Urban agriculture–much like a chameleon–can have many shades. Whether it’s through your rooftop, your backyard, or an allotted piece of community space, it enables the production and cultivation of food crops, livestock and even fisheries, in urban areas. One would think that urban areas are too dense to allow for such a typically rural engagement, but alas, it is happening in exciting momentum in North America today!
The Benefits of Urban Agriculture
Cities in North America have so much to learn from our neighboring countries like Cuba in Latin America, who have long been engaged in urban agriculture, stemming from their established political support and historical framework. Their urban landscapes have been remapped to foster these green spaces and the results are astonishing–50 percent of the island’s fresh produce supply comes from over 300,000 urban farms and gardens, with significant yields per square meter in each farm. These yields were able to spurt so astronomically because they incorporated biological pest control strategies and intercropping, frowning upon chemical inputs that contribute to soil imbalances.
Urban agriculture in its many forms has its proven socio-economic perks. In communities, having urban garden spaces brings about a cohesion in the life of the neighborhood through education programs for youth and volunteer training. People are taught about environmental stewardship and self-sufficiency as they tend to and nurture the food crops. It is however more than just a way to revitalize social networks and preserve green spaces. Urban agriculture provides communities access to learn about nutrition, through healthy, affordable and fresh produce that are directly interacted with. Urban farming even grew to become part of a social justice movement that fights for food sovereignty and rightful land ownerships.
On the economic aspect, many families have found that they have been able to save a substantial amount of their income flow every year by growing a portion of their own food. Establishing community gardens also tends to shoot up property values in the area. Urban agriculture embraces the niche sectors of animal husbandry, hydroponics, aquaculture, agroforestry, and horticulture, which provides livable-wage jobs for members of the community in these fast-growing enterprises. Hydroponics for example, helps grow vegetables and herbs even through the winter, and is space efficient. It is economically expedient once its long-term equipment is invested in.
Having understood all of this, how can we ensure that this revolutionary agricultural scheme is not merely a hobby for the urban elites?
Inclusivity in Urban Agriculture
Traversing back to our Latin American neighbors, the onset of this new agricultural regime for Cuba was, in true spirit, instigated by fellow citizens. Very soon after, State Farm Corporations joined and divided themselves into smaller co-ops. The urban farming network in Cuba is almost completely run by local co-ops who decide what to grow and set their output shares. These co-op members work harmoniously in their garden plots to ensure sufficiency in calorie diet for everyone. That said, back in North America, the presence of community gardens soaring up property values could have the effect of displacing low-income families, luring in the looming cloud of gentrification.
To solve this, consistently introducing alternative methods for growing plants such as aquaponics instead of mainly hydroponics, is a great way to promote inclusivity. Why? The chemical nutrients that hydroponics require in place of soil can be quite costly for the average household to afford or get access to. Aquaponics on the other hand is considered more sustainable because fish excretion is converted to nitrates by surrounding bacteria, which the plants then absorb as food. The water is then free from harmful contaminants for the fish, and the growth cycle flourishes. Fish feed itself is quite easy to come by.
Another issue with inclusivity in urban agriculture stems from the class divide it has been found to emphasize. Authors from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future have found that urban gardens and farms have mostly been led by white non-residents in neighborhoods that are predominantly black/Latino. This thereby creates a sense of disconnectedness and limited involvement in activities right in their vicinity that should be supposedly accessible. This irony can foster negative outcomes in community interactions, as well as distract from the benefits of such practices.
In order to combat this, residents of communities where urban farming projects are being undertaken should not only be consulted but given greater decision making positions. Leadership roles should be reflective of the community’s demography and needs, and collective decisions be a norm. Urban agriculture can also be used as an instrument for increased political engagement in not only the food system, but in other aspects of the community. This can be expressed through spatial empowerment; land ownership rights; and fights against poverty, to name a few.
Inclusivity in urban agriculture most definitely equals upholding the basic human right to live sustainably.
Gabbatiss, Josh. (2016, April 1). Viva la Producción! Urban Farming in Cuba. Sustainable Food Trust (blog). https://sustainablefoodtrust.org:443/articles/viva-la-produccion-urban-farming-in-cuba/.
Hoidal, Natalie. (2020). Small-Scale Hydroponics. University of Minnesota Extension. https://extension.umn.edu/how/small-scale-hydroponics.
King, Joy. (2020, November 17). The Importance of Urban Farming. Growlink. https://blog.growlink.com/the-importance-of-urban-farming.
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. (2021, February 12). Urban Agriculture Business Information Bundle. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/urbanagbib/welcome.htm.
Plumer, Brad. (2016, May 15). The Real Value of Urban Farming. (Hint: It’s Not Always the Food.). Vox. https://www.vox.com/2016/5/15/11660304/urban-farming-benefits. Sensorex. (2020, March 24). Aquaponics vs Hydroponics: Which One Is Best For You? https://sensorex.com/2020/03/24/aquaponics-vs-hydroponics/.
The Conversation. (2019, February 13). What U.S. Cities Can Learn from Cuba About Urban Agriculture. US News & World Report. //www.usnews.com/news/cities/articles/2019-02-13/urban-agriculture-what-us-cities-can-learn-from-cuba.
The Urban Farmer. (n.d.). Urban Agriculture. http://www.theurbanfarmer.ca/urban-agriculture.
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