decontaminated.3132 Implementation of this process also reduces the amount of soil that must be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill.33

Urban agriculture as a method to mediate chemical pollution can be effective in preventing the spread of these chemicals into the surrounding environment. Other methods of remediation often disturb the soil and force the chemicals contained within it into the air or water. Plants can be used as a method to remove chemicals and also to hold the soil and prevent erosion of contaminated soil decreasing the spread of pollutants and the hazard presented by these lots.3334

Although while extracting chemicals the resulting plants may not be fit for ingestion, after the removal of hazardous materials from the soil, the lot could return to producing consumable goods.

Converting an unused lot into a garden or farm can discourage and reduce future dumping.

Noise pollution

Large amounts of noise pollution not only lead to lower property values and high frustration, they can be damaging to your hearing and health.35 In the study “Noise exposure and public health,” they argue that exposure to continual noise is a public health problem. They cite examples of the detriment of continual noise on humans to include: “hearing impairment, hypertension and ischemic heart disease, annoyance, sleep disturbance, and decreased school performance.” Since most roofs or vacant lots consist of hard flat surfaces that reflect sound waves instead of absorb them, adding plants that can absorb these waves has the potential to lead to a vast reduction in noise pollution.35

Nutrition and quality of food

Daily intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Urban agriculture is associated with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables 36 which decreases risk for disease and can be a cost-effective way to provide citizens with quality, fresh produce in urban settings.

People are more likely to try new vegetables when they take an active role in the planting and cultivation of an urban garden.36 Produce from urban gardens can be perceived to be more flavorful and desirable than store bought produce 37 which may also lead to a wider acceptance and higher intake. A Flint, Michigan study found that those participating in community gardens consumed fruits and vegetables 1.4 more times per day and were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits or vegetables at least 5 times daily (p. 1).36 Garden based education can also yield nutritional benefits in children. An Idaho study reported a positive association between school gardens and increased intake of fruit, vegetables, vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber among sixth graders.38

Urban gardening is shown to improve dietary knowledge. Inner city youth of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota who were part of a community garden intervention were better able to communicate specific nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables on the body than those who had not participated in a community garden.39 Community gardeners were also found to consume fewer sweet foods and drinks in a Philadelphia study.36

The nutrient content of produce from an urban garden may be higher due to decrease in time between production and consumption. A 30-50% nutrient loss can happen in the 5–10 days it takes to travel from farm to table. Harvesting fruits and vegetables initiates the enzymatic process of nutrient degradation which is especially detrimental to water soluble vitamins such as ascorbic acid and thiamin.40 The process of blanching produce in order to freeze or can reduces nutrient content slightly but not nearly as much as the amount of time spent in storage.40 Harvesting produce from one’s own community garden cuts back on storage times significantly.

Urban agriculture also provides quality nutrition for low income households. Studies show that every $1 invested in a community garden yields $6 worth of vegetables. Many urban gardens reduce the strain on food banks and other emergency food providers by donating shares of their harvest and provide fresh produce in areas that otherwise might be food deserts. The supplemental nutrition program Women, Infants and Children (WIC) as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have partnered with several urban gardens nationwide to improve the accessibility to produce in exchange for a few hours of volunteer gardening work.41

Economy of scale

Using high-density urban farming, as for instance with vertical farms or stacked greenhouses, many environmental benefits can be achieved on a city-wide scale that would be impossible otherwise. These systems do not only provide food, but also produce potable water from waste water, and can recycle organic waste back to energy and nutrients.42 At the same time, they can reduce food-related transportation to a minimum while providing fresh food for large communities in almost any climate.

Health inequalities and food justice

A 2009 report by the USDA determined that, “Evidence is both abundant and robust enough for us to conclude that Americans living in low-income and minority areas tend to have poor access to healthy food,” and that the “structural inequalities” in these neighborhoods “contribute to inequalities in diet and diet-related outcomes.”43 These diet related outcomes, including obesity and diabetes, have become epidemic in low-income urban environments in the United States.44 Although the definition and methods for determining “food deserts” have varied, studies do indicate that, at least in the United States, there are racial disparities in the food environment.45 Thus using the definition of environment as the place where people live, work, play and pray, food disparities become an issue of environmental justice.46 This is especially true in American inner-cities where a history of racist practices have contributed to the development of food deserts in the low-income, minority areas of the urban core.47 The issue of inequality is so integral to the issues of food access and health that the Growing Food & Justice for All Initiative was founded with the mission of “dismantling racism” as an integral part of creating food security.48 Not only can urban agriculture provide healthy, fresh food options, but also can contribute to a sense of community, aesthetic improvement, crime reduction, minority empowerment and autonomy, and even preserve culture through the use of farming methods and heirloom seeds preserved from areas of origin.4950

Implementation

Creating a community-based infrastructure for urban agriculture means establishing local systems to grow and process food and transfer it from farmer (producer) to consumer.

