Urban agriculture

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Urban agriculture is agriculture in a urbanised environment. It refers to the growing and sometimes the processing and distribution of food, in or near towns and cities and may include raising animals like chickens or goats, aquaculture, growing crops for food, ... Urban agriculture reduces food miles (when grown in the neighborhood where it is consumed, the most damaging "last mile" of transport is eliminated), increases the supply of fresh food to those who don't get adequate natural foods in their diet due to low income or lack of time, and increases resilience by distributing food production. When cities transform from being only food consumers to also being food generators, they contribute to their own sustainability, improved health, and poverty reduction.


Plants reduce temperatures and combat the urban heat island effect (UHI)W; decreasing the need for air conditioning and improving the quality of urban life, provide fresh produce that tastes better and potentially requires fewer resources to grow than produce transported from outside the city, provide insulation as a green roofW, function as living wallsW to help cure sick building syndrome (SBS)W, and improve the appearance and feeling of the physical environment.

Urban agriculture does the following:

  • Closes the open-loop system that imports food from rural zones and exports waste to regions outside urban areas.
  • Uses vacant urban areas, wastewater, and organic solid waste for growing agriculture products.
  • Conserves natural resources. For example, using wastewater for irrigation increases the amount of freshwater for drinking and household consumption.
  • Helps preserve bioregional ecologiesW from being transformed into cropland.
  • Reduces energy consumed in transporting food from rural to urban areas.
  • Promotes local food production that in turn, reduces transportation and storage costs.
  • Improves the quality of the urban environment through greeningW and reduces pollution.
  • Fights against hunger and malnutrition since it facilitates food creation by and distribution among the urban poor. For example, in developing countries, the majority of urban agricultural production is for self-consumption, with surpluses being sold at market. According to the Food and Agriculture OrganizationW of the United Nations (FAO), urban poor consumers spend between 60 and 80 percent of their income on food, making them very vulnerable to high food prices.
  • Provides food and reduces household spending on consumables, thus increasing the amount of income allocated to other uses.
  • Allows surpluses to be sold in local markets, generating more income for the urban poor.[1]

These urban agriculture activities may impact poverty and food security.[2] Urban agriculture contributes to food security and food safety by increasing the amount of fresh vegetables, fruits and meat products available to city dwellers. A common and efficient form of urban agriculture is the biointensiveW method. Since urban agriculture promotes energy-saving local food production, urban and peri-urban agriculture are generally seen as sustainable practices.


Urban farms are an effective educational tool for teaching children about healthy eating.[3] An example of educational urban agriculture is Full Circle Farm, an eleven-acre farm located on a middle school campus in the heart of Silicon ValleyW. The farm is a "living campus" where students get real-world, hands-on agriculture experiences that cultivate both healthy eating habits and environmental leadership. Schools have foreseen the asset of local food production and are beginning to incorporate agricultural sections into their curricula; presenting it as a career opportunity.

Waste reuse[edit]

Urban agriculture helps us close the loop on waste production and reuseW. Since the mechanisms for waste reuse are compact, they can be very suitable for urban environments. Composting, vermicomposting and composting toilets require little space; greywater treatment requires more space but can still be incorporated into a city setting. Sewage treatmentW (for flush toiletsW) is most efficiently handled on a larger scale. In urban areas where industrial waste is included, the output may not be suitable for agricultural use. However, using the appropriate separation and treatment processes, there is potential for this rich resource to play a role in urban agriculture.

Waste reuse must be carried out carefully. If proper precautions are not taken, or if they are inadequate and happen to fail, waste reuse can result in the spread of disease. See No such thing as waste.


Historically, urban food growing has occurred in many ways. The following details just some of the examples:

  • Community wastes were used in ancient Persia to feed urban farming.[4]
  • In Machu PicchuW, water was conserved and reused as part of the city's stepped architecture.[5]
  • Allotment gardensW came up in Germany in the early nineteenth century as a response to poverty and food insecurity.[6] In Detroit, plots or potato patches were set aside to help alleviate hunger in the urban environment.[7]
  • Garden city plots were commonplace between 1905 to 1910.[7]
  • School gardens movement (1900-1920).[7]
  • Relief gardens were created during the era of the Great Depression (1930-1939).[7]
  • Liberty gardens (1917-20) after WWI and Victory gardenWs spread during WWII (1941-1945) in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, to reduce pressure on food production and support war efforts.[7]
  • Community gardens (1970s and ongoing).[7]


Urban agriculture can take advantage of community and build social capitalW connections. A community garden in Western Sydney, AustraliaW, brought different ethnic groups together to grow particular crops according to their strengths and traditions, and trade with others in the community.[8][verification needed] Most community gardens are open to the public and provide space for citizens to grow plants for food or recreation. Seattle's P-PatchW is an example of a well-established community garden. Community gardening is a valuable experience for children and can be incorporated into the local curricula.


