By Jackson Pentz,
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)
Edited by Ariana Nieves
One of the defining moments in human history occurred when our ancient ancestors stopped following herds of migratory animals and instead elected to live in stationary settlements on the open savannah. This dramatic shift in the way we lived would never have been possible without the development of a key human tradition: agriculture. Since the earliest days of urbanization, agriculture and food security have been critical for city growth and long-term development. Yet, technological advancements in food production and distribution have separated the modern urban experience from its early roots in fresh, locally sourced produce. Luckily, a recent push to integrate cities with urban agriculture is helping to restore the foundation of our earliest communities. The USDA defines urban agriculture as, “part of a local food system where food is produced within an urban area and marketed to consumers within that area,” and its rise in popularity has shown several benefits for health, the economy, and the environment.
Urban agriculture is shown to have a positive effect on both mental and physical health, as well as nutrition. A 2008 study by members of the Community Food Security Coalition found that growing food is often a strategy used in programs for those recovering from mental illness because it “addresses simultaneously the physical, mental, spiritual, and social health of individuals” (Bellows et al 2008). Gardening is also an overlooked source of exercise, with connections to reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and occupational injuries (Bellows et al 2008). Separate research even linked working with plants to reduced “stress, anxiety, blood pressure, and muscle tension.” Nutritionally, access to fresh produce increases net nutritional intake, since the total distance traveled from source to table has been shown to have a negative correlation with nutritional density. Therefore, eating fresh food from within the same geographic region or urban district increases its total nutritional benefit.
Urban agriculture offers an additional source of income and cost savings for families and businesses. The Community Food Security Coalition estimates “every $1 invested in a community garden plot yields $6 worth of vegetables.” Urban farmers have several options when it comes to utilizing crop yields, including direct consumption, external sale, replanting, and donation. Each option represents cost savings, source of income, reinvestment, or positive social impact stemming from urban agriculture. In 2018, New Food Magazine reported the annual economic benefit of urban agriculture was approximately $33 billion. With program expansions and improved resource use efficiency, this benefit is expected to increase to over $160 billion, representing a significant portion of the urban food supply.
Urban farms provide increased food security for schools, emergency providers, and low-income or underserved communities. Many urban farms have established donation programs for urban food banks and emergency food assistance organizations. These programs, along with Federal support for low-income community access to fresh produce create an ecosystem of social and economic support for communities in need. Communities with this cohesive infrastructure have shown “increased opportunity for youth leadership, intergenerational collaboration, and cross-cultural learning” (Community Food Security Coalition). Urban farms are also an important source of entry-level jobs for urban youth, jobs that when combined with the variety of benefits associated with gardening provide platforms for healthy physical, social, and economic development during a foundational stage of life.
The USDA cites urban agriculture as a key initiative for land revitalization, brownfield restoration, and green infrastructure. Their website includes several publications offering advice for those looking to start their urban farms, including a helpful Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook. The plan describes how urban agriculture has the potential to revolutionize the environmental impact of cities, by converting undeveloped lots and brownfields into much-needed urban greenspaces. These green spaces can dramatically reduce the effects of urban heat islands and provide air purification and carbon sequestration services for the surrounding areas. Establishing an urban garden near your home, business, or community can also help earn multiple credits toward building accreditation, including:
- Fitwel 3.4: Restorative Garden
- Fitwel 3.6: Fruit and Vegetable Garden
- Fitwel 7.2: Views of Nature
- Fitwel 8.10: Crop-Share Drop Off
- Fitwel 8.11: Health Programming
- LEED SSc3: Open Space
- LEED SSc5: Heat Island Reduction
With such a wide array of health, economic, and environmental benefits, and a strong connection to green architecture, it will not be long until eating local means eating fresh produce grown on rooftops, brownfields, and vacant lots around your city. If you are interested in learning more about urban agriculture, and it’s potential to take your sustainable building project to the next level, contact SIG for a free quote from our team of expert sustainability consultants. You better call soon; the growing season is right around the corner.
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