To facilitate food production, cities have established community-based farming projects. Some projects have collectively tended community farms on common land, much like that of eighteenth-century Boston Common. One such community farm is the Collingwood Children's Farm in Melbourne, Australia. Other community garden projects use the allotment garden model, in which gardeners care for individual plots in a larger gardening area, often sharing a tool shed and other amenities. Seattle's P-Patch gardens use this model, as did the South Central Farm in Los Angeles. Independent urban gardeners also grow food in individual yards and on roofs. Garden sharing projects seek to pair producers with land, typically, residential yard space. Roof gardens allow for urban dwellers to maintain green spaces in the city without having to set aside a tract of undeveloped land. Rooftop farms allow otherwise unused industrial roofspace to be used productively, creating work and profit.51 Projects around the world seek to enable cities to become 'continuous productive landscapes' by cultivating vacant urban land and temporary or permanent kitchen gardens.52

Food processing on a community level has been accommodated by centralizing resources in community tool sheds and processing facilities for farmers to share. The Garden Resource Program Collaborative based in Detroit has cluster tool banks. Different areas of the city have toolbanks where resources like tools, compost, mulch, tomato stakes, seeds, and education can be shared and distributed with the gardeners in that cluster. Detroit's Garden Resource Program Collaborative also strengthens their gardening community by providing to their members transplants; education on gardening, policy, and food issues; and by building connectivity between gardeners through workgroups, potlucks, tours, field trips, and cluster workdays.

Farmers' markets, such as the farmers' market in Los Angeles, provide a common land where farmers can sell their product to consumers. Large cities tend to open their farmers markets on the weekends and one day in the middle of the week. For example, the farmers' market of Boulevard Richard-Lenoir in Paris, France, is open on Sundays and Thursdays. However, to create a consumer dependency on urban agriculture and to introduce local food production as a sustainable career for farmers, markets would have to be open regularly. For example, the Los Angeles Farmers' Market is open seven days a week and has linked several local grocers together to provide different food products. The market's central location in downtown Los Angeles provides the perfect interaction for a diverse group of sellers to access their consumers.

Cairo, Egypt

In the meantime in Egypt, population explosion and the tendency to build on agricultural land have acted to limit the resources of city families and their access to healthy products. With a little effort and money, rooftops can contribute in improving the families quality of life and provide them with healthy food and raise their income, this is besides the environmental and aesthetic role it plays. While it is not new, the notion of planting rooftops in Egypt has only recently been implemented. In the early 1990s at Ain Shams University, a group of agriculture professors developed an initiative of growing organic vegetables to suit densely populated cities of Egypt. The initiative was applied on a small scale; until it was officially adopted in 2001, by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Havana, Cuba

Due to the shortage of fuel and therefore severe deficiencies in the transportation sector a growing percentage of the agricultural production takes place in the so-called urban agriculture. In 2002, 35,000 acres (14,000 ha) of urban gardens produced 3,400,000 short tons (3,100,000 t) of food. In Havana, 90% of the city's fresh produce come from local urban farms and gardens. In 2003, more than 200,000 Cubans worked in the expanding urban agriculture sector.53

Mumbai, India

Economic development in Mumbai brought a growth in population caused mainly by the migration of laborers from other regions of the country. The number of residents in the city increased more than twelve times in the last century. Greater Mumbai, formed by City Island and Salsette Island, is the largest city in India with a population of 16.4 million, according to data collected by the census of 2001. Mumbai is one of the densest cities in the world, 48,215 persons per km² and 16,082 per km² in suburban areas. In a scenario like this, urban agriculture seems unlikely to put in practice since it must compete with real estate developers for the access and use of vacant lots. Alternative farming methods have emerged as a response to scarcity of land, water, and economic resources employed in UPA.

Dr. Doshi's city garden methods are revolutionary for being appropriate to apply in reduced spaces as terraces and balconies, even on civil construction walls, and for not requiring big investments in capital or long hours of work. His farming practice is purely organic and is mainly directed to domestic consumption. His gardening tools are composed of materials available in the local environment: sugarcane waste, polyethylene bags, tires, containers and cylinders, and soil. The containers and bags (open at both ends) are filled with the sugarcane stalks, compost, and garden soil, which make possible the use of minimal quantity of water if compared to open fields. Dr. Doshi states that solar energy can replace soil in cities. He also recommends the idea of chainplanting, or growing plants in intervals and in small quantities rather than at once and in large amounts. He has grown different types of fruit such as mangos, figs, guavas, bananas, and sugarcane stalks in his terrace of 1,200 sq ft (110 m2) in Bandra. The concept of city farming developed by Dr. Doshi consumes the entire household's organic waste. He subsequently makes the household self-sufficient in the provision of food: 5 kilograms (11 lb) of fruits and vegetables are produced daily for 300 days a year.54

The main objectives of a pilot project at city farm at Rosary High School, Dockyard Road, were to promote economic support for street children, beautify the city landscape, supply locally produced organic food to urban dwellers (mainly those residing in slums), and to manage organic waste in a sustainable city. The project was conducted in the Rosary School, in Mumbai, with the participation of street children during 2004. A city farm was created in a terrace area of 400 sq ft (37 m2). The participants were trained in urban farming techniques. The farm produced vegetables, fruits, and flowers. The idea has spread the concept of city farm to other schools in the city.

The Mumbai Port Trust (MBPT) central kitchen distributes food to approximately 3,000 employees daily, generating important amounts of organic disposal. A terrace garden created by the staff recycles ninety percent of this waste in the production of vegetables and fruits. Preeti Patil, who is the catering officer at the MBPT explains the purpose of the enterprise:55

Mumbai Port Trust has developed an organic farm on the terrace of its central kitchen, which is an area of approximately 3,000 sq ft (280 m2). The activity of city farming was started initially to dispose of kitchen organic waste in an ecofriendly way. Staff members, after their daily work in the kitchen, tend the garden, which has about 150 plants.

Bangkok, Thailand

In early 2000, urban gardens were started under the direction of the NGO, Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), to help achieve the Bangkok Metropolitan Administrations (BMA) priority to 'green' Thailand. With a population of 12 million and 39% of the land in the city vacant due to rapid expansion of the 1960s–80s Bangkok is a test bed for urban gardens centered on community involvement.10 The two urban gardens initiated by TEI are in Bangkok Noi and Bangkapi and the main tasks were stated as:

  • Teach members of the communities the benefits of urban green space.
  • Create the social framework to plan, implement, and maintain the urban green space.
  • Create a process of method to balance the needs of the community with the needs of the larger environmental concerns.

While the goals of the NGO are important in a global context, the community goals are being met through the work of forming the urban gardens themselves. In this sense the creation, implementation, and maintenance of urban gardens is highly determined by the desires of the communities involved. However, the criteria by which TEI measured their success illustrates the scope of benefits to a community which practices urban agriculture. TEI's success indicators were:

  • Establishing an Urban Green Plan
  • Community Capacity Building
  • Poverty Reduction
  • Links with Government
  • Developing a Model for Other Communities

Evan D.G. Fraser wrote in the article Urban Ecology in Bangkok Thailand that although the project was initiated to serve the environmental needs of the city it quickly illustrated the positive side effects of urban agriculture:

In many ways, the urban environment became a lens through which communities re-evaluated their own relationship with the city, the impact of urbanization in a global context, and how small groups can exert some control over the shape of their neighbourhoods.

Beijing, China

Beijing's increase in land area from 4,822 square kilometres (1,862 sq mi) in 1956 to 16,808 square kilometres (6,490 sq mi) in 1958 led to the increased adoption of peri-urban agriculture. Such "suburban agriculture" led to more than 70% of non-staple food in Beijing, mainly consisting of vegetables and milk, to be produced by the city itself in the 1960s and 1970s. Recently, with relative food security in China, periurban agriculture has led to improvements in the quality of the food available, as opposed to quantity. One of the more recent experiments in urban agriculture is the Modern Agricultural Science Demonstration Park in Xiaotangshan.56

Shenzhen, China

Traditionally Chinese cities have been known to mix agricultural activities within the urban setting. Shenzhen, once a small farming community, is now a fast growing metropolis due to the Chinese government designation as an open economic zone. Due to large and growing population in China, the government supports urban self-sufficiency in food production. Shenzhen's village structure, sustainable methods, and new agricultural advancements initiated by the government have been strategically configured to supply food for this growing city.57

The city farms are located about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from city center in a two-tier system. The first tier approached from city center produces perishable items. Located just outside these farms, hardier vegetables are grown such as potatoes, carrots, and onions. This system allows produce to be sold in city markets just a few short hours after picking.

