54 Million People in the U.S. May Go Hungry During the Pandemic — Can Urban Farms Help?
By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner
When I call Chef Q. Ibraheem to discuss urban farming in her own cooking career, she's in the middle of placing an order for microgreens from a small farm in Lake Forest, a ritzy suburb just north of downtown Chicago. Now's a great time for her to chat, actually, because the Chicago-based chef is immersed in what she loves, sourcing ingredients as locally as possible.
"It's really important we know where our food is coming from," she says. "I know my farmers by name. I can go to the farms, see how they are growing everything, see it in the soil. It's always nice to have something within reach and know your produce." Chef Q runs supper clubs and chef camps throughout Chicagoland, sustaining the local economy by purchasing ingredients from urban gardens and farms within miles of her pop-up experiences.
"As a chef, you realize you have a responsibility to your guests," she says, and for her, that responsibility means being transparent about ingredients, and even educating diners about what's on their plates. Growing up spending summers on a farm in Georgia, Chef Q has an innate curiosity about where and how her food is grown, and she recognizes the importance of farms in both urban and rural areas.
Commercial urban agriculture is on the rise, with small-scale farms in New York City like Gotham Greens, which reduces the amount of energy, land use and food waste in tight, underutilized spaces to produce herbs and roughage for the masses. In Austin, Texas, backyard farms and urban gardens sell ingredients to restaurants and markets throughout the region, as do similar projects in Los Angeles. In fact, innovations allowing farmers to grow without soil or natural light expand the potential for food sourcing in urban areas. Urban farming has increased by over 30 percent in the past 30 years, with no indication of slowing down. Urban land could grow fruit and vegetables for 15 percent of the population, research shows.
While the COVID-19 lockdowns have inspired a burst of urban farming as people have been starting to grow their own fruits and vegetables at home, a renewed interest in culinary arts, plus a nostalgia for simpler times in many fast-paced big cities — just look at all the mid-century-era diners popping up in Manhattan right before the pandemic — may be accountable for the steady rise in urban farms. More consciousness about the environment, too, may lead small growers to want to reduce transportation emissions and take charge of the use of pesticides and fertilizers in their foods, but there's another great reason for urban farms to continue growing: feeding the masses. And with 68 percent of the world's population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, it's time to take urban farming seriously as a viable, primary food source.
Despite being the wealthiest nation in the world, the United States had more than 37 million people struggling with hunger in 2018. Since the pandemic, that number is expected to rise to up to 54 million people. And while systemic changes may one day be able to greatly reduce this number, a planting cycle is quicker than an election cycle. Bureaucracy may not immediately solve fair wages, but vegetable seeds may help communities when times are tough.
Urban Farming as a Social Practice
In her work, Chef Q has helped turn empty lots and abandoned buildings into urban farms, which allows neighbors to "take ownership in their communities" and also become educated consumers. In neighborhoods where the fancy grocery store is referred to as "Whole Paycheck," Chef Q has seen seed exchanges help folks start growing new produce, and regain agency over their food budgets and eating habits. Programs like the Chicago Food Policy Summit, a free annual event on Chicago's South Side, help popularize urban farming and education and help provide Chicagoans with grants to start growing their own food. Though gentrification may bring relief to previously dubbed food deserts — neighborhoods without a nearby source of fresh food — the slew of problems attached to gentrification, including higher costs of living, can easily make these new, more nutritious food options completely unaffordable to residents of the neighborhood.
As seen in smaller cities, urban farming may be the key for cities to be less reliant on rural areas, and also help achieve food security. As Dr. Miguel Altieri, professor of agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley, has shown, diversified gardens in urban areas can yield a large range of produce and efficiently feed nearby residents.
Of course, land in cities is often at a premium, with many people living in little space. Shifting public land use to incorporate food growth and getting creative with rooftops, basements and unused buildings can seriously change the way cities consume fresh ingredients.
In fact, renewed efforts by the conservation organization World Wildlife Fund to boost indoor farming may revolutionize some sources of produce, particularly in cities. Repurposing unused indoor space, such as warehouses, can create direct sources of ingredients for restaurants or community-supported agriculture for neighbors. Indoor farming, while potentially more expensive, also allows urbanites from all walks of life to connect to the food system, repurpose food waste into compost and expand knowledge on growing food. Greenhouses like Gotham Greens' rooftop spaces can supplement indoor and outdoor spaces, adding even more potential healthy food to local ecosystems.