  • 50 percent of the world's population lives in cities, and this number is growing.[verification needed]
  • 800 million people are involved in urban agriculture worldwide and contribute to feeding urban residents.[9][verification needed]
  • Low-income city dwellers spend 40 to 60 percent of their income on food.[10]
  • To feed a city of 10 million or more, at least 6,000 tons of food are needed daily.[11]


Soil contamination[edit]

Soil contaminationW is a potential problem in urban environments, particularly with regard to lead. The soil should be tested; if lead is present, increasing the pH can alleviate the problem. Lead can also be removed through phytoremediationW with Indian mustardW or spinachW.[12]


The importance of local food is often overstated, as the manner of production typically has a greater impact than the manner of transport. This case does not negate the value of growing food locally, but perspective and analysis are essential.

Mosquito-borne diseases[edit]

The impact of mosquito-borne diseases should be considered. Breeding grounds are created through standing water (even tiny amounts of rainwater may be enough for some species, such as the variety that spreads DengueW). Resting sites for adults may actually be more important than larval habitats.[13]please expand[Suggested project] See also mosquito control.

Food safety[edit]

It is advisable to take several food safety measures in order to minimize the health risks:

  • Both humanure and greywater should be used with caution, or not used at all (especially on plants that are eaten raw), since these waste products can contain human pathogens. "Night soil," or human waste used historically as fertilizer, is known to cause illness especially among those not accustomed to eating food grown in this way.
  • Greywater reuse can be made safer by greywater treatment and by underground irrigation or at least spreading the water by drip irrigation under a layer of mulch. Application of greywater, even treated greywater, may be restricted for a number of weeks prior to harvest.
  • Groundwater recharge makes use of the soil's microorganisms and natural filtering ability and increases water availability without applying the greywater too close to the edible plants.
  • Humanure from composting toilets is an extremely rich source of soil nutrients and soil microorganisms but must be extremely mature to be safe. Safety can be aided by applying the mature humanure to the empty garden bed first and then applying layers of safer soil and mulch.
  • A safer place to apply these resources is where the edible plant parts are well above the ground - for example, on fruit trees or vines on trellises.
  • Consideration must be given to the safety of food, especially leafy greens, in urban environments with high levels of lead and mercury.[7]

Movements and trends[edit]

Movements and trends impacting the popular awareness of and interest in urban agriculture include:

  • The Transition Towns movement, ecovillages, peak oil, and the local food (or locavore) movement.
  • The Incredible Edible Towns movement beginning with Incredible Edible Todmorden.[14]
  • Increasing interest in fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit for the sake of food quality and health.
  • Modern planning and design initiatives that are more responsive to urban agriculture because they fit within the concept of sustainable design. Urban agriculture is often tied to policy decisions to build sustainable cities.[15]
  • Popularity of green parties that are more open to the idea of urban food production.



Urban agriculture is an industry that responds to a city's nutritional demands from within that city with the use and reuse of that city's resources. This industry provides increased income and employment; producing valuable products that would otherwise not be available and saving household food dollars that can be used for different kinds of food or non-food items. These benefits are separate from other important benefits such as health, food security, and community.

Urban agriculture does the following:

  • Expands a city's economy and creates entrepreneurship and employment opportunities through food production, processing, packaging and marketing.[16]
  • Increases food supply and reduces food costs.
  • Supplies a wider choice of better quality products.
  • Creates opportunities for women to be part of a city's informal economy since farming and selling activities can be combined with household tasks.[17]
  • Helps relieve chronic and emergency food insecurity. Chronic food insecurity refers to less affordable food and growing urban poverty while emergency food insecurity relates to breakdowns in the food distribution chain. Urban agriculture reverses these insecurities by making food more affordable and providing emergency supplies.[18]

Such practices are widely seen as small-scale and part of the informal economyW but where inadequate, unreliable and irregular access to food is a problem, urban agriculture has been a positive response. Households and small communities use vacant land and contribute not only to their household food needs but also to their city's food needs.[19] Local food movements provide work. We could reasonably expect that unemployedW populations in large cities and suburbanW towns would decrease if urban dwellers were given opportunities in food production and processing. This is especially attractive in areas with stagnant economiesW, or that have been negatively affected by the outsourcingW of industrial jobs. Some community urban farms help women who would otherwise find it hard to get jobs in the formal economy find work.[20] Participation from women yields a higher food production rate; producing the adequate amount for household consumption while supplying more for market sale.[21]

Energy efficiency[edit]

The current industrial agricultureW system leads to high energy costs for food transport. The average conventional produce item travels 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles).[22] While this cost is often much less than other factors like heated greenhousesW and other energy used during production, reducing the food transport energy can be a valuable step toward reducing the ecological footprint of food.

