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Vacant lots to vibrant plots: A review of the benefits and limitations of urban agriculture

Authors:

Abstract

Urban agriculture has become a popular topic for metropolitan areas to engage in on a program and policy level. It is touted as a means of promoting public health and economic development, building social capital, and repurposing unused land. Food policy councils and other groups that seek to position urban agriculture to policy makers often struggle with how to frame the benefits of and potential problems with urban agriculture. In some cases, the enthusiasm is ahead of the evidence. This review provides an overview of the documented sociocultural, health, environmental, and economic development outcomes of urban agriculture. Demonstrated and potential benefits, as well as risks and limitations, of this growing field will be discussed. We also offer recommendations for further research to strengthen the scholarship on urban agriculture.
RAYCHEL SANTO
ANNE PALMER
BRENT KIM
May 2016
A REVIEW OF THE
BENEFITS AND
LIMITATIONS
OF URBAN
AGRICULTURE
TO
VIBRANT
PLOTS
VACANT
LOTS
Acknowledgments
The authors thank Karen Banks, Carrie Burns, Kate Clancy, Rosie Havers, Paul Milbourne,
Keeve Nachman, and Mark Winne for their reviews and feedback. We also want to thank
Melissa Poulsen and Marie Spiker for permission to include, update, and adapt their chart
from their 2014 white paper (pp. 4-5), Integrating urban farms into the social landscape of
cities: Recommendations for strengthening the relationship between urban farms and local
communities.
Cover design, layout, and illustration (p. 2): Michael Milli
Photo credits: Mark Dennis (p.6) Ann Beckemeyer (p. 7), Florence Ma (p. 8, 12, 14, 19),
DeVon Nolen (p. 4), Jared Margulies (cover)
Contents
Summary ................................................................................................................................ 1
Scope ....................................................................................................................................... 1
Figure◻1:◻Scope◻of◻urban◻agriculture◻...........................................................................2
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 3
Sociocultural considerations ............................................................................................. 4
Social◻benefits◻ ..................................................................................................................... 4
Educational◻and◻skill◻development◻opportunities ............................................................. 6
Potential◻exclusion◻and◻marginalization ........................................................................... 7
Environmental sustainability ............................................................................................. 8
Ecosystem◻services ............................................................................................................... 8
Environmental◻limitations .................................................................................................. 10
Public health and food security ........................................................................................ 11
Individual◻health◻impacts ................................................................................................... 11
Community◻and◻municipal◻food◻security ........................................................................... 14
Economic development ...................................................................................................... 16
Potential◻economic◻development◻opportunities ................................................................. 16
Limitations◻of◻economic◻development◻framework ............................................................. 16
Research gaps ....................................................................................................................... 20
Recommendations for framing the merits of urban agriculture .............................. 22
References ............................................................................................................................. 23
II
Summary
Urban agriculture has become a popular topic for
metropolitan areas to engage in on a program and
policy level. It is touted as a means of promoting
public health and economic development, build-
ing social capital, and repurposing unused land.
Food policy councils and other groups that seek
to position urban agriculture to policy makers
often struggle with how to frame the benefits of
and potential problems with urban agriculture.
In some cases, the enthusiasm is ahead of the
evidence. This review provides an overview of the
documented sociocultural, health, environmental,
and economic development outcomes of urban
agriculture. Demonstrated and potential benefits,
as well as risks and limitations, of this growing field
will be discussed. We also oer recommendations
for further research to strengthen the scholarship
on urban agriculture.
Scope
As urban agriculture is a trans-disciplinary
topic, this report includes information from both
published and grey literature from a variety of
academic disciplines, including public health,
geography, sociology, urban planning, psychology,
sustainability studies, and economics. It focus-
es on research predominantly from the Global
North, as urban agriculture in the Global South has
developed under dierent historical conditions, in
dierent demographic and spatial contexts, and
for dierent reasons.1,2
For the purposes of this report, urban agriculture
encompasses the production of food and non-food
plants, as well as animal husbandry, in urban and
peri-urbani spaces. Urban agriculture operations
may be privately, publically, or commercially
owned, and manifest in a number of forms, includ-
ing household, school, and community gardens;
urban farmsii; backyard chicken coops and
beehives; aquaculture, hydroponics, and aquapon-
ics facilities; and rooftop, vertical, and indoor farms
(see Figure 1).
The majority of published literature on urban
agriculture comes from research on community
gardens.3 This reflects the fact that gardens remain
the dominant form of urban agriculture – involv-
ing far more people and growing far more food
in volume and value than urban farms.4,5 More
technologically innovative forms of urban agricul-
ture, including rooftop gardens and greenhouses,
indoor and vertical farms, edible green walls, and
aquaponics facilities, are still in the early stages of
research and practice.6,7 Urban home food gardens
have also been under-represented in the literature,
though their potential social, ecological, health, and
economic contributions can also be significant.8
i Definitions of peri-urban agriculture abound; this paper considers
it to be agriculture at the boundaries of cities, in the transition or
“buer” zones between rural and urban areas. Opitz et al. provide a
comprehensive review on peri-urban agriculture, and its dierenc-
es with traditional urban agriculture.10 2 It is increasingly dicult to
categorize urban agriculture projects by geographical locations, as
many have acquired additional land outside the cities in which they
are located in order to accommodate their expanded operations.121
ii Farms are generally distinguished from gardens by the intent to
produce goods for sale, though classifying remains an ambiguous
task, as some entities such as the USDA’s Agricultural Census only
consider operations that reach certain sales and size thresholds to
be farms.142
1
U
r
b
a
n
a
g
r
i
c
u
l
t
u
r
e
School garden
Edible landscape
Backyard garden
Urban farm
Community garden
Building integrated
agriculture (Zfarming)
Peri-urban agriculture
Rooftop
farming
Rooftop
greenhouses
Edible
walls
Vertical farming
(sky farming)
Open-air
rooftop
Aquaculture
Aquaponics
Hydroponics
Indoor
farming
Figure 1: Scope of urban agriculture
2
Introduction
People engage in urban agriculture for a wide vari-
ety of reasons, such as accessing fresh produce;
improving personal health and mental well-being;
enhancing socio-ecological relationships; sustain-
ing cultural traditions; and among more radical
participants, challenging norms around land use,
urban/rural dichotomies, and the global agri-food
system.9-11 Likewise, city agencies, community
groups, and other advocates of urban agriculture
cite a number of potential benefits, from foster-
ing social interaction, educational opportunities,
and community and economic development,
to providing important health-promoting and
ecosystem services.12
These reasons have been used to help acquire and
sustain government support for urban agricul-
ture projects. Many municipalities already assist
third-party and city-run community gardens
through providing land, funding, in-kind supplies,
technical assistance, and educational work-
shops.13,14 They have also begun supporting urban
farms, both for-profit and non-profit, by pass-
ing new zoning ordinances and building codes to
support urban agriculture eorts.12 Some have
incorporated urban agriculture into municipal food
strategies and comprehensive plans.15,16
Accurately interpreting and communicating the
potential merits of urban agriculture, however, is
essential. If its benefits are overstated, or limita-
tions overlooked, this could propel advocates to
disproportionally allocate resources to urban agri-
culture at the expense of other, potentially more
eective interventions. And if urban agriculture
does not live up to its promises, it may lose the
cultural and political support necessary to sustain
the benefits it can oer.
