Urban Farming is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas.
City farms are agricultural plots in urban areas, which involve people working with animals and plants to produce food. City farms are usually community-run gardens that aim to improve community relationships and offer an awareness of agriculture and farming to people who live in urbanized areas. City farms are important sources of food security for many communities around the globe. City farms vary in size from small plots in private yards to larger farms that occupy a number of acres. In 1996, a United Nations report estimated there are over 800 million people worldwide who grow food and raise livestock in cities. Although some city farms have paid employees, most rely heavily on volunteer labor, and some are run by volunteers alone. Other city farms operate as partnerships with local authorities.
Nutrition and quality of food
Daily intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Urban agriculture is associated with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables which decreases risk for disease and can be a cost-effective way to provide citizens with quality, fresh produce in urban settings.
Produce from urban gardens can be perceived to be more flavorful and desirable than store-bought produce which may also lead to a wider acceptance and higher intake.
A Flint, Michigan study found that those participating in community gardens consumed fruits and vegetables 1.4 more times per day and were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits or vegetables at least 5 times daily (p. 1). Garden-based education can also yield nutritional benefits in children. An Idaho study reported a positive association between school gardens and increased intake of fruit, vegetables, vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber among sixth graders. Harvesting fruits and vegetables initiate the enzymatic process of nutrient degradation which is especially detrimental to water soluble vitamins such as ascorbic acid and thiamin. The process of blanching produce in order to freeze or can reduce nutrient content slightly but not nearly as much as the amount of time spent in storage. Harvesting produce from one’s own community garden cuts back on storage times significantly.
Urban agriculture also provides quality nutrition for low-income households. Studies show that every $1 invested in a community garden yields $6 worth of vegetables if labor is not considered a factor in investment. Many urban gardens reduce the strain on food banks and other emergency food providers by donating shares of their harvest and provide fresh produce in areas that otherwise might be food deserts. The supplemental nutrition program Women, Infants and Children (WIC) as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have partnered with several urban gardens nationwide to improve the accessibility to produce in exchange for a few hours of volunteer gardening work.
Urban farming has been shown to increase health outcomes. Gardeners consume twice as much fruit and vegetables than non-gardeners. Levels of physical activity are also positively associated with urban farming. These results are seen indirectly and can be supported by the social involvement in an individual’s community as a member of the community farm. This social involvement helped raised the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood, boosting the motivation or efficacy of the community as a whole. This increased efficacy was shown to increase neighborhood attachment. Therefore, the positive health outcomes of urban farming can be explained in part due to the interpersonal and social factors that boost health. Focusing on improving the aesthetics and community relationships and not only on the plant yield, is the best way to maximize the positive effect of urban farms on a neighborhood.
Using high-density urban farming, as for instance with vertical farms or stacked greenhouses, many environmental benefits can be achieved on a citywide scale that would be impossible otherwise. These systems do not only provide food, but also produce potable water from waste water, and can recycle organic waste back to energy and nutrients. At the same time, they can reduce food-related transportation to a minimum while providing fresh food for large communities in almost any climate.
Urban Farming in New York City
Many low-income residents suffer from high rates of obesity and diabetes and limited sources of fresh produce. The City and local nonprofit groups have been providing land, training and financial encouragement, but the impetus in urban farming has really come from the farmers, who often volunteer when their regular work day is done. In addition, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection offers a grant program for private property owners in combined sewer areas of New York City. The minimum requirement is to manage 1” of stormwater runoff from the contributing impervious area. Eligible projects include green roofs, rooftop farms, and rainwater harvesting on private property in combined sewer areas. Because of this grant program, New York City now has the world’s largest rooftop farms.
Some urban gardeners have used empty lots to start a community or urban gardens. However, the soil must be tested for heavy contamination in city soil because of vehicle exhaust and remnants of old construction. The City also has a composting program, which is available to gardeners and farmers. One group, GreenThumb, provides free seedlings. Another program, the City Farms project operated by the nonprofit Just Food, offers courses on growing and selling food
Two alternate means of growing are rooftop gardens and hydroponic (soil-less) growing. The New York Times wrote an article about one of Manhattan’s first gardens which incorporate both these techniques. Another option urban gardeners have used is Farm-in-A-Box LLC, a company that provides hand-made, ready-to-use garden boxes to residents and schools.
- Space is at a premium in cities and is accordingly expensive and difficult to secure.
- The utilization of untreated wastewater for urban agricultural irrigation can facilitate the spread of waterborne diseases among the human population
- Although studies have demonstrated improved air quality in urban areas related to the proliferation of urban gardens, it has also been shown that increasing urban pollution (related specifically to a sharp rise in the number of automobiles on the road), has led to an increase in insect pests, which consume plants produced by urban agriculture. It is believed that changes to the physical structure of the plants themselves, which have been correlated to increased levels of air pollution, increase plants’ palatability to insect pests. Reduced yields within urban gardens decrease the amount of food available for human consumption.
- Studies indicate that the nutritional quality of wheat suffers when urban wheat plants are exposed to high nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide concentrations. This problem is particularly acute in the developing world, where outdoor concentrations of sulfur dioxide are high and large percentages of the population rely upon urban agriculture as a primary source of food. These studies have implications for the nutritional quality of other staple crops that are grown in urban settings.
- Agricultural activities on land that is contaminated (with such metals as lead) pose potential risks to human health. These risks are associated both with working directly on contaminated land and with consuming food that was grown in contaminated soil.
Municipal greening policy goals can pose conflicts. For example, policies promoting urban tree canopy are not sympathetic to vegetable gardening because of the deep shade cast by trees. However, some municipalities like Portland, Oregon, and Davenport, Iowa are encouraging the implementation of fruit-bearing trees (as street trees or as park orchards) to meet both greening and food production goals