Since 1950, the number of people residing in urban areas has increased by more than 3.1 billion. It is projected by the United Nations (UN) that by 2050, 66 percent of the world's population will be living in cities.
The rise in urban inhabitants has led to growing global concern over a slew of challenges—including food security, land scarcity, social equity and economic opportunity. In response, communities around the world are digging into their urban landscapes and cultivating foodscapes that can provide green space, nutritious food and increased incomes for farmers, while reducing food miles and creating greater community integration and inclusion.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 1 billion people worldwide are now engaged in urban agriculture. From Nairobi, Kenya to Brooklyn, New York farmers and eaters are finding ways to green their cities.
Ron Finley, a noteworthy renegade in the urban agriculture revolution, has been transforming the streets of South LA since 2010. Affectionately known as the Gangsta Gardener, Finley's rebellious introduction into agriculture is explored in the documentary, Can You Dig This. An inspiring story of four unlikely gardeners, the film calls for people in one of America's most notoriously dangerous neighborhoods and beyond, to “put down their guns and pick up their shovels."
Between April 22-29, organizations around the country will host screenings of the film. On April 30, community farms and gardens, in collaboration with Ron Finley and the Can You Dig This team, will celebrate National #PlantSomething Day—a day of action and service that encourages all to get involved in the urban agriculture movement.
In solidarity, Food Tank is highlighting 24 organizations that are helping to green cities around the world.
Abalimi is an urban agriculture and environmental action group located outside of Capetown, South Africa. The organization supports and assists groups and individuals looking to improve their livelihoods through organic farming.
A nonprofit that promotes social and environmental justice in Montreal, Canada, Alternatives' Feeding Citizenship is growing healthy food to fuel healthy communities. The project engages the community through horticultural training programs while supporting school and neighborhood gardens.
Located just 2.5 miles from the Seattle city center, community members, local institutions and volunteers are coming together to grow a place for education, cultural exchange and recreation. With the multifaceted goal of revitalizing public land, improving public health and increasing local food security, the group is cultivating a number of vegetables, fruits and nuts. Redefining what it means to have access to local, organically grown produce, all food is free for the taking.
Through youth programing, farmer training and community workshops, Toronto's largest urban farm aims to ensure local food security, provide increased economic opportunity for the city's residents and create an intergenerational, multicultural place of learning.
Since 2004, Cidades Sem Fome has been transforming São Paulo, Brazil's unused and neglected land into community gardens, school gardens and agricultural greenhouses. Through these efforts, the organization improves diets, encourages social integration of historically marginalized groups and creates jobs.
Cleveland Crops offers agricultural and culinary training to adults with disabilities in Cleveland. Outfitted with season extension techniques, their urban farms remain productive through the long, cold winter months in this former rust belt city.
A nonprofit in Mexico City, Cultiva Ciudad manages a school garden program and assists at-risk youth in societal reintegration through the teaching of urban gardening skills. Additionally, in collaboration with Centro de Autismo Teletón, they operate a therapeutic sensory garden for children on the autism spectrum. Its education program, pollinator garden, herb spiral and sensory tunnel give children the opportunity to connect with nature.
Based in Bangkok, Thailand, EnerGaia uses otherwise unusable urban space to grow healthy food—namely, sustainable algae products. Their rooftop spirulina farm allows them to address nutritional and environmental problems that plague the city.
In Mumbai, Fresh and Local transforms underutilized urban space into edible landscapes. With an emphasis on community integration and organic growing, the organization is advancing India's urban agriculture movement.
10. HK Farm
Since 2012, a group of farmers have been growing organic produce on a 4,000 square foot rooftop in an industrial neighborhood of Hong Kong. In an effort to rally other urban agriculture supporters, HK Farm frequently curates exhibitions, coordinates community events, leads educational workshops and collaborates with local schools and businesses.
11. Green Grounds
A grassroots organization, Green Grounds educates and supports residents of South LA as they transform their lawns into edible landscapes and urban farms.
12. Grow Calgary
Grow Calgary, Canada's largest urban agricultural farm, is operated by a dedicated group of volunteers. With the goal of providing healthy, local food to all Calgarians, the farm's output is donated to a community owned and operated food bank.
Thirty-three meters below London's bustling streets, Growing Underground is using the latest in hydroponic technology to grow pesticide-free produce. In addition to drastically reducing water usage and eliminating the concern of agricultural run-off, this urban endeavor significantly reduces the miles traveled by the city's favorite salad leaves and microgreens.
Keep Growing Detroit aims to create food sovereignty in Detroit through urban agriculture programs, including Grown in Detroit, a network of family and youth community gardens throughout Detroit; the Garden Resource Program, which provides participants with garden resources such as seeds and Detroit-grown transplants; and The Plum Street Market Garden, which models appropriately scaled, production-focused urban agriculture, trains urban growers and volunteers and offers hands-on educational sessions.
The Mazingira Institute provides training and support for urban farmers in Nairobi, Kenya. The NGO has trained about three thousand urban farmers and organized youth and women's hubs.
16. Mbuyoni Garden
At Mbuyoni Elementary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Regent Estate Senior Women's Group has helped to establish a garden that spans one-sixth of the school's land. After early morning tilling and tending, crops are harvested and served for lunch in the school's cafeteria. The project not only addresses malnutrition, but also familiarizes the students with native plants.
17. New Roots
An essential component of the International Rescue Committee's greater efforts to help communities build a secure and sustainable future, New Roots provides recently resettled refugees with the training, tools and land necessary to grow fruits and vegetables in their new neighborhoods. Present in 22 cities, this initiative is helping families become self-sufficient across the U.S.
Not Far From the Tree, based in Toronto, Canada, mobilizes a team of volunteers to pick fruit trees when a homeowner can't keep up with the season's bounty. The harvest is then split equally, with one-third offered to the homeowner, one-third to the volunteer and one-third delivered by bicycle to a local shelter, food bank or community kitchen.
19. Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG)
Located in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, OSBG is an independent alternative high school and sustainability education center. Coupling GED-prep with the tenets of sustainable community development, they seek to empower “at-risk youth to make New Orleans the (next) City That Ended Hunger."
Pocket City Farms transforms abandoned urban space into productive, organically grown garden plots. They are currently constructing a community learning space that will double as Sydney, Australia's first urban farm.
According to The Urban Food Project, 88,000 Birmingham, Alabama residents live in a food desert. In an effort to provide the community with fresh, local, healthy food, this project assists corner store owners in the buying, marketing and selling of fresh, local produce.
Using permaculture principles, Siyakhana has transformed a once unappealing inner city plot of land into a productive vegetable and medicinal herb garden in Johannesburg, South Africa. Additionally, the organization advocates for improved food policy in the country and offers training and work opportunities to the community's marginalized.
In the outskirts of Sucre, Bolivia, 680 women are now producing pesticide-free vegetables for their families. The remaining produce is sold at market or to a nearby cafe. The association is working toward zero malnutrition and along the way, empowering and uplifting the entire community.
A multicultural and educational urban farm in Vancouver, Canada, The World in a Garden strives to engage the community, particularly youth, in the development of a just and local food system. In an effort to ensure fair food around the world, they are currently piloting projects in Costa Rica and India.
Find an urban agriculture project near you, secure tickets to a Can You Dig This screening or consider hosting a screening at your local theater to join us in celebrating National #PlantSomething Day on April 30.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.