In the United States, Americans are moving out of rural communities and into metropolitan suburbs and cities. While cities are home to the latest restaurant trends and technological innovations, they are also locations of poverty, lower education, and food deserts: areas where it is difficult to buy fresh, affordable, healthy food. With these facts in mind, moving forward, cities should work diligently to implement more holistic urban agriculture policies and programs.
Generally, urban agriculture can be defined as the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food within a city. It cuts across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and is achieved through community gardens, rooftop farming, and indoor vertical farming. Urban agriculture can appeal to people on both sides of the political aisle because of its dual focus on private enterprise and community enrichment.
Because space is limited in cities, startup companies have been innovative and use large rooftops and renovate abandoned buildings to grow produce. By using hydroponic and aquaponic technology, these businesses have found ways to grow food without using soil. In addition, because the produce is maintained in enclosed areas, companies have eliminated the use of pesticides in their products. Furthermore, rooftop and indoor vertical farms sell their produce to local grocers and restaurants, providing fresher, tastier food to customers and patrons. Urban agriculture brings new business opportunities to cities, and in 2017, Almost 1.9 billion dollars was invested in Agritech companies in the United States. This enterprise will continue to grow in the foreseeable future as food security becomes a more prominent issue.
It is important to note that the food products grown in these local facilities can be too expensive for many low-income people to access, and while the private sector will only be able to replace a small percentage of food consumed in cities due to the lack of available real estate, urban agriculture has an even greater impact that is often overlooked: community outreach. Non-profits take abandoned plots of land and transform them into community gardens. By locally growing food in disenfranchised areas, community gardens educate the surrounding neighborhood on where their food comes from, how to grow it, and how and why they should eat healthy. These community gardens provide valuable educational experiences for people in specific neighborhoods in places like New York City. This is important because, on a citywide scale, a 2016 study conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine indicated that a targeted nutritional education campaign in New York City increased the amount of fruits and vegetables people eat. In addition, eating more produce is linked to a lower risk of health ailments, like diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, community gardens can be used to educate neighborhoods about proper eating habits, which can assist in driving down healthcare costs in the long term.
Urban agriculture should be incorporated as a part of an overall food security plan and climate action plan moving forward.Rising temperatures as a result of climate change will negatively impact food production and the amount of arable land for farming. This will be a detriment to cities because they have a heavy reliance on food imports. Furthermore, low-income areas will be the most affected as changes in the food supply will affect will cause an increase in food prices. Urban agriculture appeals to both sides of the political aisle, from the promotion of private sector startups that can bring new jobs to cities and provide fresh produce to restaurants and homes, to improving the health, education, and livelihoods of at-risk communities. The benefits of urban agriculture are numerous. Let’s “grow up” and make healthy food more accessible to everyone.
Philip P. A. Malley obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Syracuse University investigating the effects of organic matter and salt on the reaction environment in snow and ice. Currently, he is a Master of Public Administration candidate in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University.
The author would like to thank Alex Rudnicki, Becky Hopkins, Daniel Wohl, Joseph DeMarco, Devika Kaul, Ella Wynn, Dafna Bareket, Caitlin Boas, James Lin, and Julie Manoharan for assistance with the research that went into this article.