Urban Agriculture: Reinventing the Food System

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The current American food system does not provide us with nearly enough fruits and vegetables to make up a healthy diet. With farmland being gobbled up left and right, where will healthy food come …

The current American food system does not provide us with nearly enough fruits and vegetables to make up a healthy diet. With farmland being gobbled up left and right, where will healthy food come from? The answer lies in cities.

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  • The Food system is made up of all the processes that bring our food from farm to fork: production at farms and ranches, processing and packaging, distribution, consumption and disposal.
  • The current food system has contributed to an obesity epidemic. According to the CDC, roughly 1/3 of American adults are now considered obese.
  • More allarmingly, people could not eat healthy even if they wanted to. According to a report released by the USDA’s ERS, if Americans were to eat in the way that the Dietary Guidelines recommend us to, we would have a significant shortage of dark green vegetables, orange fruits, and legumes.
  • This problem is compounded in urban areas, where a significant lack of access to healthy foods is evident. This image shows a food access map for Harlem, completed by the NYC’s Department of Public Health
  • How will we alleviate this problem? We are gobbling up prime farmland left and right, so its not going to be from drawing any new farmland into the equation
  • The answer is urban agriculture
  • There are lots of benefits to urban agriculture, this is a word map that I created by combining the top 5 google hits for “benefits of urban agriculture”, I’m going to focus on the nutritional benefits of urban agriculture.
  • Urban agriculture is almost exclusively focused on the production of high-value crops, which translates to fruits and vegetables. On the left, a farm in Detroit. On the right, a rooftop orchard in Mumbai.
  • However, food production is nominal. Boston Natural Areas Network estimates that each community garden plot produces $400 to $500 worth of food per plot (one plot per family). Average food expenditures are estimated to be $1700 to $2700 for low to moderate income individuals. For a family of four, $400 to 500 is not a very significant proportion of the food budget and will not have a major impact. Similarly, many for-profit urban agriculture ventures are revenue neutral or supported by significant grants or endowments.
  • The true benefit of urban agriculture is the amount of innovation stimulated by the confines of growing food in small spaces. Windowfarms project is a crowdsourced project to figure out a way to optimize growing food in windows. Other ventures utilize vertical space more efficiently than conventional agriculture, or combine fish to increase yield. These ideas were all born out of cities.
  • So what is the future of food? DesmondDespomier thinks that the future holds large skyscraper farms planted directly into our urban fabric. However, these proposals are expensive and require a lot of energy. How would a building such as this be paid for based on the sale of lettuce alone?
  • I would argue that the future looks a lot more like this. Urban agricultural ventures that are productive enough can move out to the suburbs and revitilize vacant buildings there. They could then achieve the economies of scale that would ensure their financial success.
  • This isn’t a revolutionary idea. In fact, Jane Jacobs argues that all work begins in cities. She famously wrote in “the Economy of Cities” about the New York manufacturing industry that began in the 1900s, only to eventually move south where cheaper land and labor could be found.
  • In fact, it’s an idea that planners are all too familiar with. Offices that once existed downtown sprawl out into the countryside.
  • In this situation, perhaps it’s a good thing. Urban agriculture facilities, like Will Allen’s Growing Power, can act as educational facilities to train the next generation of farmers. These farmers will then use their skills to start their own farms on the urban periphery where land is cheaper and they can spread out.
  • This has the potential to reinvent the current commodity-focused food system into a technologically advanced fruit and vegetable machine. This will reduce the cost of fruits and vegetables, reduce the distance that they have to travel to reach metropolitan areas, and provide a new revenue source to flagging economies through the multiplier effect.

Transcript

  • 1. Urban Agriculture
    Reinventing the food system
    Marisol Pierce-Quinonez
  • 2. Overview
    The Current Food System
    Urban Agriculture
    The Future of Food
  • 3. The Current food system
  • 4. The current food system
  • 5. The Current food system
  • 6. The current food system
  • 7. The current food system
    Source: National Geographic
  • 8. Urban Agriculture
  • 9. Urban agriculture
  • 10. Urban agriculture
  • 11. Urban agriculture
  • 12. Urban agriculture
  • 13. The future of food
  • 14. The Future of food
  • 15. The future of food
  • 16. The future of food
  • 17. The future of food
  • 18. A reinvented food system
    Thanks! Marisol Pierce-Quinonez