How Urban Farming Can Transform Our Cities—And Our Agricultural System
by Adam James
As concerns mount over the accessibility and quality of meals in cities, urban agriculture is becoming a practical solution to give communities more choice—all while helping address greenhouse gas emissions from centralized agriculture.
With more than 80 percent of the American population living in metropolitan centers, urban farming has the ability to dramatically enhance economic growth, increase food quality and build healthier communities.
The Problem: Carbon Intensive Meals
“Would you like some CO2 with that?”
The globalization of food has dramatically increased the amount of carbon emissions in our meals—particularly in America.
For example, food related emissions in the U.S. account for 21 percent of total emissions, or 6.1 tons of CO2 per year. Additionally, 15 percent of personal transportation emissions, 20 percent of home energy use emissions and 23 percent of the aggregate remaining activities are food-related as well. Add it all up and you find that our food choices make up a very large portion of our overall footprint.
Consumer activities like traveling to the grocery store, eating at restaurants, and cooking make up 46 percent of total emissions from food.
The other 54 percent of emissions come from the production, distribution and selling of food. This includes activities like packaging, storage and transportation. The average meal has traveled 4,200 miles just to get to the table. And at the end of the line, food related emissions account for 28 percent of all U.S. landfill gas emissions.
So what can be done?
The Solution: Urban Farming’s Wide Range of Benefits
There are already plenty of resources on the energy intensity of food and how to calculate the emissions from a given meal. But people—particularly those in cities living in “food deserts”—can’t act on this information if they don’t have the resources.
This is where urban agriculture comes in. Urban agriculture is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as:
“[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.”
Basically, urban farming allows individuals or groups to establish gardens or mini-farms on small plots, using creative techniques to maximize, output, meet local needs and help make efficient use of the land. Gardeners are finding all kinds of ways to grow food: On rooftops, in abandoned buildings and on deteriorating plots of land.
These operations can help consumers lower their food emissions by giving them the choice to eat food grown within their communities, not thousands of miles away.
But that’s not all. In addition to offsetting emissions, there are at least three concrete benefits to urban farming: economic growth; community building; and improved health.
The economic benefits realized through urban farming are localized, thus keeping dollars circulating through the community. These urban farms also have a fantastic return on investment, with every $1 invested in a community garden generating $6 worth of vegetables.
And these community food enterprises are actually competitive with big-box retailers. As one report puts it:
“In recent years CFEs have discovered that they actually have unique advantages over bigger companies. They have a deeper awareness of local tastes and markets, they can obtain consumer feedback more quickly, and they can tweak their business models more swiftly. They can deliver goods and services faster, with shorter distribution links and smaller inventories. They can rely more on word-of—mouth advertising that costs nothing.”
These projects can be structured in unique ways to encourage greater economic impacts in communities. For example, Food From the ‘Hood turned an abandoned football field into a 2 acre farm, with 25 percent of the proceeds going to a scholarship fund for local youth in South Central Los Angeles. To date, $250,000 has gone to sending youth in the community to college.
Furthermore, in low-income communities, where food costs can be as much as 30-60 percent of income, localizing food can help stabilize food costs.
Community health is, as one report describes it, “the social and economic capacity of a community to create an environment that sustains the visions, goals and needs of its residents.” Increased food security is a crucial component to realizing this vision.
The social organization required for most urban farming projects can forge stronger community bonds by creating “stakeholder interactions” that give individuals a sense of responsibility and productivity. By harnessing two sources of capital—social capital and the existing built environment—urban farming uses the inherent strengths of cities to solve some of their most serious problems.
Food Quality and Health
Studies have shown that nutrition, exercise, and mental and physical health are all augmented with urban farms.
In temperate climates, a 10’ x 10’ garden can feed a family of four year-round and meet almost all basic nutritional requirements. This solves the directly related problems food insecurity and poor nutrition. The act of gardening is also great exercise that improves physical health: reducing risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. The act of cultivation has significant impact on mental health as well—assisting with social skills, self-esteem improvement and stress reduction.
Bringing It Home
The impact of urban farming on local communities and families is undeniable. While this activity gains traction in cities across the country, the potential for reducing our food related emissions continues to grow—all while helping improve the economic and social dynamics of the urban environment.
Adam James is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress.
By Julián García Walther
One morning in January, I found myself 30 feet up a tall metal pole, carrying 66 pounds of aluminum antennas and thick weatherproofed cabling. From this vantage point, I could clearly see the entire Punta Banda Estuary in northwestern Mexico. As I looked through my binoculars, I observed the estuary's sandy bar and extensive mudflats packed with thousands of migratory shorebirds frenetically pecking the mud for food.
