People associate agriculture with farming and they typically think that farmers grow all of their food crops in rural communities. But rural areas have little to offer people who aren’t farmers, or who didn’t grow up in rural environments. But the influx of people moving to cities in search of employment and other opportunities creates a need to make fresh food more available closer than home. Urban agriculture exists because necessity is the mother of invention.
Urban agriculture is a term that’s self-explanatory. It describes the practice of growing food crops in urban locations. But purists argue that urban agriculture involves growing products to sell. In this context, urban agriculture is a business enterprise.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), defines urban and peri-urban agriculture (PUA) as the practice of growing plants and raising animals in and around cities and urban areas. We know that planning and zoning regulations throughout the United States will dictate or restrict the capabilities of any urban agriculture endeavor.
The thought that it might be possible to grow fresh food in major cities where urban development created virtual concrete jungles probably sounds incomprehensible. But it’s not. Urban agriculture forces people to get creative about the use of space for growing things. It challenges everything we thought we knew about the source of our food. But the rising cost of transportation, the impact of transporting food in vehicles that are significant contributors to the release of carbon emissions is inspiring people to look for alternative ways to get their food.
The farm-to-table and locally sourced food movements are fueling the desire of people in major urban areas all over the country to find alternatives to grocery store shopping.
Urban agriculture exists in many forms. There is no limit as to the possible ways through which people in urban communities can get involved with urban agriculture efforts.
We find urban agriculture in community gardens, many of which give people who live in food deserts, access to fresh, healthy food that would otherwise be unavailable. Urban agriculture happens when schools plant fruit and vegetable gardens to teach kids about the source of their food, and what it takes to get it to them. School gardens produce healthy foods that cafeteria staff can incorporate into school lunch menus.
Urban agriculture exists on rooftops where people plant food to get access to high-quality fresh food, but rooftop gardens block heat, and that helps the buildings on which they planted the rooftop garden, cut down on their cooling costs when temperatures are hottest.
We can also find churches, community centers, senior living communities, and non-profit organizations getting involved in urban agriculture as a way to bring people together, encourage healthier lifestyles, and encourage people to make healthier food choices.
Hydroponic and aquaponic business ventures are also bringing fresh food to urban communities, making it possible to get local food more efficiently. Both hydroponics and aquaponic systems eliminate the seasonal restrictions that outdoor gardening imposes in most parts of the United States.
The simplest way by which urban agriculture helps the local economy is through the connection it creates between people and the source of their food. People want to know about the origin and source of their food. They want to be able to trust the suppliers. Urban agriculture encourages people to buy fresh food from their local growers.
The success of an urban agriculture venture encourages expansion. Growth necessitates the need for more workers, and that means job growth for the community. The specialized nature of urban agriculture requires training, so success and growth suggest that job opportunities will come with the necessary training.
Urban agriculture endeavors offer schools and interested students, the opportunity to connect the things that they learn in school with real-world problems, and the need to find solutions to those issues.
And students who are willing to take advantage of internship, volunteer, and apprenticeship positions will learn how to solve those problems. They’ll also develop a deeper understanding regarding what it takes to produce food and ultimately bring it to the table.
We know that cars and trucks are among the most significant contributors to the release of greenhouse gasses in our environment. Much of the fresh food that we get in local grocery stores get there in heavy, diesel-fuel-guzzling 18-wheel trucks and trailers. Those vehicles use even more fuel because of the refrigerated compartments that keep the food cold. Urban agriculture lessens the need for communities to be dependent on food producers that are hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Urban agriculture increases the amount of green space there is in cities. When vacant lots are repurposed and turned into community gardens or urban agriculture operations, they create beauty in the city, and beautiful spaces encourage people to get outside and get involved with nature.
But more than that, plants clean the air. We often hear people refer to big cities as concrete jungles. Those concrete jungles create heat islands – areas in cities where the vastness of cement and concrete retain heat, making it all but impossible for those areas to cool off. The hotter those heat islands get, the worse the situation gets when it comes to climate change, global warming, and the release of greenhouse gasses.
The beauty of urban agriculture is that it encourages proponents to think outside of the box, and to look for available space – wherever it may be. And in metropolitan areas, rooftops may be one of those options. According to Michigan State University Green Roof Research, green roofs are a viable option for reducing the negative impact of constant urban development. They also yield the same economic, environmental, and social benefits as other urban agriculture endeavors.
Urban agriculture has the potential to eliminate food deserts that plague the most economically disadvantaged areas of cities. The fact that they exist is proof that cities haven’t addressed the problem or investigated possible solutions.
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