This review provides an overview of the docu-
mented sociocultural, health, environmental, and
economic development outcomes of urban agricul-
ture. Demonstrated and potential benefits, as well
as risks and limitations, of this growing field will be
discussed. Gaps in current literature on these bene-
fits and limitations, and a summary of recommen-
dations for framing the merits of urban agriculture,
are reviewed at the end of this report. While urban
agriculture alone will not solve the many dilemmas
of our food system, from ecological collapse to
inequitable access to healthy food, it can be part of
a constellation of interventions needed to reform
the food system into one that is more socially just,
ecologically sound, and economically viable.
3
Sociocultural considerations
While dicult to tangibly measure, the preponder-
ance of evidence suggests that urban agriculture’s
most significant benefits center around its ability
to increase social capital, community well-be-
ing, and civic engagement with the food system.
The majority of literature in this area comes from
studies of community gardens, but many urban
farms have also established themselves as social
enterprises dedicated more to social missions than
to profits.5,17 Some critiques have also been raised
about the fact that these social benefits may not
extend to all because of complex structural and
historical barriers.
Social benefits
Numerous studies have documented how commu-
nity gardens enhance the social capital of commu-
nities through increasing the social bonds and
networks among neighbors, among people from
more diverse backgrounds, and among those in
dierent positions of power.18-22 Such connec-
tions based on mutual trust and reciprocity oer
support during times of crisis, and help commu-
nities leverage greater resources, funding, and
supportive policies from outside organizations
and government. They also bridge gaps, reduce
existing tensions, and foster social integration
between otherwise segregated groups by bringing
people of diverse races/ethnicities, cultures, reli-
gions, socioeconomic classes, genders, ages, and
educational backgrounds together to participate
in shared activities with a common purpose.19,20,23-27
The strong sociocultural values surrounding food
growing, cooking, and sharing help facilitate the
role of gardens as a social bridge, and support
communities in maintaining and appreciating
cultural traditions associated with food.28
The physical spaces where urban agriculture proj-
ects exist also enrich community well-being. As
“third spaces” beyond the home or work, gardens
function as gathering places for
community members to interact, espe-
cially important in areas where open
green spaces are rare.20 As document-
ed in a case study of Latino communi-
ty gardens in New York City, gardens
may serve more as cultural and social
neighborhood centers than as agricul-
tural production sites.25 Another case
study of community gardens in Detroit
noted their importance as alterna-
tive communal, social, learning, and
healing safe spaces responding to the
needs left by the closing of communi-
ty centers.29 Some neighbors of urban
farms discuss the community improve-
ment benefits – such as the cleaning
up of vacant lots – more frequently and with more
enthusiasm than the production of fresh local
food.167 Some argue that through such roles, urban
agriculture is challenging traditional boundaries
4
Reported Benefits Reported Limitations
Community cohesion and development
Provision of opportunities for social interaction,
strengthening social ties and facilitating new
social connections18-22
Catalyst for community organizing and broader
community improvement8,22,25,27,29,45,46
Gathering places for community members to
interact, especially important in areas where
open green spaces are rare20,25,29
Perceived sense of safety/reduction in crime,
and consequent strengthening of residents’
pride of place23,32-34
UA initiatives are instigated from dierent
organizational structures, e.g., community-led
eorts vs. persons or institutions outside the
community, which may restrict community
development benefits in some instances1 9,16 7
Cultural integration and preservation
All of the points in this box come from 19,20,23-27:
Provision of opportunities for neighborhood
residents of diverse backgrounds to interact
who otherwise would not have such an impetus
Provision of opportunities for immigrants
to develop ties with host and other ethnic
communities, expand cultural competencies,
and gain a sense of belonging
Provision of opportunities for expression and
maintenance of cultural heritage28
Provision of opportunities to strengthen inter-
generational relationships
UA initiatives have been led by mostly
young, white non-residents in predomi-
nantly black and/or Latino neighborhoods,
unintentionally excluding people of color
from participating in or reaping the benefits
of such eorts20,22,30,52-54,167
Initiatives led by lower-income communities
and/or people of color have experienced
disparities in access to land, government fund-
ing, and political support compared to urban
agriculture eorts led by white and middle-
class groups15,55,167
Education and youth development
Provision of opportunities to learn about the
provenance of food, agricultural processes,
nutrition, and sustainability, and to develop
new skills25,35-40,46,145,164,165
Provision of constructive activity for youth that
promotes youth development and as an alter-
native for youth exposed to drug and crime
economies, including wage-earning opportuni-
ties35,39,164,167
Projects providing comprehensive/intensive
education beyond technical farming skills
require additional expertise (e.g. in social/moral
support and remedial education), which may
require more sta time and higher labor costs42
Table 1: Summary of sociocultural considerations*
*Many of the studies cited in this chart and those following (on pages 9, 13, and 17) are exploratory studies that use qualitative
methods, and the quantitative studies rarely measure change before and after implementation of an urban agriculture project,
use a control group, or include a large sample. Therefore, these benefits are not “proven” benefits in terms of having been
rigorously measured.
