If you look too quickly, you might miss it. Tucked behind bus stops in abandoned parking spaces, in pots on apartment balconies, or hanging out in the middle of a public park – urban agriculture is a growing trend taking over our cities.
The FAO defines urban agriculture as the “growing of plants or livestock within and around cities” (Taguchi and Santini, 2019, p. 14). Urban agriculture occurs on a much smaller scale than the farms we are used to seeing. Households and communities often engage in urban agriculture to produce their own food, rather than make a profit (Taguchi and Santini, 2019, p. 14). Different forms of urban agriculture projects include community gardens, green roofs, vertical farms, urban chickens, urban beekeeping, urban aquaculture, and small scale farming (Solderholm, 2015, p. 45). Those living in urban areas without access to farmers’ markets may miss out on the opportunity to consume sustainably produced food.
To learn more about urban agriculture, I spoke with Ayla Fenton from the Loving Spoonful organization in Kingston, Ontario. Ayla is a wealth of knowledge and has been working in food sovereignty and food security projects for almost 10 years. Loving Spoonful is a grassroots program in Kingston that connects people to good food that is socially and environmentally sustainable. In the past, Loving Spoonful has worked to reduce food waste and improve access to adequate food for low-income community members in Kingston through the programs they run (Fenton, 2021). In 2016, Loving Spoonful established the Kingston Community Garden Network (Fenton, 2021). The network consists of 35 community gardens focused on pollinators, seed saving, and food production (Fenton, 2021). All the community gardens rely on volunteers to operate. All gardens also practice ecologically sound methods of growing food (Fenton, 2021). The community gardens follow organic gardening principles — meaning the gardens use no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers; maximize water conservation, support native pollinators, and reuse resources (Fenton, 2021). These practices all factor into the larger effort of urban agriculture, as Ayla notes, which helps reduce food waste in our food systems and reduce the carbon footprint of what we consume by lessening our dependency on globalized food systems.
“Our global food systems are responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions,” Ayla explains (Fenton, 2021). The way that we grow, process, and distribute food from far away regions, with complicated lines of production, processing and transportation, often leads to a serious ecological impact. Mass farming negatively impacts soil health through excessive use of water, fertilizer, insecticides, and monoculture crops. This both reduces the overall health of the soil and its ability to sequester carbon (Nogueira Cardoso et al., 2013, p. 278), and makes regions more susceptible to the spread of diseases and climate change disasters like floods or drought (Hutchinson et al., 2018, p. 4-5; Foley et al., 2005, p. 572). Moreover, land-use changes that transform meadows and forests into agricultural fields disrupt local native flora and fauna, reduce forest cover, and release stored carbon into the air by tilling the land (Foley et al., 2005, p. 570-572). That’s before food even leaves the farm and travels thousands of miles on greenhouse gas-emitting trucks to reach processing plants, distribution warehouses, supermarkets, and finally consumers. To have any hope of saving the planet, we need to dramatically reform our food systems. Urban agriculture is a key tool that can help us become less dependent on unsustainable food systems, and consume more sustainably produced food.
Urban agriculture not only helps with mitigating climate change by reducing agricultural and food production related GHG emissions, but it also helps communities adapt to climate change. Urban agriculture projects within communities create more resilient urban food systems. As Ayla points out, COVID-19 has demonstrated how major climate change-related disasters can disrupt our global food systems and leave many without reliable access to food (Fenton, 2021). By growing food locally, we can create food systems in urban communities that are less vulnerable to major shocks like natural disasters that will occur more frequently as climate change intensifies.
If you’re interested in getting involved in urban agriculture, Ayla recommends finding out if your community has an urban garden to volunteer with via the Community Food Centre Canada Network. While Loving Spoonful is Kingston-based, communities big and small across Canada have also taken up urban agriculture projects. If there isn’t a community garden in your hometown, don’t fret! Community gardens are fairly easy to establish. Ayla says, “In most communities, there is always an abundance of green space…talk with local landowners that have unused green space about converting the land into a community garden” (Fenton 2021).
This article was written in partnership with Ayla Fenton from Loving Spoonful. If you are interested in learning more about Loving Spoonful, visit their website here: https://www.lovingspoonful.org/. To find urban gardens near you, check out the Community Food Centre Canada’s list of partners here: https://cfccanada.ca/en/Our-Work/Community- Food-Centres/Our-Community-Food-Centres?Page=1
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Images Source: Lovin Spoonful. (2021).