By Tyler Falk
Posting in Cities
A recent study finds that cities could use vacant lots, rooftops, and backyards for urban agriculture to become self-reliant in basic food needs.
While urban agriculture has gained in popularity throughout U.S. cities, food imports from all around the world overwhelmingly feed our cities. But could that ever change?
A recent study by Sharanbir Grewal of The Ohio State University found that it's possible for a city to be 100% reliant on food grown and raised in the city to meet basic food needs. And at the very least urban agriculture could be doing much more to feed the city.
Grewal studied Cleveland, Ohio, a Rust Belt city hit hard by foreclosures during the Great Recession that resulted in vacant properties scattered throughout the city.
In the first scenario, Grewal found that if Cleveland converted 80% of its vacant lots into farms it could produce 22% to 48% of the city's demand for fresh produce (vegetables and fruits) depending on the type of farming. It could also produce 25% of poultry and shell eggs, and 100% of honey.
In addition, if Cleveland used 80% of every vacant lot and 9% of every occupied residential lot, the city could generate between 31% and 68% of the needed fresh produce, 94% of poultry and shell eggs, and 100% of honey.
And it gets even more impressive. In the most ambitious scenario, if the city turned 62% of every industrial and commercial rooftop into a farm, in addition to 80% of vacant lots and 9% of occupied residential lots, the city could meet between 46% and 100% of its fresh produce needs, 94% of its poultry and shell eggs and 100% of its honey.
The study says: "The three scenarios can attain overall levels of self-reliance between 4.2% and 17.7% by weight and 1.8% and 7.3% by expenditure in total food and beverage consumption, compared to the current level of 0.1% self-reliance in total food and beverage by expenditure."
Growing food in the city would also keep $29-115 million in the local economy.
And if you think this study wouldn't produce the same results in other cities, consider that New York City has 5,000 acres of vacant land and an overabundance of flat roofs throughout the five boroughs that could be ripe for farming.
Obviously, cities would still continue to ship in citrus to Cleveland (and other desired foods that can't grow in certain climates) to meet demand, but when it comes to basic food needs cities have what it takes to be self-reliant.
Sep 13, 2011
Like anything it grows as to what it's fed. the quality of air and water is poor. if you are what you eat.. then what do you think what you ate just ate ? soil is of top importance, it doesn't come bagged or in a truckload. Hydroponics likened to vitamins. then of course vandals and varmints thievery and nibblers. I've been growing food in the city and country for 40yrs. I think only necessity and despair will grow enough for stone soup for any city dwellers.
Growing food for public consumption on anything other than a big agri-conglomerate farm will soon be illegal under the Food Safety Modernization (HR 875) Act currently before Congress.
You have a point, given our current methodology of growing food. What really bothers me is the fact that I can buy a two pound bag of frozen vegetables that were grown in China, processed in China, shipped from China, and delivered to my local store for about $1.60. And that is cheaper than what it would cost to grow the vegetables here locally and deliver them to my local store. Of course you have no clue about how the veggies were grown or processed, which is scary at best. It might cost more to grow locally but at least I don't have to worry quite as much about the quality of the food I am consuming that is from a nearby source. Global free-trade at work I suppose.
Labor? Not a problem with pick your own farming. This article expresses a good approach to a sustainable local sourced food supply. There are those who are too lazy or too intellectually challenged to bother with the work necessary to grow food locally. But for those who are willing to make the effort, it can be quite rewarding.
Lead. Arsenic. Asbestos. Etc. Man, in my neighborhood they buried tailings from the Manhattan Project! Glow in the dark tomatos, anyone?
There are already successful urban farms, small and large, all around the country. Some are non-profit and some are for-profit and this is a growing endeavor. Look at Growing Power run by Will Allen in Milwaukee. Look at what Farmer D in Atlanta is doing setting up successful community gardens. And the thing about small urban farms and gardens is that you don't need tons of migrant labor to manage the food production especially when you have small farms and gardens scattered around on vacant lots and in private yards. When I was a kid we had a 2,000-sf garden behind our house and it fed our family of four for much of the year. We canned and froze food for the winter months. I started running the garden when I was about 12 years old and reorganized it using organic gardening methods and there was no such thing as a $20 tomato as someone mentioned. Just seeds, plants, compost, occasional watering, and a little research into best practices.
One of the reasons that our food is as cheap as it is (other than the mass mechanisation of farming) is the cheap labor used in farming, which is also highly migratory. With the cost of living what it is in cities such as New York, you are not likely to get many people willing to do that kind of work for what urban farmers would be willing or able to pay. Migratory workers won't bother coming because the cost of living would make it a net loss, and few city dwellers would be willing to do that kind of work when cities offer so many competing opportunities that pay much better and aren't nearly as hard.
1.) you can't turn every rooftop into a garden or farm. Most of them won't take the weight. 2) Have you ever had a small home garden? If you have, then you know about $20 tomatoes.
Tyler should be commended for not making urban agriculture an "all or nothing" issue. It is just one part of a resilient food system. The next important step is for cities to convert the energy and enthusiasm surrounding local food into viable farming businesses. This will require training a large and diverse number of residents in appropriately scaled farming methods and microenterprise development and getting them up and operational quickly. One economically viable crop production model that is appropriately scaled for cities, and replicable, is SPIN-Farming, which is an organic-based, small plot farming system that outlines how to make money growing in backyards, front lawns and neighborhood lots. The time is now ripe for the professionalization of urban agriculture. It will then not only deliver the social and environmental benefits long touted by advocates, but it will also be an industry that generates significant economic benefits as well.
I think they intend for us to all be growing our own foods in our little urban cooperatives, like people did in settlements 3 or 4 hundred years ago. We'll all have plenty of time to do so since most industry & jobs will be gone before long.
Instead of paying to go to a gym, people could get free exercise by volunteering a few hours a week at the community garden. In addition, they'd be breathing fresh air, learning a valuable skill, and socializing with their neighbors in the process. And the retired and the unemployed may enjoy putting in extra time. A city with thousands of residents has a lot of free labor to draw on.
Plants can be grown quite nicely in light weight soil. Weight should not be a problem. Worst case, remove the growing medium from the beds before winter and the roofs deal with their snow loads. I've had a small home garden most years since the mid-1970s. I can't tell you how much my tomatoes cost this year. Started the plants from seeds I saved and fertilized with compost I made from last year's plants, mown grass, that sort of stuff. Man, have I got the tomatoes this year. The Cherokee Purples are outstanding!
Every building CAN bear the weight if you retrofit the building beforehand. Of course, that's extra money to be spent, but it's necessary if you want to use a roof that can't support the weight. I'll agree with you about home gardens, but I was thinking factory/industry roofs, which are quite large, would be used for something like a greenhouse. The greenhouses can produce a sizeable amount of food. The biggest problem with urban farming would be pollution I'd imagine. The influx of fertilizers into an urban setting would mean that water leaving these farms would be heavy in minerals. Having many urban farms would mean a lot more management of the city's water cleaning facilities to manage the higher water contamination.
It is ok for you to grow tomatoes for your consumption, but you cannot trade some of your tomatoes for your neighbors peppers. That would be illegal. Only a licensed farms will be allowed to sell food. Under the new law licenses will start at $10,000 per year. Cost prohiobative for small farms already fading fast from estate tax laws that are killing small generational family farms. This law will make it harder for small farms to survive with the heavy handed regulations being proposed. So in the end food can only come from big companies who are the ones lobbying Congress to pass this bill.
...agriculture will get outsourced to other countries just like most of our other labor-intensive industries.