Solving Cities

Could cities rely 100% on urban agriculture for their food?

Could cities rely 100% on urban agriculture for their food?

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.

Photo: jeffschuler/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure