Quantcast
Insights

Urban Farming Is Revolutionizing Our Cities

Humans are fast becoming city dwellers. According to the United Nations, "The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014."


Sixty-six percent of us will likely live in urban environments by 2050. The number of mega-cities (more than 10 million inhabitants) is also skyrocketing, from 10 in 1990 to 28 in 2014—home to more than 453 million people—and is expected to grow to 41 by 2030.

Incorporating food production into ever-expanding urban areas makes cities more livable and enhances the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy.

Along with concerns about climate change and the distances much of our food travels from farm to plate, that's spurred a renewed interest in producing food where people live. Urban agriculture won't resolve all food production and distribution problems, but it could help take pressure off rural land while providing other advantages. From balcony, backyard, rooftop, indoor and community gardens to city beehives and chicken coops to larger urban farms and farmers markets, growing and distributing local food in or near cities is a healthy way to help the environment.

And it's much more. As writer and former Vancouver city councillor Peter Ladner (also a David Suzuki Foundation board member) writes in The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, "When urban agriculture flourishes, our children are healthier and smarter about what they eat, fewer people are hungry, more local jobs are created, local economies are stronger, our neighborhoods are greener and safer, and our communities are more inclusive."

Local and urban agriculture can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and recycle nutrient-rich food scraps, plant debris and other "wastes." Because maintaining lawns for little more than aesthetic value requires lots of water, energy for upkeep and often pesticides and fertilizers, converting them to food gardens makes sense.

A 2016 study from the U.S. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that urban agriculture could "increase social capital, community well-being and civic engagement with the food system," as well as enhance food security, provide ecosystem services, improve health and build residents' skills. Gardening is also therapeutic.

The study found many climate benefits, including reduced emissions from transporting food; carbon sequestration by vegetation and crops; possible reduced energy, resource inputs and waste outputs; and enhanced public interest in protecting green spaces. It also noted some limitations: possible increases in greenhouse gas emissions and water use "if plants are grown in energy-or resource-intensive locations"; less efficiency than conventional agriculture in terms of resource use and transportation emissions; and, depending on practices, pollution from pesticide and fertilizer use. The study found urban agriculture to be positive overall, but concluded support from all levels of government is required to make it viable.

Urban agriculture isn't new. During the First and Second World Wars, Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Germany encouraged "victory gardens" to aid the war effort by reducing pressure on food systems and farms. Gardens and chicken coops appeared in yards, parks, school fields, golf courses, railway edges and vacant lots. Sheep grazed on sports fields and kept grass in check. Peter Ladner notes that, during the Second World War, the U.K. had 1.5 million allotment plots producing 10 percent of the country's food, including half its fruit and vegetables; and by war's end, more than 20 million home gardens supplied 40 percent of U.S. domestically consumed produce.

Granted, there were fewer people and more open spaces then, but it's still possible to grow a lot of food in urban areas, especially with composting and enriched soil techniques. Ladner writes that Toronto plans to supply 25 percent of its fruit and vegetable production within city limits by 2025 and a study from Michigan State University concluded Detroit could grow 70 percent of its vegetables and 40 percent of its fruit on 570 vacant lots covering 5,000 acres of city land.

One patch of Detroit land where 12 vacant houses were removed to grow food has supplied almost 200,000 kilograms of produce for 2,000 local families, provided volunteer experience to 8,000 residents and brought the area new investment and increased safety.

Cities needn't be wastelands of car-choked roads and pavement. Incorporating food production into ever-expanding urban areas makes cities more livable and enhances the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals

Close-up of beluga whale swimming in water. Graham Swain / EyeEm / Getty Images

Beluga Whale in River Thames 'Very Lost and Quite Possibly in Trouble'

Beluga whales are normally found in icy Arctic and subarctic waters. So onlookers were undoubtedly surprised to spot one of the distinctive white whales swimming very far south in the UK's River Thames.

Ecologist and ornithologist Dave Andrews first posted footage of the unusual sighting onto Twitter on Tuesday and said the whale was feeding around the barges near the town of Gravesend in northwest Kent.


Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Environmentalists paint "DIRTY" onto a silo at an Indonesia palm oil plant. Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

Rock Band Occupies Palm Oil Tanks With Activists Protesting Deforestation

Thirty activists, including members of Greenpeace and the Indonesian rock band Boomerang, occupied a palm oil refinery owned by Wilmar International, the world's largest palm oil trader, on Tuesday to protest deforestation in Indonesia.

The environmentalists abseiled down silos and unfurled a banner that read "Drop Dirty Palm Oil Now" and painted the word "DIRTY" onto another tank.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Pixabay

Trump Administration Asks Court to Re-Hear Case That Banned Chlorpyrifos

The Trump administration is appealing a federal court ruling that ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide tied to brain damage and other health problems in children.

In August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the EPA must ban the pesticide within 60 days based on strong scientific evidence that chlorpyrifos—which is applied on dozens of fruit, nut and vegetable crops—is unsafe for public health.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Katharina Jaeger / LOOK / Getty Images

Locals Unite to Stop Hog Farms From Polluting Their Community

By Wyatt Massey

Sue George never intended to be an activist. The soft-spoken, retired elementary school teacher was content on her century farm near Lime Springs, a town in the rolling hills of northeast Iowa with a tad under 500 people.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Science
Young Florida panthers, one of the most endangered species in the U.S. according to the Center for Biological Diversity. USFWS

9,000+ Scientists Defend Endangered Species Act in Letter to Trump Administration

Thousands of scientists have signed two letters opposing changes to the Endangered Species Act proposed by the Trump administration that critics say would weaken protections in favor of developers, Reuters reported Monday.

The proposed changes were announced by the Interior and Commerce Departments in July, and include axing the "blanket rule' granting threatened species the same protections as endangered species and removing language telling officials not to consider economic impacts when listing a species.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Sandy Huffaker / Corbis / Getty Images

EPA Watchdog: 'Emergency' Pesticide Approval Process Is Flawed

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of the Inspector General released a report Tuesday finding that the agency's practice of routinely granting "emergency" approval for use of pesticides across millions of acres does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans
Russian and U.S. students carry bug spray for the mosquitoes, bear spray for the grizzlies and notebooks for the salmon science, while studying in Alaska's backcountry. John Simeone on behalf of WWF

Sharing Knowledge and Salmon Across the Bering Sea

By Amy McDermott

At the height of the Alaskan summer, a troupe of students hiked up the middle of a shallow creek. Undergraduates and grads from the University of Washington, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Kamchatka State Technical University in eastern Russia carried handheld clickers to count the multitudes of salmon thrashing upstream to spawn. Some of the students spoke English, others Russian, but they all came to see salmon: fish that their two countries share.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
The Orangutans in Indonesia have been known to be on the verge of extinction as a result of deforestation and poaching.
Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images News

5 Ways to Make Food Production and Land Use More Earth-Friendly

By Edward Davey

The world is vastly underestimating the benefits of acting on climate change. Recent research from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate finds that bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030. This ground-breaking research, produced by the Global Commission and more than 200 experts, highlights proof points of the global shift to a low-carbon economy, and identifies ways to accelerate action in five sectors: energy, cities, food and land use, water and industry. Our blog series, The $26 Trillion Opportunity, explores these economic opportunities in greater detail.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!