5 Benefits of Urban Farming
In the last decade urban farming has gone from a buzzword to a growing industry that’s establishing strong roots in cities across the US. But it’s more than trends that are convincing producers to make the switch from traditional farming and consumers to ditch big name brands for the local farm stand. Producing 1/5 of the world’s food, urban farming is making a real impact on what we eat.
Agriculture has become a catch-22 for farmers, consumers, and the environmentally conscious alike. As campaigns for mindful eating have gained momentum, our relationship to produce has become central to our diets. However good we feel picking up bunches of kale at the supermarket, it’s hard to ignore the increasing headlines that warn of wildfires in California due to soil degradation and drought. The urge to eat clean, especially with no other options, will ultimately outweigh the responsibility of where each item in your cart comes from. This paradox is solved elegantly through urban farming. Urban farms offer urban residents the quality of food they need while giving them a role of key responsibility within the community by supporting a local producer.
For most of us, farming is something that happens far away. Now farmers are growing thriving urban gardens that have connected them with their communities through food, giving everyone a stake in where it comes from and how it’s grown. Here are a few of the big reasons new producers are committed to urban farming methods.
Quite the contrast to visions of the endless acreage associated with traditional farming, urban agriculture utilizes small spaces to yield abundant crops. Urban planners consider creative ways to conserve space in densely populated areas, and that can easily expand to include small scale agriculture. With a high number of unused space eyed for costly housing projects, urban farmers are providing new value to abandoned spaces. Using Google Earth’s Engine software, City Lab concluded that “if fully implemented in cities around the world, urban agriculture could produce as much as 180 million metric tons of food a year—perhaps 10 percent of the global output of legumes, roots and tubers, and vegetable crops.” Even using less than 1/4 acre (like Coeur et Sol!) an urban farmer has the potential to grow hundreds of pounds of produce. Combine this with indoor vertical growing operations, and quality food can be found in urban areas year round.
By keeping food close to home, it fills a gaps of food inequality, impacts environmental health, and increases your city’s economic value in the agriculture supply chain. In urban areas, African Americans are half as likely to experience food inequality, and as a result, poor health. Urban farming helps continue traditions from the civil rights movement by bringing farms and food to impacted areas. “Food justice efforts (which are generally led by indigenous peoples and people of color) work not only for access to healthy food, but for an end to the structural inequities that lead to unequal health outcomes,” explained Food Print. “A related concept is that of food sovereignty, defined as people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” Growing in urban areas allows farmers to provide produce directly to low income consumers through CSA’s and farmer’s markets while funneling their goods to the restaurants and shops where their community buys their groceries, a big step toward providing food security for every resident.
Every urban farm is a community space dedicated to regenerating ecosystems through pollination, crop cover, and reinfusing nutrient deficient dirt, polluted from years of industrialization, with rich, organic topsoil, natural flora, and heirloom crops. Unlike traditional farming, urban farming not only repurposes undernourished neighborhoods, but combats the same environmental detriments associated with agriculture. Using numbers from The Meridian Institute, Al Jazeera reported that “…food systems have significant, adverse effects on climate change and that climate change impacts food systems in many complex ways - global food demand is set to increase by at least 60 percent by 2050, and global meat consumption alone will double as populations grow.” Most of this growth will happen in developing countries whose combined 1 billion population rely on livestock for food and income. While the first world continues to engage slaughter practices that account for nearly 75% of agriculture emissions, while consuming over 65x as much meat compared to a developing country like Bangladesh (270 lbs/yr vs. 4 lbs/yr).
This data indicates a serious imbalance in agriculture that harms farmers, consumers and neighboring nations. Urban farming is an elegant and achievable solution that addresses a lot of these shortcomings. Al Jeera highlighted this further in the article, noting “Many parts of the process are wasteful and compromise certain people and environments, whether through exposure to chemicals, the clearing of land to grow commercial crops or corporate monopoly over the market.
This is without considering the energy involved in harvesting, storage and transportation.” Coeur et Sol does our part to reduce our environmental footprint and support our ecosystem through no-till practices, avoiding pesticides, and planting strategic crops to support wildlife. The swallowtail caterpillar above is a highly beneficial pollinator that was one of many creatures who thrived alongside snakes, spiders, and praying mantis’ in our garden this year. Tech advancements and modern ag ed make these organic practices possible for all farmers. The nature.org blog put it best, highlighting how “Science has given us better, smarter ways to grow food. Emerging research on cover crops and other soil health practices, precision agriculture and fertilizer optimization, remote sensing, and the role of habitat in providing pollination and pest control is revealing opportunities to benefit both farmers and nature.”
Working with small spaces has forced farmers to get creative. Small scale agriculture is how we are able to grow microgreens year round, and how we managed 20+ unique crops on just 1500 sq. ft. of soil while processing and storing harvests at our homestead. With access to simple resources, growing a portion of your own food in the backyard isn’t unreasonable. Due to light technology and access to seeds and soils from across the country it’s possible for vertical, indoor farms to thrive year round in basements, abandoned warehouses, and family kitchens. The functionality of producing quality food in small spaces makes scaling up surprisingly conducive to the nooks and crannies of urban environments. Metcalf Food Solutions is working with Toronto farmers and the city to incorporate urban farming with urban planning.
Ironically, the biggest restrictions facing agriculture in cities isn’t a lack of space to grow. Rather, urban farming faces boundaries like the lack of legislation in place to incorporate new production practices in strategic locations, such as rooftops, and reorganizing the supply chain. “Toronto has the current land and rooftop base within its own boundaries to produce 10% of the fresh vegetables currently consumed through the market system…there are two approaches to scaling up urban agriculture. One involves spreading simple growing approaches throughout the city; the other means enhancing the sophistication, productivity, and potential financial viability of urban agriculture practices in key locations. But it has to be done in ways that integrate with the urban fabric, complement rural and peri-urban production, and are potentially financially viable for urban growers.” They argue that both approaches must be used in tandem to ensure that urban ag. maintains its foundation of accessible and quality food. Their full proposal includes data on soil health, season extension, water access, governance models, and more. By working with farmers, city planners can learn best practices while overseeing partnerships in key economic sectors.
Once you’ve had a taste of farm fresh produce in your neighborhood, it’s hard to go back to the big chain suppliers. Even top shelf organic brands can’t compete with the freshness and resulting long shelf life due to production and shipping logistics. Urban farms bring the food chain closer to home while managing to avoid an unfair supply chain. With so much potential for urban farms in cities of all sizes, this level of quality can become mainstream. There are farmers already winning over industry leaders, as seen with Plenty Inc, a San Francisco based urban ag start-up that’s attracted $200 million in VC and selling wholesale to restaurants like Mountain View’s Michelin-starred French Laundry. The choice was easy, according to sous chef Anthony Secviar. “It checks every box from a chef’s perspective: quality, appearance, texture, flavor, sustainability, price,” he told Bloomberg.
Ultimately, urban farming has limitations that benefit both the farmer and consumer immediately. Less space means no room to operate big machinery. Poor soil quality means that the farmer will have to restore the nutrients before growing properly. Small spaces means farmers will have to be careful and conservative. Local produce means a more complex food web for all residents.
We’re preparing to do our part to keep you fed all winter with our next CSA. Each share will feature products from the Coeur et Sol co-operative (we just tried some dreamy samples from Riverdel, our vegan cheese supplier, last week!). We’ll be including lots of goods from our homestead, too. Look out for our winter CSA sign ups starting November.
With love + growth,
The Coeur et Sol Team