Farming for the Future is dedicated to the education of environmental and social impacts that come with sustainable agriculture, and how food insecurity affects us all.
The detrimental impacts of climate change are reflected differently across various regions and landscapes. In urban areas, its global effects are felt through the increased risks of flooding or drought, stifling temperatures created by urban heat islands, and reduced food access.
Cities contribute over 60% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, while also occupying less than 2% of the Earth’s surface. Limited green spaces and the mass consumption of energy in cities combine to create dangerous heat in urban areas.
Pollution linked to excessive greenhouse gas emissions in cities results in nearly 93% of the world’s children breathing in toxic air everyday, according to the World Health Organization. Those most vulnerable to climate change also reside in cites, broadly categorised as “the urban poor.”
Urban agriculture —a variety of systems rising in popularity in recent years — presents an opportunity for the sustainable production of food, while also offering both social and environmental benefits. Increasing environmental health in cities and advancing social justice to advocate for the urban poor are just a few of the possibilities presented by expanding urban agriculture.
Urban agriculture as a practice manifests as small community gardens, farms raised in abandoned lots, or rooftop spaces converted into green areas. Although no consistent definition exists, the benefits of cultivating green space and producing fresh fruits and vegetables in an adaptable way remains immeasurably valuable.
Some organizations have transformed school gardens into production sites and educational spaces. Other organizations aim to maximise production of fruits and vegetables by employing vertical farming, a technique where farmers grow produce indoors in a controlled environment.
One of the most interesting new developments in urban agriculture are hydroponic greenhouses. Hydroponics is “a production method where plants are grown in a nutrient solution rather than in soil.” In practice, it is a form of vertical farming that is less water and resource intensive, potentially producing greater yields on a smaller piece of land.
Regardless of the form urban agriculture takes, countless environmental and social benefits come along with it making it the crown jewel of any future urban landscape.
Environmental Impacts of Urban Agriculture
While the implementation of urban agriculture is a great way to help localize food production within cities, that’s not nearly the full extent of its benefits. Urban agriculture also brings important breakthroughs for environmental sustainability.
The urban heat island effect caused by the lack of vegetation in cities can be devastating as global temperatures continue to rise. But the increased vegetation cover that urban agriculture provides allows for absorption of some excess heat. One study reported that a 10% increase in vegetation cover in cities resulted in a temperature reduction of 0.55 degrees Celsius. Other benefits, like cheap, green stormwater flooding management, show the rising necessity of adopting urban agriculture as a step towards sustainability within cities.
Energy related emissions in cities often are to blame for the rising pollution and degrading air quality found to be harmful to human health. Increased vegetation has been shown to reduce the amount of contaminants in the air, as plants capture and effectively ‘filter’ out particulate matter.
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, one study reports that “[u]rban agriculture has the potential to save energy equivalent to the use of air conditioners in nearly 9 million United States households, and to produce up to 180 million tonnes of food.”
One of the most beneficial impacts of urban agriculture comes in the form of water retention. As droughts continue to plague areas most impacted by climate change, the sustainability of agricultural production is threatened.
With an ever-urbanizing world, centralized production of food sources in cities will be crucial in the very near future to fighting climate induced food insecurity. Through hydroponic greenhouse and vertical farming techniques as described above, urban agriculture successfully produces crops using mostly recycled water and nutrients. This greatly reduces the water intensity typically associated with traditional agriculture production.
As weather patterns change, mitigating the effects of climate change on cities will be a key piece of the sustainability puzzle as well.
Social Impacts of Urban Agriculture
In addition to the many environmental benefits provided by urban agriculture, the popularization of the practice has coincided with a number of social movements.
Science has shown correlation between the presence of urban agriculture in neighborhoods with improved quality of life. “Johns Hopkins authors cite a number of studies showing that the presence of urban farms is associated with “improved neighborhood aesthetics, reduced crime, and community cohesion.” Community gardens provide a safe space for members of the community to organize and connect. This is particularly imperative in areas where gentrification threatens the longstanding culture of some neighborhoods.
Urban agriculture has also been employed as an educational tool in many areas. Several organizations use their farms as spaces to discuss everything from nutrition and social justice, to environmental sustainability. One farm located smack in the center of Harlem, NYC stands by the mission statement ‘inspiring youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.’
Sustainability does not stop at considering the environment. Social justice and the engagement of communities is crucial to any form of a positive future outcome for cities. Education in environmental sustainability and climate change impact on the cities can encourage more youth to take an interest in the subject and take on a more active role in mitigating climate change.
The impact of climate change on urban spaces is undeniable. Cities will continue to experience increasing temperatures, changing weather patterns, and overall altered environments. While completely mitigating this phenomenon is impractical at this stage in the game, urban agriculture presents a solution to mitigating some of the harms climate change could inflict on the population.
Through greening cities, cleaning air and water, and even allowing a space for social change to take place, urban agriculture is already transforming communities for the better.