In 2018, we are living in exciting times! People have access to better healthcare, clean water, and abundant food supplies. All these things have led to people living longer and our population numbers flourishing. However, with this explosion in the global population it is more important than ever to take a look at our food system to ensure that it is sustainable for future generations.
Currently, among the top concerns relating to the production of our food is our individual health, as well as the health of the environment we live in. In order to make sure that we stay healthy and can continue to live in harmony with this beautiful planet, change at the community level is a vital stepping stone to inspire action around the world, and instill sustainable food production practices for people elsewhere to follow suit.
With that being said, there are many programs in place right here in Edmonton that you can check out! Sustainable Food Edmonton offers a variety of programs such as Community Gardens, Little Green Thumb, and Urban Ag High that are all working towards a more sustainable future for our food system. With all of these, the aim is to develop a sense of community and showcase the many benefits of urban agriculture.
In case you don’t know, what is urban agriculture?
Urban agriculture is the practice of growing plants (particularly harvest-able food) in, or within close proximity to the cities we live in.
There is a wide array of benefits that can be reaped from the steadily-developing techniques of urban agriculture but today I’m going to focus on 3 that I feel are at the top of the list!
Hopefully you learn something new from this article and it inspires you to get involved in your city! With out further ado, here are
3 Benefits of Urban Agriculture
Decreased Transportation Required
Did you know that 2007 was the first year that the amount of people living in cities outnumbered those living elsewhere? This fact was presented in a 2013 review article for the Argonomy of Sustainable Development by Francesco Orsini and it begs the thought provoking question, should we be rethinking where we are growing our food?
As we all know, currently in order for us to be able to eat, we have to transport our food from a farm, sometimes hundreds of kilometers, to our cities. The unfortunate result of this process is the burning of enormous amounts of fossil fuels contributing to climate change as well as other forms of pollution.
Isn’t there a more efficient way to get our food from where it is grown to our plate without these crippling environmental effects? Luckily there is!
With urban agriculture we can grow our own food right in our cities and towns, thus the amount of pollution from transportation can be significantly reduced. Also smaller scale food production requires less machinery and resources thereby further reducing the environmental impact!
Increased Diversity In The dieT
Do you ever notice when you’re driving on the highway and see a farmers field, that there is often only one crop planted as far a you can see in any direction? This is known as mono-culture. Often times, particular crops such as corn are subsidized by the government in order to keep the supply high and the price low, providing farmers incentive to specialize in a single crop.
While this is great if you simply observe the economic factor for the individual consumer, nutritionally it may cause some problems. For example, because corn is subsidized, it is used in several products, often alongside synthetically produced ingredients designed to make the product taste good. Pick up any package in the store and you will have a good chance of seeing a corn derivative in the ingredients list.
Herein lies the problem; consumers typically only have a certain amount of money to spend each week on food. Although most of us know a bag of apples will be healthier than a box of crackers, it is much easier to justify buying the crackers when they are half the price of the apples.
With the production of mono-crops, a domino effect can be observed. Products with these heavily subsidized crops are cheaper to produce, therefore they are cheaper for consumers to purchase, and in turn we reduce our consumption of healthier alternatives with diverse nutrient profiles advantageous to our health.
Combine the price factor with a plethora of lab alterations added to mono crops like corn to create tasty things like high fructose corn syrup, and you’ll begin to see why we make the choices we do, even to the detriment of our own health.
If we can give our taste buds what they so desperately desire at a cheap price, its almost impossible not to fall in the trap!
Urban agriculture counteracts this cycle because instead of focusing on a single crop, a wide selection of plants are grown to cater to the desires of the community. The result is the production of a diverse selection of fresh produce to accommodate nutritional needs.
Although it will be more expensive for this type of food in the beginning, as time progresses, urban agricultural centers are becoming more and more efficient, therefore the price will drop lower over time.
Additionally, once you shift your diet to incorporate more natural, whole foods, you begin to crave altered products like corn derivatives less. This is because your body is finally receiving the nutrients it craves in order to sustain its proper functions, resulting in no need for those other empty calories.
Decreased Land Requirements
One of the biggest problems of our agricultural system is the destruction of land used in the process of farming. That’s another issue of the mono-crops mentioned above. We can see another chain reaction taking place in this situation:
Mono-crops lack plant diversity required to provide proper nutrients to the soil —–> Fertilizers have to be used to make up for this shortage of nutrients —–> Fertilizers raise acid levels and kill off essential microorganisms in the soil rendering it unusable after prolonged exposure.
The sheer acreage of land required for crop production is also becoming a real issue worldwide. With the global population expected to reach 10 billion by the year 2050, we have to start being as efficient as possible with how we utilize our land, and what we use it for.
Urban agriculture addresses this issue because it maintains soil quality by promoting a diverse harvest that lays the foundation for nutrient rich soil, without such a large emphasis on fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The benefit of this is we do not see the complete destruction of the soil on a plot of land as we often do with large scale industrial farming in the form of mono-crops.
Furthermore, particularly in indoor urban agriculture facilities, advancements in technologies such as vertical farming (growing plants in vertical layers to conserve space and resources) help to reduce the physical amount of land required to produce a higher yield compared to traditional methods.
In this day and age it is critical to start challenging the commonly accepted practices of food production and regularly ask ourselves the question, “is there a more efficient way to do things and, if so, how?”
Urban Agriculture is just one of many answers to this profound inquiry.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed!