What is Urban Agriculture?

GreenDustries and Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in, or around (peri-urban), a village, town or city. Urban agriculture in addition can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agro-forestry and horticulture… by Wikepedia.

We live in an increasingly urban world. Seventy-five percent of the people in so-called industrialized countries already live in towns and cities and urbanization has become a global phenomenon in the last half-century. The resultant mass movement of people from farms and rural villages everywhere constitutes the greatest human migration in history. It seems likely that fully half of the human family is city dwellers since the year 2000.

Can you imagine our planet being totally green, no more pollution, lush forests, beautiful oceans, butterflies of every colors flying around, birds singing and every one of us going to the roof or the backyard to get their food? No more nuclear threats, replaced by “cold fusion” together with the “Sun Energy” and the amazing “Nanotechnology” we have all we the technology we need to supply all of our energy needs! What a beautiful world! This is the world we want our children to inherit from us, and if we are smart and take control of our future this will be our life. We still can do it. We only have to want it more than anything else and do what is necessary for it to happen.

We are going to explain to you in this blog how Urban Agriculture works and why it is great… We need to adapt ourselves to a new world, new ways of living, new ways of building, of driving cars of shopping. A better way, a greener way, we are at the end of an era called the “Industrial Revolution” and the new one has not really started, which is why the economy is not stable. The changes that are coming are so big it’s difficult for some to let go of what they have known until now. How my great grand parents would react if they were back for one day? The change would be so shocking it would be a nightmare for them. We are at a turn of civilization and let’s enjoy the adventure and welcome the changes with open arms.

Flying over the Midwest in a plane one sees vast fields of wheat, grain, corn, and other cash crops as far as the eye can see. Then, a few hundred miles later one catches sight of the nearest large city with its skyscrapers, vacant lots, and tar roofed buildings where some of that agriculture crop will most likely end up. Now, imagine 20 years from today flying over cities like Chicago, New York, and Detroit and seeing vast swaths of green, red, and gold agricultural terrain below in place of the expected black tar roofs and vacant grey expanses of abandoned lots; a grid of black and gray surrounded and overtaken by agriculture production.

With 80% of the U.S. population living in urban areas according to the 2000 census and nearly 50% of people worldwide living in cities, and to top it off, a world population expected to increase by nearly 40% to 9 billion people in the next 40 years, it’s a real solution for cities to embrace and foster urban agriculture in order to prop up local economies, stimulate entrepreneurship, encourage environmental restoration and remediation, and increase food security. While urbanization is usually thought of as a demographic or economic phenomenon, it also has major ecological consequences. More importantly, from the perspective of ecosystems integrity, cities significantly alter natural biogeochemical cycles of vital nutrients and other chemical resources. Removing people and livestock far from the land that supports them prevents the economic recycling of phosphorus, nitrogen, other nutrients and organic matter back onto farm- and forestlands.

In short, as a consequence of urbanization, what were once local, cyclically integrated ecological production systems, have become global, horizontally disintegrated throughput systems. For example, instead of being returned to the land, Vancouver’s daily appropriation of Saskatchewan mineral nutrients goes straight out to sea. As a result of this process, agricultural soils are degraded – more than half the natural nutrients and organic matter from once rich-prairie soils have been lost in a century of mechanized export agriculture. All of this calls for much improved accounting of transportation, and of mechanized agriculture, and a redefinition of economic efficiency to include biophysical factors (Rees and Wacketnagel 1996).

A major socio-cultural consequence of urbanization is that people are first spatially and then psychologically distanced from the land that supports them. To many urban dwellers, even food, that most vital of basic needs, is increasingly dissociated from its origins in the sun and soil. Indeed, most wealth generated by the food sector in the North is in value-added processing, packaging, transportation, and retailing, effectively trivializing farming per se as economic activity and way of life. Little wonder that food and farming occupies a diminished place in the consciousness of city folk everywhere in the “developed” world.

In addition to helping stabilizing food supplies, urban agriculture in both high-income and developing countries can contribute to global sustainability in many other ways:

  • Fossil fuel use for transportation generates about a third of global carbon dioxide emissions (a “forcing mechanism” in climate change), and global trade alone accounts for 1/8 of world energy use (Goldsmith 1996). Much international and intro-national transportation is food-related. In the industrial world a typical mouthful of food travels 2000 km from farm gate to consumer. Even in relatively tiny Britain, food related transport accounts for 25% of all trips (Garnett 1996).
  • Local food production for local consumption has considerable potential to reduce the need for transportation and the rate of atmospheric CO2 accumulation and possible climate change.
  • Low-grade waste heat in the cooling water from urban electrical generation facilities can be used to heat and irrigate urban greenhouses increasing both the economic efficiency of energy use and the ecological efficiency of the greenhouse by extending the growing season and productivity.
  • Locally produced foods require less packaging and refrigeration and other preservation measures reducing the packaging waste stream, energy use, and the chemical load in foodstuffs.

Locating food production areas in or near cities makes it possible to consider means to close the nutrient cycles associated with human food production and consumption. Domestic organic waste (including human liquid and solid waste) can be treated, composted, or otherwise processed into soil conditioner and fertilizer and returned to nearby garden and farmland.


This produces numerous ecological and economic savings:

  1. It reduces the amount of organic matter and nutrients currently being wasted in landfills or contributing to ground and surface water pollution near cities. This has the side benefit of reducing the rate of methane emission (a major greenhouse gas) from landfills.
  2. The use of organic fertilizers reduces the fossil fuel consumption associated with manufacturing and distributing artificial fertilizers, thus conserving energy, further lowering CO2 emissions, and extending the life of phosphate mines.
  3. Organic compost reduces the amount of artificial fertilizer required by farmers while maintaining the organic and nutrient content of the soil. This can reduce the potential for farm-related land and water pollution and helps maintain and stabilize soils against erosion.
  4. Finally, urban nutrient recycling programs may lower both operating costs to farmers and food prices for the consumer.

Quotes from cityfarmer.org

Unfortunately, the future may well be characterized by “external shocks.” Evidence that global climate change is underway (rising mean temperatures, increasing frequency and duration of extreme weather events, accelerating meltdown of the Arctic pack-ice, Antarctic ice-shelves, and Montagne glaciers), and studies showing that ozone depletion is affecting the productivity of southern oceans, increase the already considerable uncertainty associated with global food production if we don’t take actions now.

Can we continue to assume that we can increase agricultural output in coming decades with the same facility as in the past? Will it be possible even to maintain production at historic highs in the world’s major food producing regions? These questions, and our inability to answer them confidently if there is not a drastic turn in our way to think about generating a change in our habits in our ways of living without abusing our planet, suggest that the sustainability of the world’s major cities is more fragile than previously thought. Urban agriculture – food production for cities in and near cities – is one way of reducing the vulnerability of the world’s urban populations to global ecological change.

City farming should therefore become an element of urban land use and social planning for sustainable development in virtually all countries of the world.
In our next blog we will explain how Urban Farming works and how you will enjoy this new way of living.

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  1. July 24th, 2012
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