With increasing concern over food miles, food security, the cost of fresh produce and the ways in which food is produced, there is a growing market for fresh locally grown food. Now to be practical, because most people live in an urban environment, so it’s unlikely that we are about to see wheat or maize being grown on our doorstep, or cattle grazing next to main street, and taking climate into account it would perhaps be best to leave the production of oranges and grapefruit to Florida and California; but there is no real reason why more fruit and vegetables could not be grown, or poultry and even pigs raised, closer to their market.
A Culture of Local Food
Take a flight to Naples and then take a car onto the SP1. Head north or south it doesn’t matter, just so long as you take time to look out of the window occasionally, because you will see that there is very little wasted land. It is not only that everyone who is fortunate enough to have a garden has a veg patch or a lemon tree planted there, that is almost expected in Italy, it’s that even the land between intersections is given over to productive use. In American cities it would be wasteland, or at best have a repair shop or junk yard tucked into the space, but there even these small parcels of land are given over to green houses, fields of zucchini plants or even olive groves. It is urban farming, and it exists because unlike many western countries, Italy has not forgotten the social, environmental and economic importance of locally grown food.
At one time in the US, growing a few tomatoes in the back yard was acceptable, but urban farming was seen as something only advocated by eco-evangelists, and practiced only by hippy communes who wanted to get closer to nature. Some of that spirit still lives on in organizations such as Root Simple in LA, but the idea of urban farming has now become more main stream. It has been a slow process, but over the past decade or two, with increasing disquiet about agriculture becoming agribusiness, and with worries about the health of a nation where a large number of the people find it cheaper to feed their families on processed foods because have little access to affordable fresh produce, urban farming has begun to reassert itself as an idea in towns and cities across America.
Creating green spaces, even small scale community gardening projects, helps develop a more sustainable urban environment, in aesthetic, ecological, economic and social terms. The aesthetic and ecological advantages are perhaps obvious, but the others may be less so.
There are various economic benefits deriving from urban farming. Some although not all projects are run on a co-operative or charitable basis, with participation resulting in access to inexpensive and sometimes free fresh produce, which is particularly useful to low income household. Bushwick City Farms based in Brooklyn is one such example. However, even commercial enterprises such as that proposed in Detroit by John Hantz of Hantz Farms, can also bring economic benefits to a community; firstly, and most directly, by creating jobs, and secondly by passing on reduced transportation costs in supplying the local market.
Socially, participation in urban farming projects can help cement communities together, be beneficial to physical and mental health, and provide an outlet for those without or unable to work. However, many projects, such as the Common Good City Farm in Washington DC also provide education relating to food production, healthy eating and environmental sustainability, and the already mentioned Bushwick City Farms even provide free ESL classes to those who do not have English as their first language. In addition, for those who are wondering how to help an alcoholic family member or relative, or someone with a drug abuse problem, there are urban farming projects with links to rehab programs, such as Urban Green Works in south Florida, who have particular involvement with the incarcerated as well as ‘at risk’ youths.
Part of the Answer
Urban farming does not provide all the answers to the problems of the environment, food security and affordability, and social cohesion and development. However, it is at least a part of the overall solution to achieving a sustainable future for our towns and cities, and with a large part of its emphasis on participation and education, it has an increasingly important part to play in achieving that goal.