There are currently few Motus stations in Mexico, leading to a large information gap. Julián García Walther / CC BY-ND
Red knots and many other shorebirds travel thousands of miles from breeding grounds in the Arctic (left) to nonbreeding grounds in Latin America (right). Julián García Walther / CC BY-ND
Motus stations require a high vantage point that overlooks estuaries. Julián García Walther / CC BY-ND
Any bird with a transmitter will be picked up if it flies within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of a Motus station. Julián García Walther / CC BY-ND<h2>Tagging Birds</h2><p>The stations alone can't detect these animals. The final step, which will happen in the coming months, is to catch birds and tag them. To do this, our team will set up a soft, spring-loaded net called a whoosh net in sandy areas where the red knots rest above the high-tide line. When birds walk past the net, the crew leader will release the trigger, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwMiA2iqVc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">safely trapping the birds with the net</a>.</p>
WhooshNetCapture.MTS<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6440038cdc58961906f5fa164b457688"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vwMiA2iqVc0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The world's oceans and coastal ecosystems can store remarkable amounts of carbon dioxide. But if they're damaged, they can also release massive amounts of emissions back into the atmosphere.
By Kimberly Nicole Pope
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While some mainstream environmental organizations welcomed Tuesday's introduction of the CLEAN Future Act in the House of Representatives, progressive green groups warned that the bill falls far short of what's needed to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis—an existential threat they say calls for bolder action like the Green New Deal.
<div id="25965" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6116a1c2b1b913ad51c3ea576f2e196c"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1366827205427425289" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">BREAKING: Rep @FrankPallone just released his CLEAN Future Act — which he claims to be an ambitious bill to combat… https://t.co/M7nR0es196</div> — Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))<a href="https://twitter.com/foe_us/statuses/1366827205427425289">1614711974.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="189f0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa31bacec80d88b49730e8591de5d26d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1366863402912657416" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The CLEAN Future Act "fails to grasp the fundamental truth of fighting climate change: We must stop extracting and… https://t.co/yREn6Qx9tn</div> — Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)<a href="https://twitter.com/foodandwater/statuses/1366863402912657416">1614720605.0</a></blockquote></div>
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- Redwoods are the world's tallest trees.
- Now scientists have discovered they are even bigger than we thought.
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They are among the largest trees in the world, descendants of forests where dinosaurs roamed.
Pixabay / Simi Luft<p><span>Until recently, measuring these trees meant scaling their 80 meter high trunks with a tape measure. Now, a team of scientists from University College London and the University of Maryland uses advanced laser scanning, to create 3D maps and calculate the total mass.</span></p><p>The results are striking: suggesting the trees <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">may be as much as 30% larger than earlier measurements suggested.</a> Part of that could be due to the additional trunks the Redwoods can grow as they age, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a process known as reiteration</a>.</p>
New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Nature / UCL<p>Measuring the trees more accurately is important because carbon capture will probably play a key role in the battle against climate change. Forest <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/09/carbon-sequestration-natural-forest-regrowth" target="_blank">growth could absorb billions of tons</a> of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.</p><p>"The importance of big trees is widely-recognised in terms of carbon storage, demographics and impact on their surrounding ecosystems," the authors wrote<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank"> in the journal Nature</a>. "Unfortunately the importance of big trees is in direct proportion to the difficulty of measuring them."</p><p>Redwoods are so long lived because of their ability to <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73733-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cope with climate change, resist disease and even survive fire damage</a>, the scientists say. Almost a fifth of their volume may be bark, which helps protect them.</p>
Carbon Capture Champions<p><span>Earlier research by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington found that </span><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112716302584" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Redwood forests store almost 2,600 tonnes of carbon per hectare</a><span>, their bark alone containing more carbon than any other neighboring species.</span></p><p>While the importance of trees in fighting climate change is widely accepted, not all species enjoy the same protection as California's coastal Redwoods. In 2019 the world lost the equivalent of <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30 soccer fields of forest cover every minute</a>, due to agricultural expansion, logging and fires, according to The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).</p>
Pixabay<p>Although <a href="https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1420/files/original/Deforestation_fronts_-_drivers_and_responses_in_a_changing_world_-_full_report_%281%29.pdf?1610810475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the rate of loss is reported to have slowed in recent years</a>, reforesting the world to help stem climate change is a massive task.</p><p><span>That's why the World Economic Forum launched the Trillion Trees Challenge (</span><a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a><span>) and is engaging organizations and individuals across the globe through its </span><a href="https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/uplink-issue/a002o00000vOf09AAC/trillion-trees" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uplink innovation crowdsourcing platform</a><span> to support the project.</span></p><p>That's backed up by research led by ETH Zurich/Crowther Lab showing there's potential to restore tree coverage across 2.2 billion acres of degraded land.</p><p>"Forests are critical to the health of the planet," according to <a href="https://www.1t.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1t.org</a>. "They sequester carbon, regulate global temperatures and freshwater flows, recharge groundwater, anchor fertile soil and act as flood barriers."</p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Reposted with permission from the </em><span><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor"><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/redwoods-store-more-co2-and-are-more-enormous-than-we-thought/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em></span></p>