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With about seven billion people on the planet, agricultural practices remain vital sources of pressure on available resources (Howard par. 1). It requires water for irrigation, pollutes the environment through the use of chemicals, and consumes a considerable amount of energy. Amidst these pressure and challenges, a new model of farming has emerged – urban agriculture, which may not essentially apply organic methods and aspects of environmental sustainability. Urban agriculture is considered as farming practiced within and around cities. Both plants and animals are components of urban farming. One major characteristic of urban agriculture that differentiates it from rural agriculture is the integration of agriculture in the urban economic and ecological system (RUAF Foundation par. 1). That is, urban agriculture is a component of and interacts with the urban ecosystem. In this respect, labor tends to come from urban residents; normal urban resources, such as organic waste and wastewater are used; the urban consumer is the immediate target market; both negative and positive impacts are noted on urban ecology; farming is a part of the urban food system; urban policies and planning influence farming; and competition for land is intense. It is imperative to recognize that urban agriculture is not a redundant past practice that will disappear over time. Instead, urban agriculture tends to grow when the city population increases and, thus, it is an integral aspect of urban practices. In this paper, I will explore how urban agriculture has impacted human life, its potential, benefits, inspirations, and emerging practices among other issues of interest.
It appears that urban agriculture seems to be more special and matters more in some countries, specifically Japan. This form of agriculture, which is restricted within or around cities, has gained recognition and now, is considered for improvement following initiatives by some policymakers. On this note, urban agriculture has been linked to some benefits. First, it offers fresh, the safe farm produces, including organic and/or crops with low chemical usages, which are now steadily in high demand by city residents. Second, urban agriculture offers an opportunity for city dwellers to engage in farming and support small-scale farmers through direct purchase of their produce. Third, it creates spaces that are useful during disaster management and for the urban environmental management system. Fourth, urban agriculture is a form of recreation and leisure. Finally, it creates awareness to enhance urban agricultural practices and food security.
The above-mentioned benefits of urban agriculture demonstrate its roles in urban food security and nutrition, management of urban ecology, economic impacts, and social impacts. Besides, they indicate why cities and policymakers now advocate for urban agriculture.
Potential Future Impacts of Urban Agriculture on Human Life
Sometimes urban agriculture is seen as a feature of developmental failure, poor resource utilization, or simply as a misplaced priority, but the fact is that the practice has gained recognition in the recent past. Individuals interested in locally grown fresh foods, urban regeneration, and environmental sustainability support urban agriculture. Urban planners constantly seek innovative ways to solve environmental and social issues that emanate from rapid urbanization. Further, the need to improve the urban ecosystem has led to innovative solutions, including urban agriculture aimed at food production, control of heat-island, and waste and water management (Moreno-Peñaranda par. 1). These practices strive to improve the well-being of residents while minimizing the ecological effects of urbanization.
It is expected that urban agriculture will play a critical role in urban sustainability in the future. For instance, in sustainability efforts, effective urban agriculture provides opportunities for stormwater management and thermal heat management, which ultimately reduces the amount of energy required to cool buildings. Besides, urban agriculture is seen as an opportunity to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem management. Still, it is most likely to impact food transportation (food mile) and offer bio-fuel resources from agricultural waste. Research indicates that urban agriculture is progressively touted as an environmentally friendly option to global issues, such as rapid urbanization, food security, public health, and environmental sustainability (Aerts, Dewaelheyns, and Achten 1-6).
The future of urban agriculture presents opportunities for developing a green economy. It is considered suitable for sustainable consumption. Cities are most likely to influence how countries attain green economy status. On this note, urban agriculture is an alternative for meeting urban demands relative to rural production. In Japan, for instance, Moreno-Peñaranda (par. 15) notes that the production of traditional rice and stockbreeding across urban settlements has declined dramatically as agricultural activities shift toward high value-added farm produce, such as fruits and vegetables. Japanese city-dwellers prefer urban crops from eco-friendly environments. As such, they have created local production and consumption links in various cities, which strive toward sustainability and income generation for farmers. Today, the city of Yokohama and Kanazawa have created their brands of urban agricultural produce for local consumers.
