I’m a believer in urban agriculture. But my belief isn’t rooted in an interest in gardening, biodiversity, or the environmental benefits of reduced food miles (though those are all great). I was drawn to urban agriculture because I felt there were too many young people being murdered in my hometown.
The causes of violence in American cities are of course numerous and complex. But in the debate over what causes violence and how to stop it, some common themes frequently appear: a lack of jobs, poor public education, disinvestment in inner city neighborhoods. Added up, these factors can be labeled more broadly as systemic racism and economic injustice. The point is that the problem of violence is so interwoven into our cities’ patterns that any solution to it must be similarly cross-cutting and holistic.
As a food systems journalist in New Orleans, I began to see urban agriculture as just such a solution. In my interviews with urban farmers there and around the country, I discovered that while providing fresh, healthy food to their communities was an important goal, urban farmers frequently had greater aspirations: to educate young people about nutrition; to beautify their neighborhoods; to provide jobs where jobs were scarce; to connect people to life cycles that are frequently invisible in urban settings. The produce grown was simply considered a perfect vehicle for the deeper change they wanted to create.
Policy makers and economists concerned with the global food system often puzzle over the question of yield; how are we going to make our farms yield enough crops to feed a swelling global population? While this is a real concern, these thinkers frequently bring the same rationale to criticisms of urban agriculture and regional food systems, claiming that there is nowhere near enough growing capacity in and around our cities to feed the world’s population.
These critics are missing the point by a long shot.
The aim of this series is to elaborate on the different kinds of impacts urban agriculture can have on communities, outside of the realm of food security. While certainly not a panacea for the problems facing our cities, the benefits of urban agriculture are far reaching, and we’ve only begun to assess them. Each installment will showcase different projects around the country and how work being done there impacts areas as diverse as education, economic development, neighborhood revitalization, land use strategies, and climate change adaptation. By examining the range of impacts urban agriculture is having on American cities, I hope to make a case for a yield that is deeply important, but incalculable in bushels and pounds.
Post by Andrew Cook.