5
between public and private land use.31 Moreover,
urban green spaces, which include but are not
limited to vegetable gardens, have been associated
with reduced crime rates in socially disadvantaged
neighborhoods and the consequent strengthening
of residents’ pride of place.23,32-34
Educational and skill
development opportunities
Building on their role as community hubs, gardens
and other sites of urban agriculture also serve
as sites for education, youth development, and
skills/workforce training opportunities. Whether
through formal programs or informal exchang-
es, these places help teach youth about science,
environmental stewardship, cultural heritage,
and healthy eating, while also oering valuable
lessons in interpersonal skills, responsibility, and
delayed gratification.25,35-40 Leadership, project
management, marketing, customer service, and
other transferable skills gained through working
on urban agriculture initiatives can support the job
readiness and workforce integration of neighbor-
hood youth, immigrants, dierently abled people,
and those who were formerly incarcerated,5,15,40,41
although the spectrum beyond agriculture-specif-
ic skills must be emphasized to encourage gener-
al job readiness. As Daftary-Steel et al. discuss,
providing these opportunities to the “least employ-
able” requires additional expertise (e.g., in social/
moral support and remedial education) beyond
the teaching of technical farming skills, which may
require more sta time and higher labor costs.42
Urban agriculture projects aiming to provide such
intensive services, in addition to keeping produce
at aordable prices, require greater external finan-
cial and political support.42
By reconnecting urban consumers to food produc-
tion and introducing them to new fruits
and vegetables, urban agriculture can
also help foster agricultural literacy and
a “dierent connection to food.9 As
they shift from being passive consum-
ers of food to becoming co-producers
and gain increased control over how
their food is produced and distributed,
participants become what some schol-
ars refer to as “food citizens.43,44 This
may also catalyze civic engagement
in both the broader food and political
systems. For instance, the social and
political skills gained through garden-
ing, such as community organizing,
fundraising, and consensus decision
making, can empower residents to
begin tackling other issues in their communities
and beyond.8,22,25,27,29,45,46 For instance, as White
(p.19) describes, the empowerment and food
sovereignty gained by women gardeners in Detroit
instigated conversations over how they “might gain
control over other aspects of their lives, including
access to aordable housing, clean water, commu-
nity policing, and decent public education.29 Some
scholars40,47 argue that such eorts in community
self-reliance and self-determination ultimately
6
serve to fill in the gaps (in food security, commu-
nity centers, etc.) left by government cutbacks –
and thereby uphold rather than resist the political
and economic system that created the structural
inequities, racism, and other issues they seek to
address. Others acknowledge this critique, but
argue that urban agriculture initiatives can simul-
taneously fill in the gaps and provide spaces for
transformative political resistance.11,29
Potential exclusion and
marginalization
Urban agriculture projects are not panaceas of
social inclusion or equity, however, and critical
questions have been raised about who
benefits from such eorts. Urban agri-
culture initiatives are established with
dierent, though often overlapping,
aims – whether they seek to supply
fresh foods in low-income communi-
ties with limited access to full-service
grocery retail, achieve more entrepre-
neurial aims, or provide more educa-
tional or community development
benefits. They are also instigated from
dierent organizational structures,
e.g., community-led eorts vs. persons
or institutions outside the communi-
ty.19, 16 7 Dierent meanings around the
ideas of community, inclusiveness, and
diversity further contribute to the vari-
ety of forms that arise among urban agriculture
projects.48
It is important to understand these various contexts
in which urban farms and gardens are situated in
order to challenge and prevent exclusionary and
discriminatory policies and practices that often
manifest in their operations.49 This is particularly
relevant for farms, gardens, and other forms of
urban agriculture that are initiated by people or
institutions from outside of the neighborhoods
in which they are located.30 It is even more so for
commercial ventures where the food produced is
not economically or physically accessible to resi-
dents.30 As Draus et al. and Hu et al. discuss, the
systemic racial, socioeconomic, and geographical
marginalization of many inner-city populations,
especially in relation to urban redevelopment, has
left a legacy of distrust among residents of exter-
nal public or private eorts to “improve” their
neighborhoods through urban agriculture.50,51
A number of case studies have found that urban
farms and gardens – both for-profit and non-profit
– have been led by mostly young, white non-resi-
dents in predominantly black and/or Latino neigh-
borhoods, unintentionally excluding people of
color from participating in or reaping the benefits
of such eorts.20,22,30,52-54,167 Other initiatives that
have been led by lower-income communities and/
or people of color have experienced disparities in
access to land, government funding, and political
support compared to urban agriculture eorts led
by white and middle-class groups.15,55
7
It is essential that the residents of the communities
being aected by urban agriculture projects are not
just consulted but fully empowered in leadership
and decision-making to the greatest extent possi-
ble.15,56 Leaders should understand the historical
and social context of the space where their eorts
take place (e.g., an urban farm might be located in a
community that has experienced a history of racial
tensions), and be keenly aware of the participation
and power dynamics among people (gardeners/
farmers, customers/supporters, and neighboring
residents) of dierent races, socioeconomic class-
es, genders, ages and educational backgrounds.52
Successful grassroots eorts that have been led by
community members through a culturally direct-
ed approach may serve as models for other urban
agriculture projects.28,57
Environmental sustainability
The vast majority of food consumed in the U.S.
today is produced by an industrialized agricultural
system that harms the physical environment and
lacks the resilience necessary to address rising
global challenges of achieving food security in the
face of climate change, population pressures, and
resource depletion.58 Given these facts, urban agri-
culture has been promoted as part of the transition
to a more environmentally sustainable and resilient
food system. Advocates cite its ecosystem services
to urban areas; shorter distance from farm to plate;
presumably reduced reliance on petroleum-based
energy and embedded greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions needed for farm machinery, pesticide
manufacturing, and transportation; and, if widely
adopted, reduced pressure on farmland.6 While
some of these proclaimed benefits have been
documented in the scientific literature, many have
not been critically assessed.
Ecosystem services
Urban green spaces and green roofs oer a
number of ecosystem services.59-66 Vegetation
filters certain airborne pollutants such as partic-
ulate matter,67,6 8 which one study suggests may
mitigate morbidity and mortality associated with
respiratory illnesses.69 Plants and trees facili-
tate temperature moderation, and thus help
reduce the urban heat island eect by cooling
nearby air through the process of evapotrans-
piration, oering shade from solar radiation,
and diusing incoming solar radiation.66 These
services are of particular importance in light
of the anticipated eects of climate change
on heat-related mortality.70,7 1 Vegetation also
collects and retains precipitation, reducing
storm-water runo into urban waterways.iii
Gardens, in particular, support local biodi-
versity by providing habitats and forage for
pollinators such as bees and other beneficial
organisms.72 Urban food gardens and farms
have been found to help conserve agro-biodi-
versity, for example, as gardeners and farmers
iii Although vegetation captures and infiltrates storm-water, plants
may be exposed to contaminated run-o. Buer strips between
urban agriculture operations and parking lots, roads, and industrial
sites can help filter out contaminants before reaching edible crop
production areas.99
8
save seeds and grow more traditional crop variet-
ies and wild relatives.8,73 They also provide sites for
composting organic matter for subsequent use as
fertilizer, thereby reducing reliance on chemical or
mined inputs and keeping waste from landfills.74
Some novel forms of building-integrated urban
agriculture, including rooftop gardens and green-
houses, indoor and vertical farms, and edible
green walls, are also merited for their ability to
re-use waste water, waste heat, and organic waste
from homes and businesses in limited-input food
production systems.6,59,65 One review on these
forms of urban agriculture includes the findings of
a few case studies of hydroponic operations that
have demonstrated significant reductions in the
amount of water needed to produce vegetables
compared to conventional farming, as well as stud-
ies of building energy savings from the presence
of rooftop operations.6 A multi-country study of
Reported Benefits Reported Limitations
Local ecosystem services
Increased biodiversity, including provision of
habitat for pollinators8,73
Reduced air pollution through filtration of
particulates by vegetation6 7,68
Micro-climate regulation (e.g., reduction in the
“urban heat island eect”) through transpira-
tion processes66
Increased rainwater drainage, reducing the risk
of flooding, ground water contamination, and
depleted groundwater levels99
Recycling of organic waste (e.g., through
composting)74
Soil management and amendment, irrigation,
and fertilizer use practices by UA growers may
not be ecologically sound3,8
Climate change mitigation
Potential reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions associated with food transporta-
tion, particularly when replacing typically
air-freighted produce (e.g., greens, berries)78
Carbon sequestration by vegetation and
crops77,7 8
Some technological UA operations may
reduce the energy and resource inputs
– and waste outputs – associated with
food production6,65,75,118
Urban growing maintains collective memory
of food production and protects urban green
spaces, upholding cities’ capacity to produce
food in times of crisis76
May increase GHG emissions and water use if
plants are grown in energy- or resource-inten-
sive locations13,75,85-88
Small-scale, fragmented UA may be less e-
cient in resource use and transport emissions
than conventional agriculture79
If UA becomes ubiquitous in cities, it may
reduce population density, requiring more
driving and GHG emissions than the current
system63,82
Table 2: Summary of environmental sustainability factors
9
environmental impact factors for integratediv roof-
top farming operations in retail parks (e.g., super-
markets) in Europe and South America found that
such operations could reduce the carbon dioxide
emissions and energy inputs needed to produce
tomatoes (compared to non-local conventional-
ly produced ones) and with appropriate rainwa-
ter harvesting, could almost universally acquire
enough water to avoid additional inputs.75(Chapter 5)
These potential emissions reductions and energy
savings of integrated rooftop operations would be
higher in colder climates, as waste energy from
the building contributes to reduce energy inputs
needed to heat rooftop greenhouses.75(Chapter 5) Much
of this research is in a nascent stage, and a number
of theoretical and practical issues remain before
environmental benefits from implementation can
be realized in most cases.
Some also argue for the potential of urban agricul-
ture to help cities become resilient in the face of
climate change and other environmental challeng-
es, and facilitate the transition to lower-carbon
cities. Through an analysis of the role urban gardens
have played in history when urban food supply
lines were threatened, Barthel et al. describe how
urban growing maintains the collective memory of
food production and protects urban green spaces,
thereby enhancing the resilience of cities against
food shortages in face of future economic, polit-
ical, or ecological crises.76 They argue, however,
that external support for intergenerational and
multicultural mentorship; experience- and knowl-
edge-exchange; seed sharing and banking; and
long-term land tenure for urban green spaces are
necessary to uphold cities’ capacity to produce
food in times of crisis. Others have proposed using
urban agriculture for climate change mitigation
and adaptation, given the carbon sequestering
iv Note that there is a dierence between integrated rooftop green-
houses (which exchange energy flows with the buildings they are
on) and isolated ones, which require energy inputs and are thus not
environmentally beneficial in colder climates.75(Chapter 5)
capacity of vegetation, although this has not
been quantified on a large scale.77 One study that
has attempted to quantify an urban agriculture
project in the UK found that, while the peri-urban
farm under study reduced the community’s total
diet-related emissions by only 0.4%, it had a great-
er annual carbon sequestration rate per hectare
compared to urban parks and forests.78
Environmental limitations
Urban agriculture may not always provide envi-
ronmental benefits, and could in some cases lead
to net negative ecological impacts. For example,
indiscriminate fertilizer or compost application
may pollute surface water or storm-water runo
with excessive nitrogen, phosphorus, and/or potas-
sium.8 A number of gaps remain in research relat-
ed to the practices undertaken at urban gardens
and farms, such as the sustainability of their pest
management, irrigation, and soil amendment
practices, and how and to what extent they foster
biodiversity compared to other land use options.3,8
One of the main narratives surrounding the envi-
ronmental benefits of urban agriculture centers on
its purported ability to reduce inputs, greenhouse
gas emissions, and costs associated with food’s
production and transportation. Such statements
may not consider the loss of economies of scale
that come with larger production, processing, stor-
age, and distribution systems, nor regional vari-
ances that may actually have net negative environ-
mental outcomes. For instance, the smaller-scale
and fragmented nature of urban agriculture tends
to be less ecient than larger operations in the use
of water, fertilizer, and other resources.79
Advocates tout that producing food closer to
consumers can reduce “food miles” traveled – that
is, the distance the food traveled from where it was
produced to where it is consumed – and thus trans-
10
portation-related emissions. Yet the vast majority
of GHG emissions attributed to foods are from the
production phase.80 In most cases, changing the
types of foods people eat (e.g., eating less beef
and fewer dairy products) and how those foods
are produced (e.g., input-intensive operations)
are more important in reducing foods’ associated
emissions than reducing how far they travel.80,8 1
That said, environmental benefits may arise if
produce grown in urban areas replaced produce
that was typically air-freighted (e.g., greens,
berries).78 Some experts have further argued that
if urban agriculture becomes ubiquitous in cities,
it may reduce population density and thus require
more driving and greenhouse gas emissions than
the current system.63,82
Some proponents purport that urban agriculture
could reduce the soil degradation associated with
industrial agriculture by allowing some rural land
to be taken out of production.83,v But the studies
modeling the potential of urban and peri-urban
agriculture (see community and municipal food
security section on page 14) demonstrate that a
significant need will remain for rural food produc-
tion, where foods that comprise the majority of
kilocalories in diets – especially grains – can be
produced.84
Moreover, producing food in urban settings may
increase GHG emissions and water use if plants are
grown in energy- and resource-intensive opera-
tions, such as indoor/vertical farming, greenhous-
es, hydroponics (soilless crop production), or aqua-
culture (the cultivation of aquatic animals or plants
for food) facilities in cold or water-scarce regions.75
A hydroponic farm in Bualo, New York, for exam-
ple, shut its doors in 2002 and moved its operations
(and over 150 jobs) to southwest Texas due to high
v As Cox argues, such lines of thought also ignore the well-being of
rural communities, which disproportionately suer from the worst
food insecurity and would likely benefit from increased support
from urban consumers.143
energy costs.13 An aquaponics farm (integrates
hydroponics with aquaculture to produce edible
plants and fish) in Baltimore, Maryland, found that
while the system produced food without antibiot-
ics, synthetic pesticides, or chemical fertilizers, the
winter energy use was extremely high – so much
so that the tilapia produced a net economic loss if
one compared the input costs to market prices.85
In this case, the aquaponics facility was located in a
region with adequate rainwater to supply its opera-
tions, but as 90% of global aquaponics operations
use drinking water as an input, similar operations
could put a further strain on resources in water-
scarce regions. Others have critiqued the envi-
ronmental sustainability of artificially-lit vertical
farms in particular, which are notably energy-in-
tensive compared to solar-powered greenhouse
and hoophouse systems.86-88 If appropriate crops
and growing methods are chosen, however, there
is still the potential for urban agriculture projects
to reduce diet-related GHG emissions compared to
conventional food production.75,78
Public health and food security
Urban agriculture has been promoted for a number
of potential health benefits: to those who partic-
ipate in the actual gardening/farming activities,
to community members who may benefit from
improved access to the food produced, as well
as to city residents on the whole for its potential
contribution to food security and resilience, if
scaled up strategically and adequately. The stron-
gest evidence of health benefits comes from the
first of these categories.
Individual health impacts
Gardening/farming supports public health eorts
by providing physical activity to its participants,
especially helpful for older people.22,27,45,89-91
Gardening can support mental health and well-be-
11
ing through reducing stress, providing purpose-
ful activity, improving self esteem and a sense of
accomplishment, aiding physical and emotional
healing, and strengthening people’s relationships
with nature.27,45,66,74,91-96 Some of the ecosystem
services previously mentioned (on page 8), such
as air filtration and temperature moderation, have
downstream benefits to the health of urban resi-
dents. The increased social support and sense
of belonging oered by community gardening
(described on page 4) may also empower commu-
nities to overcome structural disadvantages they
face and improve their access to health-promoting
resources such as education, transportation, and
medical services.97
Urban agriculture may, however, present health
risks to food growers, consumers, and the
surrounding community if preventive measures
are not taken or implemented properly. Local
residents could be at risk if garden inputs such as
fertilizers and pesticides are used or disposed of
improperly.74 Sources of pollution, such as indus-
trial activity, heavily tracked areas, and waste
dumps, tend to be located in or near urban areas;
consequently, urban soils may be contaminat-
ed with heavy metals (including lead, cadmium,
and arsenic), petroleum products, asbestos, and
other hazards.98 Some urban agriculture projects
use treated wastewater for irrigation and biologi-
cal wastes as fertilizer, which may may introduce
bacterial, viral, or parasitic pathogens if not prop-
erly treated.6,99
Urban food growers may be exposed to soil
contaminants (e.g., via accidental ingestion
during gardening activities), while persons
who consume food grown in contaminated
soil may ingest pollutants on the surface of
produce and, in some cases, in the tissues
of the plant (particularly root vegetables).99
Exposure to these contaminants can lead to a
number of negative health impacts including
nervous system damage and certain cancers,
which are of special concern for children,
pregnant women, and those with compro-
mised immune systems.98 These sources of
pollution and environmental hazards are more
likely to be located in lower-income, predomi-
nantly black and/or Latino neighborhoods,166 thus
these communities have a higher risk of exposure
to contaminants when undertaking urban agricul-
ture projects.100
The Center for a Livable Future’s Soil safety
resource guide for urban food growers oers
a number of recommendations to educate and
support urban growers in taking appropriate
measures to avoid contamination.101 These include
conducting site histories, testing soil for contam-
inants, and following best practices to minimize
exposure to any contaminants that may be present
(e.g., maintaining a minimum distance between
growing sites and roads; appropriately washing
and peeling produce before consumption; and
using raised beds). The use of buer strips may
reduce the exposure of edible crops to airborne
pollutants, contaminated storm-water, and drying
winds.99 Certain cultivation methods, such as
indoor or soil-free hydroponics operations, may
12
Reported Benefits Reported Limitations
Food access and security
Greater access to fresh, organic, and/or
culturally appropriate produce by garden-
ers27,37,41,45,106,144,145
Greater access to fresh food within the larger
community (e.g., via donations by garden-
ers)37,39,105,110,144,146
Cost savings on groceries and access to
foods otherwise unaordable in supermar-
kets25,27,89,107,147,148
In some cases, a significant proportion of
community/municipal fresh produce needs
could be met through urban and (especially)
peri-urban agriculture, particularly through the
use of intensive forms of production such as
hoophouse and rooftop farming63,102,116-119,124
UA projects may not be supplying food to
communities in which they are located52,167
Food may not be economically or physically
accessible to local residents52,167
Potential to supply produce demand depends
on interest/support among urban dwellers
to participate in food growing and, in some
cases, to adopt more restricted seasonal eating
patterns84
Modeled municipal food production scenarios
rarely account for practical constraints (e.g.,
current land uses and suitability for food
production, property values, infrastructure
limitations, zoning regulations, or public acces-
sibility)121
Fruit and vegetable consumption
Greater fruit and vegetable consumption by
gardening households108-112,148-150*
Increased preference for, consumption of,
or willingness to try fruits and vegetables by
youth participating in gardening programs151-162
Increased produce consumption by gardeners
does not represent a significant eect overall
on community food security or dietary quali-
ty113,114
Food may not be culturally appropriate or
desired by local residents52,167
General health and wellbeing
Source of physical activity22,27,45,89-91,150
Mental health/therapeutic benefits, including:
stress reduction, providing purposeful activ-
ity, cognitive stimulation, creating a sense
of pride and accomplishment, and provision
of a connection to nature, a retreat from the
urban environment and a way to spend time
outdoors27,45,66,74,91-96,146
Some ecosystem services provided by UA (e.g.,
air filtration and temperature moderation) have
downstream benefits to the health of urban
residents66,69
Health risks to growers, consumers, and
community from soil contaminants and
airborne pollutants if adequate preventative
measures to reduce exposures not taken6,74,98,99
Table 3: Summary of public health and food security implications
*Without longitudinal studies, it cannot be determined whether participation in urban agriculture increases fruit and vegeta-
ble intake or whether individuals who prefer these foods seek out gardening opportunities.
13
also be used to avoid contaminant exposure.4,102
Government support for conducting, interpreting,
and funding such eorts could help ensure that
the most vulnerable are not exposed to these risks
and associated poor health outcomes, which could
undermine other benefits achieved through urban
agriculture projects.
Community and municipal
food security
Urban agriculture has been promoted as a means
for fostering community and municipal food
security. Few, if any, urban agriculture projects,
however, are intended to replace traditional food
retail or would claim to lead to food self-sucien-
cy for individuals or for cities. The criticism that
cities cannot meet year-round food needs through
urban agriculture underappreciates the benefits of
this approach as one part of the mix of solutions to
reform the food system.103,104
Urban agriculture, most notably household and
community gardening, adds to the tapestry of
food sources available in communities across the
country that can improve household food securi-
ty.105 Gardening enables participants, their house-
holds, and occasionally neighbors and friends to
access to a diverse array of culturally appropriate
foods to supplement their diet, and save money for
other essential purchases.2 7,3 7,106 In one study of a
home-gardening support program for low-income,
working poor and long-term unemployed resi-
dents in San Jose, California, 88% of participants
reported saving over $240/year/household (with
25% reporting over $720 in savings).89 A study of
community gardens in San Jose, CA found garden-
ers saved $435 per plot over the season.107 An
Extension specialist from New York City quoted in
Saldivar-Tanaka & Kransy (p. 410) oered similar
figures: an average 10x20 foot garden plot could
produce $500-700 per season.25 Gardeners are
also more likely than non-gardeners to consume
the recommended servings of fruits and vege-
tables a day.108-112 However, experts contend that
this increased produce consumption does
not represent a significant eect overall on
community food security or dietary quali-
ty.113,114
Municipal governments may promote urban
agriculture as a solution to improving food
access in food deserts. While a macro-level
quantitative study of the potential in terms of
land availability shows that it would be feasi-
ble to grow the basic daily vegetable needs for
the urban poor in the United States,115 current
evidence from urban farms located within
lower-income communities shows that such
farms are not necessarily feeding the commu-
nities in which they are located.52,167 A number of
factors may account for such discrepancies, but
they center around some key critiques that have
been raised about urban agriculture (see sociocul-
tural section, p. 4). For farms and gardens aimed
at addressing food equity issues, eorts must
be made to make the food aordable, physically
accessible (location, transportation, hours), cultur-
14
ally appropriate, and desired by the community
members.
The ability of urban agriculture to improve food
security on the municipal level is even less demon-
strated than on the individual or household scale.
A few studies have modeled the potential for
food self-reliance in specific cities and found that,
in some cases, a significant proportion of fresh
produce needs could theoretically be met through
widespread implementation of urban agriculture,
particularly through the use of intensive forms of
production such as rooftop operations. One study
found if 80% of every vacant lot, 62% of industrial
and commercial rooftops, and 9% of every occu-
pied residential lot in Cleveland, Ohio – a city which
has a large amount of vacant land – is used for food
production, between 46-100% of Cleveland’s fresh
produce needs, 94% of poultry and shell eggs, and
100% of honey could be met (between 4.2-17.7%
of total food and beverage consumption by weight
and 1.8%-7.3% by expenditure).116 In Detroit,
another city with low population density, assuming
appropriate postharvest management and storage
methods are used, less than half of non-recre-
ational, publicly owned vacant land (~1,800 acres)
could provide 65% of fresh vegetables and 39%
of fresh non-tropical fruit currently consumed by
Detroit residents at low productivity levels, or the
same percentages of recommended consumption
levels at high productivity levels.117 Even greater
proportions of food could be produced with signif-
icant investments in season-extension techniques
(e.g. hoophouses).117 Another analysis found that
if all suitable vacant land in New York City were
dedicated entirely to food production, the produce
needs of between 103,000 and 160,000 people
(out of the city’s 8.4 million residents) could be
met, although this potential could be significantly
increased by including rooftop and greenhouse
farming.118 Cities may be more likely to meet the
needs for certain food items, as demonstrated by
one study which found that Burlington, Vermont,
could meet 108% of its daily recommended fruit
intake (albeit in limited varieties compared to the
diversity oered by the global market) through an
ambitious urban food forestry planting scheme.119
One multi-country comparative analysis found
that less than 10% of urban land in the U.S.
would be required to produce the recommended
consumption of vegetables by urban dwellers,120
though its macro-level scale required a number of
simplifications that could not account for practical
constraints such as current land uses and suitabil-
ity for food production (e.g., sunlight exposure,
water access), property values and competing land
uses, infrastructure limitations, zoning regulations,
public accessibility, etc.121 Nevertheless, these are
all modeled scenarios with significant barriers for
implementation, and would depend on significant
interest/support among urban dwellers to partici-
pate in food growing and, in some cases, to adopt
more restricted seasonal eating patterns.84
Some eorts have proposed increasing the produc-
tion capacity of urban agriculture through creative
means such as vertical farming.83,122,123 There is little
evidence, however, indicating that these eorts
would substantially increase its contribution to
food security, especially for lower-income resi-
dents constrained by the higher prices typically
associated with such operations.4 More promising
evidence comes from studies of peri-urban agri-
culture, which produces substantial amounts of
food on a relatively small amount of land.102,124 In
Australia, peri-urban agriculture produces 25%
of the country’s total gross value of agricultural
production on less than 3% of agricultural land,
and some metropolitan regions meet over 90%
of certain fruit and vegetable needs.63 The afore-
mentioned report on New York found that if all the
peri-urban agricultural land in the metropolitan
region surrounding the city were dedicated to food
production, it could support between 58-89% of
15
the region’s fruit and vegetable needs (excluding
warm-weather fruits).59
Ultimately, food security is not a primary goal for
most participants and supporters of communi-
ty gardens and urban farms125,167 and should not
be promoted as such. While it can supplement
household, community and municipal food secu-
rity, urban agriculture has more to oer, and be
judged on, than its potential outputs in terms
of food production.
Economic development
Urban agriculture has been embraced by many
cities as a means through which to repurpose
vacant lots; increase property values and, conse-
quently, capital investment and redevelopment in
distressed areas; and add jobs to the local econo-
my. This framing permeates the literature of munic-
ipal planning documents and policies in support of
such eorts, however economic outcomes are the
“least documented aspect of urban agriculture.12
Potential economic
development opportunities
As described in the sociocultural section, commu-
nity gardens are associated with improved
neighborhood aesthetics, reduced crime, and
community cohesion. Such factors contribute to
the finding that community gardens, particularly
in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods,
are linked to higher home property values and tax
revenues in their 1,000-foot radius.126 In a review of
published research on community gardens, Guitart
et al. found that all 13 of the studies which exam-
ined property values (15% of the total studies in
the literature review) reported increased property
values associated with the presence of the commu-
nity garden.3 A report (not peer-reviewed) of 54
community gardens in St. Louis, Missouri, found
that their presence was associated with increased
home values, rents, owner occupancy (a proxy
for homeownership), and socioeconomic diversity
amongst renters in the areas within a radius of 0.3
miles surrounding community gardens.127 These
improved indicators were relative to the larger
Census Tracts in which they were located and to
the city as a whole during a ten-year period.127
Commercial urban agriculture projects have been
particularly encouraged in economic development
goals, especially given their potential to attract
capital to and provide jobs in economically disad-
vantaged neighborhoods. A 15-year-old report by
Kaufman & Bailey assessed the feasibility, potential
benefits of, and barriers related to for-profit urban
agriculture in the United States.128 They found (at
the time of publication) 71 entrepreneurial urban
agriculture sites in U.S. cities, mostly located in
lower-income, inner-city neighborhoods. While
they found a small number of projects had begun
making profits, most were still in their infancy
and not yet demonstrating significant economic
returns. More recent market research focusing
specifically on the vertical farming sector of urban
agriculture models that the global vertical farm-
ing market will be worth 3.88 billion by 2020 (up
from 1.01 billion in 2015), with the fastest grow-
ing segment of this sector from hydroponics.129
It should be noted that the methods behind this
research are behind a paywall so they cannot be
verified independently.129
Limitations of economic
development framework
Some important questions have been raised about
the economic development narrative surrounding
urban agriculture. For one, concerns abound over
the potential for gentrification and displacement of
residents (usually lower-income, people of color)
as property values in neighborhoods rise following
16
the improvement of vacant lots. As Hoover (p.112)
asks, “Is urban agriculture just another form of
urban renewal, displacing underprivileged commu-
nities in the process, or is it an inclusive practice that
works with marginalized people in the remediation
of ‘their’ land?”49 In practice, this question is not
necessarily a binary one, as outcomes from dier-
ent urban agriculture initiatives fall along a contin-
uum. In order for the revitalization associated with
urban agriculture eorts to support the wellbeing
of its immediate neighbors – and to avoid repro-
ducing injustices they already experience – urban
agriculture and related economic redevelopment
projects must be designed with the priorities of the
most vulnerable residents in mind, and, if possible,
their presence at the decision-making table.13 0 See
page 7-8 for a discussion of inclusive community
engagement strategies.
