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Revitalizing Neighborhoods Through Urban Agriculture In The United States

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) accounts for over one-tenth of the global population, approximately 800 million people, practicing urban agriculture worldwide. In the United States, millions of citizens lack access to supermarkets. Urban farmers play a crucial role in addressing food security issues in American cities.

Historically, the distance between rural and urban areas has never been greater, making traditionally rural food sources widely inaccessible. Cities initially would develop around centralized markets that brought produce from farmlands to urban centers. Today, urban agriculture is revitalizing this connection between city dwellers and agricultural products.

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Urban farming, also known as urban agriculture, brings the cultivation of plants and the raising of animals in and around urban environments. Traditionally a rural activity, the increased adoption of farming techniques in urban areas stems from technological advancements in agriculture coupled with the need for more sustainable production and consumption methods. The typical urban dweller today has little understanding of where or how food is produced and distributed. Urban farming allows citizens to be closer to the production of food, and even active participants.

In the United States, urban farming has historical roots dating back to the colonial era. Settlers initially introduced the idea, and as cities expanded home food gardens adapted to maximize produce in minimal space. In the 19th century, urban gardens were considered economically unimportant, however, the 20th century saw them serving various purposes such as wartime food supplies, urban beautification projects, and learning centers.

The 70s marked the beginning of its renaissance as seen today. The movement gained momentum in the 1990s, connecting urban farms to environmental justice activism, local food promotion, sustainability efforts, community health campaigns, and food justice activism. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2022 further heightened interest in urban farming, emphasizing the need for resilient food systems. Metropolitans like New York City, Detroit, and Washington D.C. exhibit different forms of urban agriculture, including vertical farms, rooftop greenhouses, and community gardens.

Urban agriculture can play a pivotal role in supporting local food systems as well as fostering community-building and co-ownership in neighborhoods. Studies show that urban farms and community gardens correlate with increased home values and household income, fostering entrepreneurship in the local food sector.

The Ohio City Farm is a successful example of integrated economic and community development approaches through urban farming. The six-acre farm is a collaboration between the local housing authority, a refugee advocacy group, the nearby Great Lakes Brewery, and local community development entities. Formed to solidify Ohio City as a regional food hub, the collaboration has helped develop a cluster of urban farm plots and create the support infrastructure to get local producers selling. It created jobs and trained some of the city’s most vulnerable populations.

By activating vacant lots, rethinking underutilized spaces, and converting existing factories, urban farms contribute to increased local biodiversity. Agrotechnology plays a key role in converting factories and warehouses for commercial indoor farming, reducing transportation costs and associated greenhouse gases.

A study of New York City learned that earmarking every last vacant lot to farming would only yield enough produce for 160,000 people, in a city of 8.1 million. While dedicating every vacant lot to farming may not fully meet a city’s food needs, urban farms can significantly contribute to improving local food systems. The collaboration between SCAPE and the New York Restoration Project transformed urban spaces into greenscapes. Its program involved a community space, making it a multidisciplinary garden.

In San Francisco, a city that grapples with land scarcity, urban agriculture projects have led to the development of condominiums in neighborhoods. Despite rising real estate prices, the demand for city-grown food remains strong. The city’s Urban Agriculture Program was launched in 2014 to respond to San Fransisco’s increasing densification and growing demand for urban agriculture. It serves as a hub for information, resources, and coordination. With over 120 urban agriculture sites in the city, the program focuses on creating communication channels and partnerships among them.

Achieving high yields in urban farms may not directly translate into the feasibility of such projects in cities. Most urban farmers in California lack ecological horticultural skills, hindering the development of sustainable farming strategies. A study by the University of California estimates that over 79 percent of the state’s urban farmers do not own the property that they farm. Aside from providing access to vacant lots in urban areas, cities must additionally aid in the acquirement of supporting resources and knowledge for the proliferation of city farms.

From Cleveland to Kansas City to Baton Rouge, cities across the United States are supporting urban agriculture through legislative and policy changes. Policy reform can come in many ways, such as tax credits, improvements to land access, or changes to zoning laws that currently restrict urban farming. At the federal level, the US Department of Agriculture has expanded funding in support of local and regional food systems through grants and cost-sharing programs for urban and peri-urban farms. Increased funding and awareness across the country point to a promising outlook for the development of urban farming.

Source: https://www.archdaily.com/1012190/urban-agriculture-in-the-united-states-revitalizing-neighborhoods

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