Food quality[edit]

The greater freshness of local food is very appealing. Many prefer the taste of local agricultural products, or organic food. This quality reduces the need for preservativesW and the use of modern varieties that sacrifice taste and quality for transportability.

Specific cities[edit]

Experiences and lessons from specific locations are described on these pages:


To promote urban agriculture, do the following:

  • Share the planning, work, and produce of community gardens with schools.
  • Highlight various local projects like balcony gardens, "lazy gardens" and edible landscaping.
  • Create a community kitchen to encourage micro food processors.
  • Enforce regulations that emphasize and require edible landscaping in new buildings.
  • Establish educational programs for gardeners and students that will impact their food choices and actions.
  • Identify collection and reuse systems for stormwater, rainwater, greywater, and irrigation.
  • Allocate space for farmers' markets.

Community centers[edit]

Community centers and gardens educate the community to see agriculture as an integral part of urban life. The Florida House Institute for Sustainable Development in Sarasota, FloridaW, serves as a public community and education center in which innovators with sustainable, energy-saving ideas can implement and test such ideas. Community centers like Florida House provide urban areas with a central location for learning about urban agriculture and integrating it with the urban lifestyle.

Other examples of community centers are Greensgrow Farms in PhiladelphiaW and Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, AustraliaW. Greensgrow Farms uses an abandoned site as an urban farm to teach the community how food is grown and how to grow their own food. Northey Street City Farm hosts weekly community activities to educate and involve local residents in agricultural practices.

Community-based models[edit]

Creating a community-based infrastructure for urban agriculture means establishing local systems to grow and process food and transfer it from farmer to consumer. Some projects have collectively tended community farms on common landW, much like eighteenth-century Boston CommonW. These include the Collingwood Children's FarmW in Melbourne, AustraliaW. Other community garden projects use the allotment gardenW model, in which gardeners care for individual plots in a larger gardening area, often sharing a toolshed and other amenities. Seattle's P-PatchW gardens use this model, as does the South Central FarmW in Los AngelesW. Independent urban gardeners also grow food in individual yards and on roofs. Garden sharingW and yard sharingW projects seek to pair producers with land - typically, residential yard space. Roof gardensW allow for urban dwellers to maintain green spaces in the city without having to set aside a tract of land.

Food processing on a community level can be achieved by centralizing resources in community toolsheds and processing facilities. The Garden Resource Program Collaborative, DetroitW has cluster tool banks - different areas of the city that have toolbanksW where tools, compost, mulch, tomato stakes, seeds, education and other resources are shared and distributed with the gardeners of that cluster. This group approach also strengthens the gardening community by providing transplants education on gardening, policy, and food issues, and by connecting gardeners via workgroups, potlucks, tours, field trips, and cluster workdays.

Farmers' marketsW provide a common land where farmers can sell their product to consumers. Large cities tend to open their farmers' markets on the weekends and one day in the middle of the week. For example, the farmers' market of Boulevard Richard-LenoirW in Paris, FranceW, is open on Sundays and Thursdays. However, to create a consumer dependency on urban agriculture and to introduce local food production as a sustainable career for farmers, markets would have to be open regularly. The Los Angeles Farmers' MarketW is open seven days a week and has linked several local grocers together to provide different food products. The market's central location in Downtown Los AngelesW provides interaction for a diverse group of sellers to serve their customers.

Large-scale intensive farming[edit]

High-density urban farming like vertical farmsW or stacked greenhouses can achieve many environmental benefits on a citywide scale that would otherwise be impossible. These systems produce potable water from wastewater, recycle organic waste back into energy and nutrients,[23] and reduce food-related transportation while providing fresh food for large communities in almost any climate.


  • Using wastewater for irrigation without careful treatment and monitoring can result in spreading diseases among the population.
  • Cultivating on contaminated land is a health hazard for consumers and cultivating along roadsides exposes food to car pollution.
  • Although agriculture and urbanization are considered to be incompatible activities since they compete for the access and use of limited land, urban agriculture effectively uses public and private vacant lots and other areas that are not suited for development like steep slopes and flood plains.
  • Common problems include legal restrictions and economic impediments to accessing land and resources like reasonably priced water.
  • Lack of tenure security acts as a preventive for farming due to the uncertainty in the land's use length.[24]
  • People who believe industrial farm production can produce food at larger volumes more efficiently are critical of urban agriculture.
  • It is uncertain whether urban farming alone - farming very intensively on small land areas - could replace land-extensive production in rural areas that produce the bulk of our food products. Yet, hunger persists in both urban and rural areas (see food security), despite a subsidized industrial agriculture. The degree to which urban agriculture can address these food needs systemically is undetermined, although there are indications in some communities that it is an important food source.
  • Other opponents argue that localized food production and the introduction of common resources and common lands into the urban areas would produce a tragedy of the commons. However, many urban farms and community gardens are managed privately or through other civil society organizations.
  • Municipal greening policy goals can pose conflicts. For example, policies promoting urban tree canopy (UTC) are not sympathetic to food-production gardening.