Another impressive method used within Chinese agriculture and aquaculture practice is the mulberry-dyke fish-pond system, which is a response to waste recycling and soil fertility. This system can be described as:57

Mulberry trees are grown to feed silkworms and the silkworm waste is fed to the fish in ponds. The fish also feed on waste from other animals, such as pigs, poultry, and buffalo. The animals in turn are given crops that have been fertilized by mud from the ponds. This is a sophisticated system as a continuous cycle of water, waste and food...with man built into the picture.

As population grows and industry advances the city tries to incorporate potential agricultural growth by experimenting in new agricultural methods. The Fong Lau Chee Experimental Farm in Dongguan, Guangdong has worked with new agricultural advancements in lychee production. This farm was established with aspirations of producing large quantities and high quality lychees, by constantly monitoring sugar content, and their seeds. This research, conducted by local agricultural universities allows for new methods to be used with hopes of reaching the needs of city consumers.58

However due to increased levels of economic growth and pollution some urban farms have become threatened. The government has been trying to step in and create new technological advancements within the agricultural field to sustain levels of urban agriculture.

"The city plans to invest 8.82 billion yuan in 39 agricultural projects, including a safe agricultural base, an agricultural high-tech park, agricultural processing and distribution, forestry, eco-agricultural tourism, which will form an urban agriculture with typical Shenzhen characteristics" in conjunction with this program the city is expected to expand the Buji Farm Produce Wholesale Market.59

According to the Municipal Bureau of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery the city will invest 600 million yuan on farms located around the city, with hopes of the farms to provide "60 percent of the meat, vegetables and aquatic products in the Shenzhen market".60

There has also been an emerging trend of going green and organic as a response to pollution and pesticides used in farming practices. Vegetable suppliers are required to pass certain inspections held by the city's Agriculture Bureau before they can be sold as "green".61

New York, NY

In New York City many low-income residents suffer from high rates of obesity and diabetes, limited sources of fresh produce and available, undeveloped land. The City and local nonprofit groups have been providing land, training and financial encouragement, but the impetus has in urban farming has really come from the farmers, who often volunteer when their regular work day is done. In addition, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection offers a grant program for private property owners in combined sewer areas of New York City. The minimum requirement is to manage 1” of stormwater runoff from the contributing impervious area. Eligible projects include green roofs, rooftop farms, and rainwater harvesting on private property in combined sewer areas. Because of this grant program, New York City now has the world's largest rooftop farms.62

Some urban gardeners have used empty lots to start community or urban garden. However, the soil must be tested for heavy contamination in city soil because of vehicle exhaust and remnants of old construction. However, studies have found that such ground can be cultivated as long as the pH is kept neutral. The City also has a composting program, which is available to gardeners and farmers. One group, GreenThumb, provides free seedlings. Another program, the City Farms project operated by the nonprofit Just Food, offers courses on growing and selling food.63

Two alternate means of growing are rooftop gardens and hydroponic (soil-less) growing. The New York Times wrote an article about one of Manhattan's first gardens which incorporate both these techniques.64

Pomona Valley, California

In response to the recession of 2008, a coalition of community based organizations, farmers and academic institutions in California's Pomona Valley formed the Pomona Valley Urban Agriculture Initiative. The Pomona Valley is a nine city region straddling Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties and is home to nearly one million people. In the six southernmost cities (Pomona, Montclair, Ontario, Fontana, Chino and Rialto) nearly 60% of the population is Latino and another 10% African-American.65 The aggregate poverty rate of those six cities is 17%. Aggregate unemployment is 14%.66

After the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, cheap grain from the United States flooded Mexico, driving peasant farmers off of their land. Many immigrated into the Pomona Valley and found work in the construction industry. With the 2008 recession, the construction industry also suffered in the region. It is unlikely to regain its former strength because of severe water shortages in this desert region as well as ongoing weakness in the local economy.