The community garden literature in particular has
noted the vulnerability of gardens to redevelop-
ment. As cities provide temporary leases of vacant
lots to community groups, or incentivize private
landowners with lower tax rates if they allow
their land to be used for urban agriculture, issues
surrounding long-term land tenure arise.25,27,130,131
Some operations on city-owned land have been
granted land under the agreement that no perma-
nent changes to the site may be made, thereby
restricting the long-term scalability, eciency, and
sustainability of urban agriculture.121 Lawson131
and Schmelzkopf54,132 document specific cases –
reflective of a broader trend experienced by many
Reported Benefits Reported Limitations
Employment opportunities
Employment and workforce training opportu-
nities, particularly for low-income and socially
excluded populations5,15,40,41,167
UA not likely to provide significant number of
livable wage jobs5,7, 17
UA projects oering opportunities to the
“least employable” require additional expertise
beyond technical farming skills, which may
require more sta time and higher labor costs42
Increased property values
Increased property values surrounding
community gardens, particularly in economi-
cally disadvantaged neighborhoods3,126,127
Possibility of displacing/marginalizing low-in-
come residents49,130
Redevelopment
Entrepreneurial UA may attract capital and
create profitable business opportunities,
particularly in distressed areas128,129
Lack of long-term land tenure makes UA
projects vulnerable to redevelopment or
competition with other uses of the land/build-
ing3,4,25,27,54,121,130-132
For commercial operations, long-term econom-
ic viability or profitability unproven, especially
for technological UA concepts6,17,63,65,134
UA requires financial and political support;
most projects cannot survive on profits from
produce, especially when incorporating other
social missions17,42,167
Table 4: Summary of economic development outcomes
17
gardens across the country3 – in which gardens
have been cleared once the property of the land
they occupy assumes economic value attractive
to real estate developers. These actions literally
uprooted years of invested labor, material, and
social networks embedded in urban green spaces.
Such studies underscore the necessity for cities to
recognize the public goods that urban agriculture
projects provide, and encourage them by granting
long-term leases, incorporating them into public
park infrastructure, or supporting the use of land
trusts to secure garden locations.
Land-use competition aects more than just
community gardens. Rooftop, vertical, and other
forms of indoor farming do not compete with land
constraints associated with land-based urban agri-
culture projects, but they may face competition
from other forms of building use, such as rooftop
solar energy systems.4 While peri-urban agricul-
ture is generally operated by professionals and is
more economically-motivated than urban agricul-
ture, development pressures from urban sprawl
increase land prices in surrounding areas and thus
significantly threaten the long-term economic
viability of such operations, too.102,133
Urban agriculture projects themselves face a
number of barriers that challenge their economic
viability, especially for commercial eorts aiming
to make a profit.65 In their literature review on
“Zero-acreage farming,” Specht et al. note that
the high capital costs required to retrofit existing
buildings or build new facilities for high-yielding,
space-ecient forms of urban agriculture such
as large-scale rooftop greenhouses prevent many
such operations from moving past design or pilot
stages.6 The challenge of quantifying social and
environmental benefits such as resource recycling
further complicates their economic case. In a case
study of a rooftop greenhouse system in Barcelo-
na, Spain, the structure itself was 2.8 times more
expensive than conventional multi-tunnel green-
houses, and the operation faced uncertain crop
yields, threatening its economic competitiveness
and environmental benefits.134 Similarly, Mok et al.
discuss the large gap of research on the long-term
economic feasibility of more technological urban
agriculture concepts, such as vertical farming.63
Farm labor is one of the most exploitative, lowest
paying industries in the U.S. today.135-137 As urban
agriculture commentator Angotti points out (p.
339), “Who is to say that urban farms, whether
public or private, won’t follow the same pattern?...
Who will do the work, how much will they be paid,
and will they be paid at all?”138 In an evaluation of
urban farms and gardens in six U.S. cities, Vitiello &
Wolf-Powers point out the reality that urban agri-
culture will not likely provide a significant amount
of livable wage jobs.5 They argue that to expect
anything otherwise would ignore the nature of the
food system and its reliance on low-wage labor,
government subsidies, and economies of scale.
Most urban agriculture projects are sustained
through public funds, grants, donations, and volun-
teer labor, not food sales (which account for 2-30%
of the operational costs for three urban agriculture
operations – including the U.S.’s most prominent
urban farm, Growing Power in Milwaukee42). While
many for-profit farms include social goals such
as improving food security in their missions,17 the
few profitable operations tend to be those selling
to high-end restaurants and consumers, not to
lower-income residents.5
Corroborating these findings, a 2012 survey of 370
urban farmers in the U.S. found average sales from
urban farms were about $54,000 a year (though
this average was skewed by a small percentage of
high-earning hydroponic operations; the median
level of sales were $5,000).17 Respondents iden-
tified profitability and financing as the top chal-
lenges they face.139 One-third of urban farmers
18
reported earning a living from the farm, though the
survey did not delve further into what kind of life-
style these jobs were able to support.17 Non-profit
farms were more likely to provide a salary for the
primary farmer than for-profit ones, likely because
of additional revenues from donations, grants, and
educational fees, as well as the support of volun-
teer labor.17
A survey of aquaponics facilities across the world
(81 percent were based in the U.S.) found similar
prospects: on average, these operations
supported only two full-time jobs and
one part-time job, while depending on
another six unpaid workers.7 In addition,
fewer than one-third of the 257 respon-
dents had profited in the previous year.
While many of them were new business-
es who anticipated becoming profit-
able in the near future, those outcomes
must be measured before any economic
successes can be stated.
Daftary-Steel et al. argue that urban
agriculture operations aiming to provide
produce at aordable prices, and oer
livable wage jobs and workforce training
opportunities for marginalized people, will never be
profitable from produce sales alone, and advocates,
funders, and policymakers should not promote
such expectations.42 Many urban agriculture proj-
ects select crops and make other organizational
decisions based on their social goals, rather than
factors such as production eciency or profitabil-
ity.121 Urban agriculture projects providing these
valuable and multidimensional social services will
need substantial long-term external financial and
political support to survive.42 Dimitri et al. concur,
and suggest that the grant-supported non-profit
model may be the most viable option for ensuring
the longevity of socially-driven urban farms.17 In
addition, many urban growers would benefit from
more accessible and relevant technical assistance
and research to support their operations.121
This discussion does not aim to discredit the role
that urban agriculture projects play in provid-
ing workforce training and supplemental income
generation, as well as the host of other benefits
described in the previous sections. However, it indi-
cates that the rhetoric and expectations of urban
agriculture eorts should revolve more around the
social, health and environmental values they hold,
with supplementary incomes and food provisions
as additional benefits, rather than the other way
around.
19
Research gaps
This literature review has revealed a number of research gaps that could be further explored.
