Understanding the role that urban farmers play in our food systems is key to envisioning what a vibrant, abundant future can look like. By the seemingly simple act of fostering healthy, local food within the community, these farmers are tackling monumental topics like environmental degradation, resource scarcity, public health, poverty, and more.
“There is a quiet revolution stirring in our food system. It is not happening so much on the distant farms that still provide us with the majority of our food; it is happening in cities, neighborhoods, and towns. It has evolved out of the basic need that every person has to know their food, and to have some sense of control over its safety and security.” – Michael Ableman
Urban farming takes many forms. From backyard beekeeping to roof-top vegetable gardens, community spaces, front yard orchards, and window boxes — urban farmers grow where they are.
Each community has its own set of challenges and adaptations that help them rise above limitations of space, resources, or finances.
Here are 10 ways urban farms are contributing to the improved health of their communities:
1. Reduce Carbon Emissions
By localizing produce, urban farms cut down on the significant amount of fossil fuel consumption necessary to transport, package, and sell food. The average meal has traveled 4,200 miles just to get to your table. Urban agriculture helps consumers reduce their “foodprint” by providing them the opportunity to purchase food that was grown within their community.
2. Innovative Techniques
As city spaces lack the wide-open fertile grounds of traditional farming methods, urban farmers are tasked with finding creative solutions to dealing with challenges like waste, space, resources, and energy. Because of this, more efficient innovations are created to improve the quality and quantity of food that can be produced with the least amount of resources. (For example, the vertical aquaponic systems of The Growing Experience in Long Beach produce 3-4 times as much produce as traditional farming methods and use significantly less water.)
3. Job Creation
From window box herb gardens to large community spaces, these farms create opportunities to involve the community. Urban farms create job (and volunteer) opportunities in big cities, where poverty and hunger are often persistent issues. An increase in small businesses stimulates local economy and supports the community by creating jobs right where people live.
4. Economic Growth
By virtue of their proximity to consumers, urban farms stimulate local economy by circulating income throughout the region. Without a complicated distribution network, farmers are more connected to their market and able to adapt quickly to demand, maximizing profit. In addition, many of these organizations are structured in a way that brings additional benefit to the community and support to low income populations by stabilizing food costs and in many cases, offering discounted or free produce.
5. Community Building
Gardens create more than healthy, delicious food. Urban agriculture brings people together with a common interest — food. The overall health of a community is benefited by increasing its capacity to create an environment that truly sustains its residents. Most urban farming projects require a high level of social organization, giving many individuals in the community a vested interest in its success.
6. Public Health
Increasing populations of people in cities suffer from malnutrition and a variety of other diet-related health issues. Bringing nutritious food to local communities has many direct health benefits, including reducing the risk of harmful conditions like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and more. Involving individuals in the garden itself provides an opportunity for exercise and a deeper connection to agriculture.
7. Food Quality
Smaller scale, local markets provide the opportunity for farmers to foster more unique varieties of produce. These farms preserve biodiversity by cultivating heirloom varieties or those with lower shelf-stability. The proximity and connectedness to market allows for fresh, nutritious produce to become available to communities that have never had access to this in the past.
8. Food Security
While there may not be a “shortage” of food in most regions, issues of access are absolutely prevalent — especially in urban areas. In Orange County, about 400,000 people do not have access to affordable, healthy food. Urban agriculture helps to correct this by reducing the price of healthy food by eliminating the middleman and increasing the opportunity for community members in need to participate in the growing of this food. Many urban farms also adopt charitable models in an effort to support communities in need through direct donation or by providing either discounted or free produce.
Urban agriculture addresses another issue inherent throughout our current food culture — a disconnection to where our food comes from. By involving children and adults alike in education around sustainable, local agriculture, farmers increase the health of our future food systems.
10. Green Space
Lastly, agriculture in cities provides something obvious — more green space. This contributes to the health of city ecosystems in a variety of ways. Greenery adds aesthetic appeal, reduces runoff from precipitation, provides restful spaces for the community, and counters the heat island effect by fixing carbon through photosynthesis.