In Detroit, urban agriculture is a major practice, and it continues to improve year-over-year (DiStasio par. 1). It has continued to grow because of the direct support from the local authority, for instance, Detroit Mayor added a 60-acre urban farm to support fruit and vegetable farming and selling. The city-owned land was intended to support future greenhouses, farm fields, and hydroponic systems, as well as local food production and consumption (DiStasio par. 1). For Detroit urban farmers, direct support from the Mayor and access to large land are fundamental factors for advancing urban agriculture.
In the case of urban agriculture in Beijing, China is considered among the earliest efforts to integrate agriculture into the strategic development plans of the city. Since the 1990s, Beijing had appreciated the relevance of “urban agriculture to sustainable urban development” (Jianming par. 8). Consequently, the city’s municipal government spearheaded an official initiative to drive multi-function urban agriculture in urban regions by promoting the growth of ‘agro-parks’, which were designed to produce food for the city and attract tourists, as well as act as educational resources. Currently, Beijing has five zones to drive various agro-parks initiatives. The inner urban zone concentrates on “gardening, landscaping, and showcasing, and the inner suburban plain is dedicated for recreational agriculture for tourist attraction and precision agriculture is driven by smart technologies, such as automated irrigation based on moisture levels” (Jianming par. 9). The outer suburban plain solely drives contemporary large-scale farming and processing; the mountainous region is left for the production of certain fruits and ecological protection; and lastly, the regional cooperation division focuses on improving food security by promoting relationships with organized groups and monitoring import qualities (Jianming par. 9). Further, urban agriculture has received considerable support. First, the Chinese government now evaluates the financial significance of the practice. Second, the city government also assesses current performances of more than 1,300 agro-parks and provides the necessary policies for improvements. Finally, urban farmers can create cooperatives for bargaining power and accessing subsidies from the government.
Although London plays a less significant role in the Great Britain food supply, it has a wide range of urban agricultural activities (Garnett 477-500). Previously, the city’s food system was noted as an example of unsustainability because London is considered among the most expensive cities globally and was not known for urban agriculture. Today, however, a new generation of urban farmers has started to change previously observed limited agricultural activities in London. They have focused on transforming abandoned industrial warehouses, underground war bomb tunnels, and rooftops among other available spaces into urban agricultural spaces. Urban farmers have focused on derelict and poorly used spaces, urban brewing, beekeeping, and growing food crops to promote a green revolution and sustainability in London.
From the above-mentioned examples, urban agriculture plays a significant role in food sources and security by reducing food miles and food waste for growing city populations. Most strikingly, urban agriculture has led to some inspiring new projects, especially in London.
Inspiring New Projects
Urban agriculture in London presents some of the most innovative and inspiring projects committed to sustainable food growing and production, security, and environmental conservation while they create new opportunities to produce food for commercial purposes. London, for instance, now has the first aquaponics vertical farm, bee apiary, and brewery among others. Currently, an emerging trend is to integrate food production in green urban architecture to facilitate large-scale urban agriculture supported by rooftop greenhouses, gardens, indoor farms, underground tunnel farms, and abandoned warehouse farms among others.
GrowUp Urban Farms is a sustainable innovative farming business. The farm is based on the notion that a combination of the right place and the right products leads to sustainable urban agriculture. For GrowUp, vertical farming and aquaponics offer the best combination for efficient use of space while focusing on holistic food production. Aquaponics is a combination of “aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing crops with no soil), which GrowUp has adopted to produce salads, fish, and herbs” (Symington-Mitchell par. 3). In this urban agrisystem model, the process involves water cycling via fish tanks to crops and back again. At the same time, fish offer fertilizer while plants filter water for fish (Symington-Mitchell par. 3).
Also, Growing Underground (GU) uses underground tunnels constructed during World War to conduct sustainable food production in London. With large tunnels available, LED technology has been incorporated to provide the right climate to support plant growth. These innovative urban farms use green farming, online retailing, and nearby chefs.
Further, Barnes & Webb is an urban beekeeping and farming venture. Rooftops have provided the best sites for beehives in the city because they are greatly under-utilized in a densely populated city. This approach focuses on exploiting unused city spaces for unconventional urban agriculture.