These immigrants were dry land organic farmers in their home country by default since they did not have access to pesticides and petroleum based fertilizers. Now they found themselves on the border of two counties: Los Angeles County with a population of 10 million and almost no farmland, and San Bernardino County which has the worst access to healthy food in the state.67 In both counties there is a growing demand for locally grown organic produce.

In response to these conditions, Uncommon Good, a community based nonprofit organization that works with immigrant farmer families, convened a forum which became the Urban Farmers Association. The Urban Farmers Association is the first organization of its kind for poor immigrant farmers in the Pomona Valley. Its goal is to develop opportunities for its members to support themselves and their families through urban agriculture. With Uncommon Good, it is a founding member of the Pomona Valley Urban Agriculture Initiative (PVUAI).

The PVUAI is working with local colleges and universities to expand upon a food assessment survey that was done in the City of Pomona.68 The new survey will cover the entire Pomona Valley. It also is working with academics to study the markets and alternative business models for urban agriculture. In addition, it is working with local urban farmers to expand their capabilities so that they can hire more farmers and increase their yields. It also is exploring an educational model wherein urban farmers produce food for local school districts' lunch programs, and the schools recycle the leftovers which then are returned to the land to replenish the soil, providing a whole "food cycle" for students to observe and in which they can participate.

Claremont, CA in the north of the Pomona valley is also the birthplace of Farmscape, a rapidly growing hire-a-farmer alternative to standard landscaping maintenance. Founded in 2008, the company plants, tends, and harvests fresh produce for Los Angeles area residential clients in their own yards.69

Vancouver, Canada

Alterrus Systems is the first company to design and implement a hydroponic apparatus, which can grow over 60 different types of plant hydroponically. The system uses vertically stacked trays on a pole which in turn is attached to a rail, much like shirts in a dry cleaning shop. Each pole with all its trays of growing plants follows other poles around the rail which describes a circuit. The circuit leads the trays past lighting, often natural, but augmented by LED technology. It also leads past watering and nutrient points. Only 8% of the water a farmer would use for one crop is now used for up to 20 crops at a time. A prototype in Paignton Zoo, in Cornwall, UK, has been tested by various food companies and saves the zoo significant sums of money for animal food on an annual basis, as well as improving its nutrient and freshness quotient. A 6,000 square foot installation on the top floor of a parkade in Vancouver, British Columbia, can produce thousands of pounds of fresh produce annually and the installation is sold out, experiencing demand at many times its capacity.

Todmorden, UK

Todmorden is a village of 17,000 inhabitants in Yorkshire, United Kingdom with an innovative successful urban agriculture model. The Incredible Edible Todmorden project which began in 2008 has meant that food crops have been planted at forty locations throughout the village.70 The produce is all free, the work is done by volunteers, and passers-by and visitors are invited to pick and use the produce.,7172

Some of the Incredible Edible Todmorden plots have been permission plots while others have been examples of guerilla gardening. All are "propaganda gardens" promoting locals to consider growing local, to eat seasonal, to consider the provenance of their food, and to enjoy fresh.71

There are Incredible Edible Todmorden food plots in the street, in the health centre car park, at the rail station, in the police station, in the cemetery, and in all the village schools.71

Benefits

The benefits that UPA brings along to cities that implement this practice are numerous. The transformation of cities from only consumers of food to generators of agricultural products contributes to sustainability, improved health, and poverty alleviation.

  • UPA assists to close the open loop system in urban areas characterized by the importation of food from rural zones and the exportation of waste to regions outside the city or town.
  • Wastewater and organic solid waste can be transformed into resources for growing agriculture products: the former can be used for irrigation, the latter as fertilizer.
  • Vacant urban areas can be used for agriculture production.
  • Other natural resources can be conserved. The use of wastewater for irrigation improves water management and increases the availability of freshwater for drinking and household consumption.
  • UPA can help to preserve bioregional ecologies from being transformed into cropland.
  • Urban agriculture saves energy (e.g. energy consumed in transporting food from rural to urban areas).
  • Local production of food also allows savings in transportation costs, storage, and in product loss, what results in food cost reduction.
  • UPA improves the quality of the urban environment through greening and thus, a reduction in pollution.
  • Urban agriculture also makes of the city a healthier place to live by improving the quality of the environment.
  • UPA is a very efficient tool to fight against hunger and malnutrition since it facilitates the access to food by an impoverished sector of the urban population.

