How Urban Agriculture Can Improve Food Security in U.S. Cities
By Miguel Altieri
During the partial federal shutdown in December 2018 and January 2019, news reports showed furloughed government workers standing in line for donated meals. These images were reminders that for an estimated one out of eight Americans, food insecurity is a near-term risk.
In California, where I teach, 80 percent of the population lives in cities. Feeding the cities of the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, with a total population of some 7 million involves importing 2.5 to 3 million tons of food per day over an average distance of 500 to 1,000 miles.
This system requires enormous amounts of energy and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions. It also is extremely vulnerable to large-scale disruptions, such as major earthquakes.
And the food it delivers fails to reach 1 of every 8 people in the region who live under the poverty line—mostly senior citizens, children and minorities. Access to quality food is limited both by poverty and the fact that on average, California's low-income communities have 32.7 percent fewer supermarkets than high-income areas within the same cities.
Many organizations see urban agriculture as a way to enhance food security. It also offers environmental, health and social benefits. Although the full potential of urban agriculture is still to be determined, based on my own research I believe that raising fresh fruits, vegetables and some animal products near consumers in urban areas can improve local food security and nutrition, especially for underserved communities.
The line still stretched around the block tonight at the #ChefsForFeds kitchen — 11,400 hot meals were served today… https://t.co/ENHGWNyNVY— WorldCentralKitchen (@WorldCentralKitchen)1548302969.0
The Growth of Urban Agriculture
Urban farming has grown by more than 30 percent in the U.S. in the past 30 years. Although it has been estimated that urban agriculture can meet 15 to 20 percent of global food demand, it remains to be seen what level of food self-sufficiency it can realistically ensure for cities.
One recent survey found that 51 countries do not have enough urban area to meet a recommended nutritional target of 300 grams per person per day of fresh vegetables. Moreover, it estimated, urban agriculture would require 30 percent of the total urban area of those countries to meet global demand for vegetables. Land tenure issues and urban sprawl could make it hard to free up this much land for food production.
Other studies suggest that urban agriculture could help cities achieve self-sufficiency. For example, researchers have calculated that Cleveland, with a population of 400,000, has the potential to meet 100 percent of its urban dwellers' fresh vegetable needs, 50 percent of their poultry and egg requirements and 100 percent of their demand for honey.
Can Oakland's Urban Farmers Learn From Cuba?
Although urban agriculture has promise, a small proportion of the food produced in cities is consumed by food-insecure, low-income communities. Many of the most vulnerable people have little access to land and lack the skills needed to design and tend productive gardens.
Cities such as Oakland, with neighborhoods that have been identified as "food deserts," can lie within a half-hour drive of vast stretches of productive agricultural land. But very little of the twenty million tons of food produced annually within 100 miles of Oakland reaches poor people.
Paradoxically, Oakland has 1,200 acres of undeveloped open space—mostly public parcels of arable land—which, if used for urban agriculture, could produce 5 to 10 percent of the city's vegetable needs. This potential yield could be dramatically enhanced if, for example, local urban farmers were trained to use well-tested agroecological methods that are widely applied in Cuba to cultivate diverse vegetables, roots, tubers and herbs in relatively small spaces.
In Cuba, more than 300,000 urban farms and gardens produce about 50 percent of the island's fresh produce supply, along with 39,000 tons of meat and 216 million eggs. Most Cuban urban farmers reach yields of 44 pounds (20 kilograms) per square meter per year.
An organic farm in Havana, Cuba, that produces outputs averaging 20 kilograms (44 pounds) per square meter per year without agrochemical inputs.Miguel Altieri / CC BY-ND
If trained Oakland farmers could achieve just half of Cuban yields, 1,200 acres of land would produce 40 million kilograms of vegetables—enough to provide 100 kilograms per year per person to more than 90 percent of Oakland residents.
To see whether this was possible, my research team at the University of California at Berkeley established a diversified garden slightly larger than 1,000 square feet. It contained a total of 492 plants belonging to 10 crop species, grown in a mixed polycultural design.
In a three-month period, we were able to produce yields that were close to our desired annual level by using practices that improved soil health and biological pest control. They included rotations with green manures that are plowed under to benefit the soil; heavy applications of compost; and synergistic combinations of crop plants in various intercropping arrangements known to reduce insect pests.
Research plots in Berkeley, Calif., testing agroecological management practices such as intercropping, mulching and green composting. Miguel Altieri / CC BY-ND
Overcoming Barriers to Urban Agriculture
Achieving such yields in a test garden does not mean they are feasible for urban farmers in the Bay Area. Most urban farmers in California lack ecological horticultural skills. They do not always optimize crop density or diversity, and the University of California's extension program lacks the capacity to provide agroecological training.
The biggest challenge is access to land. University of California researchers estimate that more than 79 percent of the state's urban farmers do not own the property that they farm. Another issue is that water is frequently unaffordable. Cities could address this by providing water at discount rates for urban farmers, with a requirement that they use efficient irrigation practices.
THE TRUTH ABOUT URBAN FARMING youtu.be
In the Bay Area and elsewhere, most obstacles to scaling up urban agriculture are political, not technical. In 2014 California enacted AB511, which set out mechanisms for cities to establish
urban agriculture incentive zones, but did not address land access.
One solution would be for cities to make vacant and unused public land available for urban farming under low-fee multiyear leases. Or they could follow the example of Rosario, Argentina, where 1,800 residents practice horticulture on about 175 acres of land. Some of this land is private, but property owners receive tax breaks for making it available for agriculture.
In my view, the ideal strategy would be to pursue land reform similar to that practiced in Cuba, where the government provides 32 acres to each farmer, within a few miles around major cities to anyone interested in producing food. Between 10 and 20 percent of their harvest is donated to social service organizations such as schools, hospitals and senior centers.
Similarly, Bay Area urban farmers might be required to provide donate a share of their output to the region's growing homeless population, and allowed to sell the rest. The government could help to establish a system that would enable gardeners to directly market their produce to the public.
Cities have limited ability to deal with food issues within their boundaries, and many problems associated with food systems require action at the national and international level. However, city governments, local universities and nongovernment organizations can do a lot to strengthen food systems, including creating agroecological training programs and policies for land and water access. The first step is increasing public awareness of how urban farming can benefit modern cities.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
- Urban Farming Organization Visualizes a Franchise Model to ... ›
- Urban Farming Key in Fight Against Hunger and Climate Change ... ›
- Global Hunger Is Increasing, New UN Report Finds ›
A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.
- Annual Whale Slaughter Still a Tradition on the Faroe Islands ... ›
- Hundreds of Pilot Whales Die in Devastating Mass Stranding in New ... ›
- Green Group Tests Facebook With Ad Claiming Conservatives Back ... ›
- Illegal Wildlife Trade Thrives on Facebook, Internet Forums ... ›
- Facebook Loophole Allows Climate Deniers to Spread Misinformation ›
- Facebook Hires Koch-Funded Climate Deniers for 'Fact-Checking ... ›
By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
- Sweden to Become One of World's First Fossil Fuel-Free Nation s ... ›
- These Countries Are Leading the Transition to Sustainable Energy ... ›
- Sweden Shuts Down Its Last Coal Plant Two Years Early - EcoWatch ›
By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
- Oxford Endowment Ditches Fossil Fuels in 'Historic' Decision ... ›
- Fossil Fuel Divestment Debates on Campus Spotlight Societal Role ... ›
- London and New York Mayors Call on Other World Cities to Divest ... ›