what is urban agriculture? how does urban agriculture impact urban communities?

For a municipality to be considered urban, it must be located be in or around a city. Such locations are typically developed or in the process of development meaning that human infrastructure [e.g. houses, commercial buildings, roads, and bridges] are spaced at a minimum density. The number of inhabitants ranges from 2,000 to over 10 million, as in the case of rapidly growing mega-cities. The primary employment sectors are typically non-agricultural.

Cities offer a great deal of service and convenience, in addition to providing social and cultural opportunities that are not necessarily available in rural locations. However, cities are often afflicted by poverty, high unemployment, a lack of sufficient infrastructure [e.g. water], environmental degradation, health problems, biodiversity loss, and excess heat capture. They also produce massive amounts of waste and water pollution. Such issues often contribute to decreases in quality of life in urban locations, especially for individuals without the economic means to better their living and working conditions.

Agriculture is considered the art and science of soil cultivation, livestock rearing, and crop production. It is responsible for supplying the majority of food and fabric in the world, as well as a myriad of goods upon which society is dependent. Moreover, it is agriculture that has allowed for the rise of civilization as it is currently known.

Urban agriculture is, therefore, the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities. There are four generally accepted classifications of urban agriculture.

  1. institutional farms and gardens
  2. commercial farms
  3. community gardens
  4. community farms

Production within these systems takes many forms as it often utilizes non-traditional spaces and can include, for example, rooftop gardens and vertical growing spaces. As these production systems are integrated into the city, there is a varying array of stakeholders impacted, including community members, politicians, government organizations and businesses.

Urban agriculture is not a new phenomenon, rather it has played an integral part in the productivity and stability of societies throughout history. However, as a result of rapid population growth, recent massive migrations to urban areas and changes in consumer demand, the structure of urban areas have evolved to become dependent on food produced in other, more consolidated and far-away locations. This alteration can be attributed to cheap oil and technological developments, such as refrigeration and large-scale transport. Moreover, the industrialization of agricultural techniques has allowed for the disconnection of consumers and producers. This is necessary, to an extent, since cities cannot produce enough food to satisfy the nutritional needs of all inhabitants. However, urban production can produce a great deal of high-value and perishable goods. For example, according to the FAO, urban agriculture can be up to 15 times more productive than traditional rural production. It is estimated that one squared meter can produce up to 20kg of food in one year, especially if fast-growing crops are used. 

In addition to the goods produced, urban agriculture provides a myriad of benefits and serves as a means to reduce the distance between producer and consumer. The benefits provided and general improvements to the general societal welfare are disseminated via the participation of the various types of stakeholders, e.g. churches, community supported agriculture (CSA), schools, government agencies, parks departments, non-profit organizations, and community groups. Such gains are of particular importance for disaffected populations.

Nonetheless, as with any system, there are potential downsides to urban agriculture production, especially in developing lands and poverty-stricken parts of developed nations where effective infrastructure, e.g. regulation, sanitation and education, has not yet been established or is in disarray. However, in the event that sufficient infrastructure is organized and implemented, many of the negative externalities related to urban agriculture can be remedied.


photo credit:

  • buffalony.gov
  • gracelinks.org
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