Poverty alleviation: It is known that a large part of the people involved in urban agriculture is the urban poor. In developing countries, the majority of urban agricultural production is for self-consumption, with surpluses being sold in the market. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), urban poor consumers spend between 60 and 80 percent of their income on food, making them very vulnerable to higher food prices.

  • UPA provides food and creates savings in household expenditure on consumables, thus increasing the amount of income allocated to other uses.
  • UPA surpluses can be sold in local markets, generating more income for the urban poor.12

Community centers and gardens educate the community to see agriculture as an integral part of urban life. The Florida House Institute for Sustainable Development in Sarasota, Florida, serves as a public community and education center in which innovators with sustainable, energy-saving ideas can implement and test them. Community centers like Florida House provide urban areas with a central location to learn about urban agriculture and to begin to integrate agriculture with the urban lifestyle.

Other examples of community centers are Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia and Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, Australia. Greensgrow uses an abandoned site as an urban farm to teach the community how food is grown and how to grow their own food. Northey Street City Farm hosts weekly community activities to educate and involve local residents in agricultural practices.

Urban farms also are a proven effective educational tool to teach kids about healthy eating and meaningful physical activity.73 An example of educational urban agriculture is Full Circle Farm, an 11-acre (45,000 m2) farm located on a middle school campus in the heart of Silicon Valley. Like other educational agriculture centers, Full Circle Farm's acreage is used as a "living campus" where students get real-world, hands-on agriculture experiences that cultivate both healthy habits and environmental leadership.

Difficulties

  • Space is at a premium in cities and is accordingly expensive and difficult to secure.
  • The utilization of untreated waste water for urban agricultural irrigation can facilitate the spread of waterborne diseases among the human population.74
  • Although studies have demonstrated improved air quality in urban areas related to the proliferation of urban gardens, it has also been shown that increasing urban pollution (related specifically to a sharp rise in the number of automobiles on the road), has led to an increase in insect pests, which consume plants produced by urban agriculture. It is believed that changes to the physical structure of the plants themselves, which have been correlated to increased levels of air pollution, increase plants' palatability to insect pests. Reduced yields within urban gardens decreases the amount of food available for human consumption.75
  • Studies indicate that the nutritional quality of wheat suffers when urban wheat plants are exposed to high nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide concentrations. This problem is particularly acute in the developing world, where outdoor concentrations of sulfur dioxide are high and large percentages of the population rely upon urban agriculture as a primary source of food. These studies have implications for the nutritional quality of other staple crops that are grown in urban settings.75
  • Agricultural activities on land that is contaminated (with such metals as lead) pose potential risks to human health. These risks are associated both with working directly on contaminated land and with consuming food that was grown in contaminated soil.76
  • Agriculture and urbanization are considered to be incompatible activities, competing for the access and use of limited land. In reality, in urban areas there is important available space for agriculture use such as public and private vacant lots, and areas not suited for built-up uses (steep slopes and flood plains).
  • Legal restrictions and economic impediments to accessing land and resources (such as reasonably priced water) are among the most common problems confronted by urban agriculture.
  • Lack of security of tenure also acts as a preventive for farming due to the uncertainty in the use length of the land.
  • Urban agriculture has been criticized by those who believe that industrial farm production can produce food at larger volumes more efficiently.
  • A major argument is whether urban farming alone—farming very intensively on small land areas—could replace land extensive production in rural areas which produce the bulk of our food products. Yet hunger persists in both urban and rural areas, despite a subsidized industrial agriculture. The degree to which urban agriculture can address these food needs systemically is undetermined, though there are indications in some communities that it is an important source of food.
  • Other opponentswho? argue that localized food production and the introduction of common resources and common lands into the urban areas would produce a tragedy of the commons, though many urban farms and community gardens are managed privately or through other civil society organizations.citation needed

Municipal greening policy goals can pose conflicts. For example, policies promoting urban tree canopy are not sympathetic to vegetable gardening because of the deep shade cast by trees. However, some municipalities like Portland, Oregon, and Davenport, Iowa are encouraging the implementation of fruit bearing trees (as street trees or as park orchards) to meet both greening and food production goals.77

See also

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Further reading

External links








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