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Urban agriculture and society
I have noted that urban agriculture plays significantly more beneficial roles in cities. From my observation, it is imperative to create policies that support the model to promote urban regeneration, green innovation, urban food security and nutrition, and reducing food miles among others. I will discuss four fundamental ways that city planners and policymakers can use to advance the impacts of urban agriculture on society.
One fundamental area of interest that can improve urban agriculture relates to enabling policy environment. That is, city planners, policymakers, and local authorities should formally accept urban agriculture and integrate it into urban land use to facilitate regulation and development of functional farming. In this regard, I believe that cities should review their current policies and by-laws on urban agriculture to eliminate potential clauses that restrict or make urban farming more difficult in cities. Consequently, they should develop policies, which encourage and sufficiently regulate urban agriculture to ensure sustainable practices.
From a critical perspective, I have noted that urban farmers face a shortage of vacant land and lack the security of land use because they must compete with private developers or public projects. Primarily, the land remains the most vital asset to drive urban agriculture. However, availability, accessibility, suitability, and usability of land in urban environments are major challenges. I observe that city local authorities can assist urban farmers to gain access to open spaces. The case of Detroit indicates how local authorities can promote urban agriculture by providing land. Additionally, zoning in Beijing is also an appropriate means of utilizing urban land to promote agriculture. Based on the land use of a particular city, city authorities should determine the most suitable methods to promote urban land use for urban agriculture.
Beijing now evaluates performances of its agro-parks to determine their productivity and economic viability. I opine that opportunities to enhance the efficiency of urban agriculture tend to be numerous but remain unexplored. Effective collection of data can determine the dynamics of urban agriculture, consumer perception, and farmer capabilities and training among others. It remains unclear whether agricultural support institutions, such as credit and research and extension, have paid any attention to urban agriculture. Irrespective of the scale of and capital invested in commercial urban agriculture, support institutions should provide their support to ensure sustainable practices.
Finally, in some instances, many consumers are concerned about the quality and health risks of produce from urban farming. Concerns may arise from the quality of water used and whether food is produced from genetically modified seeds. On this note, I believe that effective measures that address environmental, health risks, and quality of used inputs should be introduced to boost consumer confidence. Instead of introducing restrictions because of fear, policymakers should design effective measures to curtail potential risks from urban agriculture.
Many cities across the world are now embracing urban agriculture and even considering its impacts on national data. Some cities strive to create more land for such practices. I believe that urban agriculture will rapidly grow because of its food security, food mile, nutrition, economic benefits, and environmental impacts, as well as other social-related impacts. As such, one can assert that future cities will be green. These promises and observed benefits should convince policymakers and city planners to integrate urban agriculture in urban planning. Moreover, the ongoing practices in London, including the use of underground tunnels for farming, demonstrate innovative approaches adopted by urban farmers. Hence, it is imperative to invest in various farming techniques and technologies to facilitate urban agriculture. Effective policies should address all concerns of various stakeholders, specifically consumers. Overall, I have observed that urban agriculture is an innovative approach that presents opportunities for win-win scenarios in modern cities for resilient and sustainable cities, food security, socially inclusive cities, and productive, healthy environments. It is however clear that urban agriculture requires effective management and policies for successful, sustainable practices.
Aerts, Raf, Valerie Dewaelheyns and Wouter M.J. Achten. “Potential Ecosystem Services of Urban Agriculture.” PeerJ Preprints (2016): 1-6. Print.
DiStasio, Cat. Detroit’s largest urban farm to grow 60 acres of fresh produce. 2015. Web.
Garnett, Tara. Urban Agriculture in London: Rethinking Our Food Economy. n.d. Web.
Howard, Brian Clark. Green Gotham. 2016. Web.
Jianming, Cai. Urban agriculture makes China’s cities more liveable. 2014. Web.
Moreno-Peñaranda, Raquel. Japan’s Urban Agriculture: Cultivating Sustainability and Well-being. 2011. Web.
RUAF Foundation. Urban Agriculture: What and Why? n.d. Web.
Symington-Mitchell, Fiona. From N16 to SW9: How London’s Urban Farmers are Cultivating the City. 2016. Web.