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GREENINGS: Urban agriculture has many environmental dividends (Mar. 2021)

March 26th, 2021 · No Comments

Reconnecting with our green thumbs is good for us all

By Terri Chu

When most urbanites think of food, they think of restaurants, grocery stores, markets and the incredible diversity of foods available in a place like Toronto. What fewer of us think of is where all that food comes from, how far it has travelled to get to us, and what it takes to produce it. But it’s all worth thinking about, especially before making the devastating choice to pave over farmland in favour of highways and big box stores. It’s also worth considering how much we urbanites can realistically contribute to feeding ourselves.

One statistic I found says that every human eating the “Standard American Diet” requires roughly two football fields per year to produce the necessary amount of food. With this in mind, we need to densify our cities and keep existing farmland intact and in production.

We also need to make use of every available urban space to grow food-bearing plants, as there are numerous ways urban agriculture makes cities healthier and more inviting:

  1. Urban gardens enhance local biodiversity and provide sanctuary for local pollinators and other urban wildlife.
  2. Gardens reduce the urban heat island effect. Cities are known to be several degrees warmer than the surrounding areas both because of waste heat from city life, and because there’s little vegetation that can absorb heat. Any plants we grow in the city will take in that heat and use it for growing, all the while offering us oxygen and humidity in exchange.
  3. Localized agriculture can help us to reduce energy consumption and garbage production. The transportation of food from vast distances is highly energy intensive – and that’s without energy considerations of chemical inputs required in the industrially produced food we import – and it also requires foods to be swathed in packaging. Why not eliminate plastics on food by eliminating the need for it in the first place?
  4. Growing food connects people to nature, and to each other.  It also raises awareness about healthy ways of growing food and what healthy eating looks like.
  5. Gardening and growing food requires muscle, and it is a great alternative to hitting the gym.
  6. We’re going to need small-scale localized food production. The agricultural sector is already suffering because of climate change. Smaller farms and food growing operations are more nimble and able to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

There are plenty of global examples of profound impacts made by small-scale urban agriculture. Cuba is famous for the burgeoning of small scale gardens in the face of US sanctions which made industrial farming nearly impossible, alongside a limited ability of the country to import food. By 2008, gardens covering 3.4 percent of all urban land in Cuba produced 90% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed in the country.

One third of Japan’s agricultural land can be found within its cities, and Tokyo produces enough vegetables to feed almost 700,000 people.

Faced with rations during the 1940s, 20 million American households planted gardens and produced between 9 and 10 million tonnes of food during the later years of World War II.

So what should we do here – and now? I would love to see space currently dedicated to cars repurposed into pedestrian, park and garden spaces. We have effectively paved paradise for parking lots, now’s the time to turn those lots green again.


Tags: Annex · Life