Urban Gardening With Neighbors in Mind
When she's not hosting pop-up dinners with culinarily curious Chicagoans, Chef Q volunteers with Foster Street Urban Agriculture, a nonprofit garden that aims to help end food insecurity in Evanston, the Chicago suburb home to Northwestern University. In the garden, Chef Q teaches kids how to water, plant, weed and grow produce. She'll notice a multigenerational interest: "Once kids taste zucchini, it's over," she jokes, of little ones bringing in parents and grandparents to learn to cook with more fresh produce. "They'll start [the program] eating hot Cheetos, and they're eating something green and leafy and won't go back."
Kids also just love being able to eat something that comes out of the ground and will take their passion back home, growing tomatoes in their windowsills or trying other small gardening projects in spaces available to them near home. Harvests from Foster Street are donated to food pantries and also sold at a local farmers market, where kids learn community-based entrepreneurial skills.
"Everyone eats, it's a common denominator," she says. "When food is on the table, people will have conversations."
Now, in the wake of COVID-19, urban farms have become more essential than ever. Chef Q has partnered with farms that would otherwise throw away produce without their major restaurant and hotel clients, to redistribute food to Chicagoans in need. She's noticed a spike in the price of fresh food, thanks in part to the expensive early May crops — peas, leeks and spinach. "It's been imperative," she says, of feeding the community with a local bounty of eggplant, microgreens, cheese and more farm-to-fork provisions.
Chef Q emphasizes that urban gardens still have to grow food to feed communities. Across the nation, we've seen victory gardens pop up in yards of homebound upper-middle-class Americans, planted with hope, thriftiness and a creative outlet in mind. But for those who don't have yards or ample space, shared urban gardens can still serve a local population. When people don't have money, growing food is a solution to provide nutrition, and perhaps even income. And it starts with advocacy, volunteers and outreach. "Plant something in the windowsill," Chef Q suggests, as an entryway into small-scale gardening. "It's essential. We can't stop."
Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in New York. She is a writing fellow at Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She's written for the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Glamour, AlterNet, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Architectural Digest, Them and other publications. She holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Columbia University and is also at work on a novel. Follow her on Twitter: @melissabethk.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
- Urban Farming Is Revolutionizing Our Cities - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Examples of Creative Urban Agriculture From Around the World ... ›
- Urban Farming Booms During Coronavirus Lockdowns - EcoWatch ›
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
- Coral Reef Tipping Point: 'Near-Annual' Bleaching May Occur ... ›
- Scientists Warn Humanity in Denial of Looming 'Collapse of ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
To save the planet, we must save the Amazon rainforest. To save the rainforest, we must save its indigenous peoples. And to do that, we must demarcate their land.
A new EarthxTV film special calls for the protection of the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous people that call it home. EarthxTV.org
- Meet the 'Women Warriors' Protecting the Amazon Forest - EcoWatch ›
- Indigenous Tribes Are Using Drones to Protect the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Rainforest Will Collapse by 2064, New Study Predicts ... ›
- Deforestation in Amazon Skyrockets to 12-Year High Under Bolsonaro ›
- Amazon Rainforest on the Brink of Turning Into a Net Carbon Emitter ... ›
By Anke Rasper
"Today's interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
The report, released Friday, looks at the national climate efforts of 75 states that have already submitted their updated "nationally determined contributions," or NDCs. The countries included in the report are responsible for about 30% of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions.
- World Leaders Fall Short of Meeting Paris Agreement Goal - EcoWatch ›
- UN Climate Change Conference COP26 Delayed to November ... ›
- 5 Years After Paris: How Countries' Climate Policies Match up to ... ›
- Biden Win Puts World 'Within Striking Distance' of 1.5 C Paris Goal ... ›
- Biden Reaffirms Commitment to Rejoining Paris Agreement ... ›
India's New Delhi has been called the "world air pollution capital" for its high concentrations of particulate matter that make it harder for its residents to breathe and see. But one thing has puzzled scientists, according to The Guardian. Why does New Delhi see more blinding smogs than other polluted Asian cities, such as Beijing?
- This Indian Startup Turns Polluted Air Into Climate-Friendly Tiles ... ›
- How to Win the Fight Against Plastic - EcoWatch ›
In a historic move, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted Thursday to ban hydraulic fracking in the region. The ban was supported by all four basin states — New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York — putting a permanent end to hydraulic fracking for natural gas along the 13,539-square-mile basin, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
- Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report ... ›
- Long-Awaited EPA Study Says Fracking Pollutes Drinking Water ... ›
- Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Much Higher Than ... ›