Land access and property rights[edit]

Since urban agricultural activities are often conducted on vacant, municipal land, there have been rising concerns about the allocation of land and property rights. The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the FAO have published the "Guidelines for Municipal Policymaking on Urban Agriculture" and are working with municipal governments to create successful urban planning policy measures.[25]

Including urban agriculture in local plans as proper land use will continue to help impoverished communities gain a better well-being while fighting urban poverty.


  1. Smit, Jack et al. 1992. "Urban agriculture for sustainable cities: Using wastes and idle land and water bodies as resources," Environment and Urbanization 4(2): 141-152.
  2. Hampwaye, G., E. Nel, and L. Ingombe. 2009. "The role of urban agriculture in addressing household poverty and food security: The case of Zambia," GDN Working Paper.
  3. Lineberger, Sarah E., and J. M. Zajicek. 2000. "Can a hands-on teaching tool affect students' attitudes and behavior regarding fruit and vegetables?" HortTechnology 10(3): 593-596.
  4. Vijoen, Andre, et al. 2005, Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes. Architectural Press, Burlington MA 2005
  5. Ibid.
  6. http://www2.gtz.de/Dokumente/oe44/ecosan/nl/en-allotment-gardens-cagayan-de-oro-2005.pdf
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Matthew Benson, (2015) Growing Beautiful Food
  8. I think this was a Sydney Morning Herald article from the late 90s or early 2000s... reference? --Chriswaterguy
  9. UNDP 1996, FAO 1999
  10. IDRC/ UN-HABITAT."Guidelines for Municipal Policymaking on Urban Agriculture" Urban Agriculture: Land Management and Physical Planning (2003) 1.3
  11. Drescher et al. 2000. "Urban Food Security: Urban agriculture, a response to crisis?" UA Magazine (2000) 1.1 >http://www.ruaf.org/index.php?q=system/files/files/Urban+food+security+-+UA+response+to+crisis.pdf>
  12. Murphy K. (2009). For Urban Gardeners, Lead Is a Concern. New York Times.
  13. Impact of urban agriculture on malaria vectors in Accra, Ghana, Malaria Journal, 4 August 2008.
  14. Paull, John (2013) "Please Pick Me" – How Incredible Edible Todmorden is repurposing the commons for open source food and agricultural biodiversity, In J. Franzo, D. Hunter, T. Borelli & F. Mattei (Eds.). Diversifying Foods and Diets: Using Agricultural Biodiversity to Improve Nutrition and Health. Oxford: Earthscan, Routledge, pp.336-345.
  15. Fraser, Evan D.G., 2002 Urban Ecology in Bangkok Thailand: Community Participation, Urban Agriculture and Forestry, Environments, Vol. 30 no.1, 2002
  16. Jack Smit et al. "Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities: Using Wastes and Idle Land and Water Bodies as Resources."
  17. RUAF Foundation (Resources Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security). "What is Urban Agriculture?"
  18. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). "Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture, Household Food Security and Nutrition."
  19. Drescher et. al. 2000. "Urban Food Security: Urban agriculture, a response to crisis?" UA Magazine(2000) http://www.ruaf.org/index.php?q=system/files/files/Urban+food+security+-+UA+response+to+crisis.pdf>
  20. "Issues in Urban Agriculture" FAO Spotlight Magazine January 1999
  21. Mahbuba Kaneez Hasna. IDRC. CFP Report 21: NGO Gender Capacity in Urban Agriculture: Case Studies from Harare (Zimbabwe), Kampala (Uganda), and Accra (Ghana) 1998. <http://www.idrc.ca/fr/ev-2490-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html#gender%20and%20land>
  22. Pirog, R. and A. Benjamin. "Checking the food odometer: Comparing food miles for local versus conventional produce sales to Iowa institutions", Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, 2003.
  23. Bosschaert, T "Large Scale Urban agriculture Essay", Except Consultancy, 2007
  24. Ibid.
  25. IDRC/ UN-HABITAT."Guidelines for Municipal Policymaking on Urban Agriculture" Urban Agriculture: Land Management and Physical Planning (2003) 1.3

See also[edit]

Interwiki links[edit]

External links[edit]

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