How Urban Farming Could Change the Future
Contributed by Erin Vaughan, March 2016
Maybe a better question is, “is there anything urban farms can’t do?” Small, community-focused urban farms are popping up all over the world’s cities lately, armed with the intention of bringing healthier organic food and greener spaces to the local population. But the good work of local farms isn’t limited just to the residents they serve. They also may have a hand in solving some of the most difficult environmental and societal issues we’ll face in the future—affecting everything from climate change to urban planning. Here are some of the extra benefits local farms provide that go beyond just serving up a tomato that’s actually ripe.
It could provide much-need food security
There are two trends working together that make urban farming a practical solution to potential food security issues. First, urban areas are expected to grow, meaning that our cities will be built farther and farther out, reducing the amount of available farmland. Second, climate change will result in water scarcity issues that may make wide-scale farming impractical. Without an alternative mode of agriculture, you can imagine the kind of problems we would have feeding a growing city-dwelling populace. But returning to smaller, local farms keeps food production sustainable and helps reduce our reliance on large scale commercial growing.
It could help keep our rivers clean
Industrial agriculture is dirty. Animal wastes and toxic pesticides are in heavy rotation in commercial farms, which can seep into local waterways and poison the aquatic life within. Small urban farms, by comparison, almost always opt to grow produce organically, which means less waste draining into fresh water sources.
It could help ease climate change
Typical grocery produce could have traveled miles to get from the farm to the plate—and that translates to wasted oil. In fact, author Barbara Kingsolver states in her book Animal, Vegetable, Mineral that in an average year, the food in your refrigerator could be costing 400 gallons of fuel a year. To put it another way, that’s about eight average-sized bathtubs full of unnecessary oil. Buying local produce from a nearby urban farm puts a major dent in our carbon footprint by reducing the amount of distance food has to go before it’s consumed, which ultimately means fresher produce, too! That’s without even taking into account that more green spaces equals better air quality and less pollution.
It could eliminate food deserts
One of the consequences of the move toward big box stores has been an increase in what’s known as food deserts. Typically occurring in low-income areas, these are neighborhoods or whole urban districts where no grocery store is available, in some cases, for miles. That makes it difficult for residents to get access to fresh food, especially since poorer residents may be without cars. Urban farms help residents get healthy food without having to drive to the outskirts of town, and that adds up to fewer fossil fuels burned, as well.
It could reinvigorate local economies
Along the same lines, keeping food in small community farms helps energize local economies. Economists like to call it the multiplier effect: instead of money flowing out of an area through a chain grocery store, the dollars spent at a local farm or farmer’s market go back into the area’s farmers’ pockets. From there, they may spend it at a local gardening supply store or nursery, and so on, which grows the whole community’s wealth. It all adds up to a future that’s healthy and richer in community, and undeniably tastier, too!