17 Oct 2011

Poll results -- urban food

Hey! There's a new poll (Contest! What's the best example of coping with the end of abundance?) on the right sidebar ===>
I will pay more for urban-grown food compared to farm-grown when (choose 1+)
It tastes better 27 votes
It helps my community 32 votes
It puts neighbors to work 22 votes
It makes me healthier 17 votes
It is more sustainable 33 votes

These results indicate that voters may be more interested in the health of their communities than their own health (or is that a misinterpretation)?

IMO, it's easily possible for farm-grown food to taste better, be more sustainable, and be healthier for you. It's also possible for urban food to be less useful for communities and jobs -- mainly in the case where resources (land, subsidies, political effort) devoted to urban ag leaves fewer resources for other businesses, e.g., light industry, professional services, education, and so on.

I'm not saying this because I think it's always true (or even often true), but because a lot of people claim that urban agriculture will bring these benefits without thinking too much about how and why that would be so.

Bottom Line: We should all get food from places that deliver value (a big idea) for money; we should also spend time working together with our neighbors. Urban agriculture can deliver on both of those needs, but not automatically.


Anonymous said...

I don't think most people realize that these urban gardens are being subsidized by our tax dollars and they are competing with with privately owned farm businesses.

Mr. Kurtz said...

Urban green-gardens are a nice community building exercise, and can be very enjoyable (and economical) for people willing to put in the effort. But just as city parks and zoos are no substitute for wild lands, these gardens are not a substitute for production agriculture. Aside from the inherent inefficiencies of scale, many other factors make serious urban agriculture less desirable than it seems. Think of the farm equipment versus bikes and traffic, the demands on water and sewer systems, the air quality and noise issues, the problems of theft, to name just a few.
The whole "local" thing is a silly fad that has captured the imagination of romantics. Funny thing, I don't see a lot of "local" cars in Berkeley, or see folks demanding "local" pharmaceuticals, airplanes, or smartphones. Transportation is a tiny part of the cost and environmental impact of food production (as well as a lot of other stuff). The Saudis wasted billions of gallons of fossil water trying to grow "local" wheat. How green.

Kai said...

@ both above comments - One compound word: Rooftops.

Fair enough to the notion of a "public" urban ag. model, but that's not where things are headed. It's when private urban ag. businesses sprout up (pun intended) that the real test of viability occurs. For instance, the world's biggest, private rooftop farm the Brooklyn Grange, which is up for an international prize, is working in the paradigm of "vertical" ag (which has it's own logistical problems).

Whether or not their business model will continue to work or is something to emulate will be tested, but right now they are functioning as a small business. As world populations increase and shift towards urban centers, don't discount urban ag. and the need for societies to innovate, reuse/recycle resources, and especially, to feed their hungry populations.



Mr. Kurtz said...

If the rooftop gardens are being watered with treated drinking water, it is extravagant folly. Unfortunately, few communities have reliable and safe (or any) grey water irrigation supplies. You also need to take into consideration the additional delivery demands (where will the new water come from?), and the energy consumed by pumping water to rooftops.
And unless a building has been designed to handle a lot of heavy wet stuff on its roof, many bad things will happen over time.

Believe me, I wish more people would garden, and would try to grow even a small part of the food they eat. It's informative, fun, economical, and good for the soul. But it won't feed the billions.

Kai said...

Urban ag. and/or rooftop farming won't feed the billions - I've never heard such a claim - but it can certainly be scaled to feed a significant percentage of a given region.

Successful urban/rooftop farms will most likely start (and end?) in high precip. metro areas like NYC, Detroit, Milwaukee, etc. so that the crops will primarily be rainfed (and have other particularities, e.g. Hantz Farm, Detroit).

As you state, unless greywater/water reuse systems are implemented there is little chance of widespread success, although all expectations are that that these in-built efficiencies will become a growing part of water supplies both nation- and worldwide.

As for roof weight constraints, there are already many innovative technologies meant for reducing bulk and weight, but the bottom line is that there is a literal growth limit in terms of material support.

Of course traditional, industrial ag. is going to continue to feed most of the world's population because it's...big. But in the end, urban ag. is already occurring and scaling up. The question is not whether it should proceed or not, but how it's going to look, get its resources, and innovate.

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