When you turn on the tv and watch the news, you’re quickly bombarded with bad news about climate change destroying the world as we know it and billions of people facing potential food and water shortages. It’s daunting, and it’s tough to assess where the data ends and sensationalism takes over, making it even more difficult to do something about the situation. It’s easy to feel insignificant when looking at the scale of the problem, which in turn leads to a lot of people feeling like they can’t contribute to finding a solution. This isn’t the case. There are opportunities to take control of your life, and in turn have a positive effect on the environment as well as your local community. One of these opportunities comes in the form of Urban Farming, and it’s starting to gain traction.
An urban farm is “a part of a local food system where food is cultivated, produced and marketed to consumers within that urban area.” These farms can take a variety of forms, including non-profit gardens and for-profit businesses, which provide jobs, job training, health education, as well as contributing to better nutrition and health for the community by providing locally grown, fresh produce. In addition, these urban farms can be used to help revitalize any abandoned or underutilized urban area and remediate the soil in brownfields. This remediation tackles the problem of contaminated land that may have negative consequences on our ground water and increases the amount of usable, fertile land.
Addressing food shortages on a global scale presents a situation with an extremely difficult problem to solve, but when we focus on individual communities having access to healthy food options and eliminating the presence of food deserts, this problem becomes much more manageable. By creating community farms we can build a space for citizens of that community to grow some of their own produce, as well as create a connection with the origin of their food. This also contributes to peace of mind as they would know that their food is free of harmful pesticides. Taking this a step further, urban agriculture can be used to help feed the community at a larger scale, by producing a higher yield and a greater diversity of products. A distribution network can be created to either deliver these products directly to the citizens or redirected to a local farmer’s market in which these locally grown goods are available to purchase. Because of the close proximity to the source, costs will be reduced and the produce would be available for a longer window of time before they begin to spoil. Incorporating vertical farming and hydroponics into this system reduces the need for large plots of land while still providing the ability to produce a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Urban farming is not only about growing produce though, as it can also include “animal husbandry (e.g., breeding and raising livestock), beekeeping, aquaculture (e.g., fish farming), aquaponics (e.g., integrating fish farming and agriculture), and non-food products such as producing seeds, cultivating seedlings, and growing flowers.” If these were to be incorporated it would go a long way in ensuring that the community can be self-sustaining, and therefore the community would no longer need to wait on policies to come to their rescue. Urban farming would also create economic opportunities for citizens, and the money would stay local so that further development and revitalization of the community could take place. It would also have a positive impact on reducing the amount of carbon emissions that have an effect on climate change.
Sequestering carbon in soil is a natural way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with fewer impacts on land and water, less need for energy, and lower costs than other means of capturing carbon emissions. The Earth’s soils contain about 2,500 gigatons of carbon, more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals. Traditional agricultural practices— such as tilling, planting mono-crops, removing crop residue, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, and overgrazing— expose the carbon in the soil to oxygen and allows it to burn off into the atmosphere. Soil sequestration occurs through the process of photosynthesis, by which plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use water and sunlight to turn the carbon into leaves, stems, seeds and roots. Some carbon is then released into the atmosphere through respiration and some is exuded into the soil as a sugary substance through the roots, which then feeds the microbes that live underground. These microbes are beneficial for the viability of the soil and increase the fertility of the land so more plants can then be planted and more produce can be cultivated. This means that we can help to feed our communities with healthy, locally grown foods while at the same time helping to reduce the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere, solely through the use of nature.
In a time when our problems seem too grandiose for us to be able to do anything about them, it’s important for us to realize that there are solutions that we can implement ourselves that would not only benefit our local communities, but can also have an aggregate benefit to the rest of the world. There are plenty of resources out there that provide information on how to practice urban farming, whether at a small,at-home scale or on a larger, community oriented development, such as the Urban Agriculture Toolkit and courses offered at various institutions, including the Huntington Library Botanical Gardens. All that’s required is for the community to step up and take matters into our own hands.