These include:
Social
A review of the various models of urban
agriculture projects and their eective-
ness in meeting the needs of the commu-
nity, working with the community, and
fostering leadership within the community
More research on the development and
use of indicators to evaluate community
impacts (see Beilin & Hunter140 and Cohen
et al.141 as examples)
Research on how urban and peri-urban
agriculture influence seasonal eating
practices, food waste rates, support for
rural farmers (through increased appre-
ciation of full value of food), and other
consumption patterns and how these
patterns dier across populations (e.g.,
participants, community members)
Further research into how participants
in urban agriculture projects apply newly
gained social and political skills to other
issues that aect their communities
Environmental
Case studies of environmental practices
(e.g., soil management and amendment,
irrigation, and fertilizer use practices
by food growers), crop yields, supply
chain losses, lifecycle impacts of foods
produced, and other outcomes associat-
ed with urban agriculture projects
Comparisons of the above outcomes
across types of operations (e.g., rooftop,
vertical farming, community gardens),
levels of urbanization (e.g., urban, peri-ur-
ban), regions, and climates
Comparisons of the above outcomes to
conventional rural agriculture
City-level quantitative analyses of the
potential carbon sequestration, air quali-
ty improvement, and stormwater run-o
mitigation benefits specific to the land
use and plant species associated with
urban agriculture projects (most research
to date concentrates on urban forests66)
More research on the long-term environ-
mental sustainability and economic feasi-
bility of technology-based urban agri-
culture concepts, such as artificially-lit
vertical farming
Research on how agricultural easements
and preservation programs can be tailored
for peri-urban and urban settings
20
Public health and food security
More research on potential exposures to
soil contaminants (e.g., in garden soils,
in crop tissues, and on the surfaces of
produce), and the eectiveness and feasi-
bility of various soil remediation tech-
niques
A multi-site study comparing potential
exposures to airborne pollutants (e.g.,
via inhalation and deposition of contam-
inants on soil and produce surfaces)
across ground-based, rooftop, and indoor
operations
Additional research on the potential health
hazards associated with urban livestock
production on participants, consumers,
and neighboring residents (e.g., odors
and air-borne pollutants, concentration
of toxicants in eggs and meat)
Research on if/how the availability of
vacant land influences urban agriculture’s
food output and contributions to food
security
More research on if/how climate and the
length of growing seasons influence urban
agriculture’s food output and contribu-
tions to food security
Further studies assessing the feasibility of
urban and peri-urban agriculture to meet
the produce demands of dierent metro-
politan regions, with special emphasis
on modeling realistic estimates based on
costs of implementation, available infra-
structure, market demand, etc.
Economic
Research to identify more holistic
measures of economic outputs and
outcomes of urban agriculture projects,
dierentiating between profit-driven
initiatives and those with other social and
environmental aims
A long-term study assessing the employ-
ment status and job readiness of people
who received workforce training in urban
agriculture projects, examining the market
for newly acquired skills and whether such
experiences lead to other opportunities in
communities where underemployment
and unemployment may be the norm
Further longitudinal studies on the eect
of urban agriculture initiatives on neigh-
borhood indicators (e.g., rents, property
values, owner occupancy rates), and the
downstream eects on residents (e.g.,
displacement as a result of higher rent)
A review of how loans, grants, and other
forms of financial and administrative
support from government, foundations,
investors, and other external entities
impact the economic feasibility of urban
agriculture initiatives across the U.S.
Research on the profitability of commer-
cial urban agriculture projects across the
U.S.
More research into the topics discussed above could enhance the collective understand-
ing of the potential benefits and limitations from encouraging urban agriculture initiatives.
Case studies of how food policy councils, public institutions, and local governments use
such information to support urban agriculture eorts (e.g., through preferential procure-
ment programs, changing zoning ordinances) as well as evaluations of their impacts (e.g., in
increasing/sustaining projects long-term) could further complement this analysis.
21
Recommendations for framing the
merits of urban agriculture
Urban agriculture should be evaluated for the multifaceted nature of its outcomes – social,
health, environmental, and economic – and not merely for its potential outputs in terms
of food production or economic development measures. The list below oers a number of
evidence-based talking points for advocates seeking to advance urban agriculture policy
and programs:
1) Urban agriculture’s most significant benefits center around its ability to increase social
capital, community well-being, and civic engagement with the food system.
2) The most successful urban agriculture eorts require sensitivity to the historical and
current racial, socioeconomic, geographical, and cultural dynamics in highly diverse
urban areas.
3) Urban agriculture oers a number of ecosystem services to urban areas, some of which
also oer downstream benefits to the health of urban residents.
4) Urban food growing can support participants’ physical and psychosocial health, though
special precautions should be taken to minimize health risks associated with contami-
nated soils.
5) Urban agriculture supplements household, community and municipal food security with
seasonal and culturally-appropriate foods, and if knowledge sharing and long-term land
tenure are adequately supported, may oer resilience in the face of temporary future
food shortages.
6) The presence of community gardens has been associated with increased property
values, though special attention should be paid to ensure that community residents are
given a voice in decision-making around urban agriculture and economic development
issues pertaining to their neighborhoods.
7) While large-scale job creation potential has not been demonstrated, urban agriculture
projects oer valuable opportunities for skills development, workforce training, and
supplemental income generation. These may be particularly helpful for neighborhood
youth, immigrants, the dierently abled, and the formerly-incarcerated, though exter-
nal financial support will likely be necessary to support the extra time and expertise
needed to operate such initiatives.
8) Many of the demonstrated benefits of urban agriculture eorts will only be achieved
with adequate local, state, and federal governments’ long-term commitment of support.
22
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... A recognition that urban farms and gardens produce many co-benefits, some by design and some as unintended consequences, has encouraged researchers to measure and analyze these impacts. For example, reports from John Hopkins University [75], University of California [76], and Toronto Urban Growers [77] provide evidence of such co-benefits and suggest indicators to measure socio-cultural, health, economic, and environmental outcomes of urban agriculture. Scholarship has also emerged to critically assess the social justice outcomes of urban agriculture [75][76][77], examining the racial, ethnic, and class disparities that exist within urban agriculture organizations and farm and garden projects, examining who controls and benefits from food-growing activities, and scrutinizing instances in which urban agriculture risks perpetuating social divisions [78], with communities with a higher socio-economic status being able to access funding and land more easily than less-advantaged communities [29]. ...
... For example, reports from John Hopkins University [75], University of California [76], and Toronto Urban Growers [77] provide evidence of such co-benefits and suggest indicators to measure socio-cultural, health, economic, and environmental outcomes of urban agriculture. Scholarship has also emerged to critically assess the social justice outcomes of urban agriculture [75][76][77], examining the racial, ethnic, and class disparities that exist within urban agriculture organizations and farm and garden projects, examining who controls and benefits from food-growing activities, and scrutinizing instances in which urban agriculture risks perpetuating social divisions [78], with communities with a higher socio-economic status being able to access funding and land more easily than less-advantaged communities [29]. ...
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Despite extensive literature on the socio-cultural services of urban open spaces, the role of food-producing spaces has not received sufficient attention. This hampers advocacy for preserving and growing urban agricultural activities, often dismissed on justifications that their contributions to overall food supply are negligible. To understand how the social benefits of urban agriculture have been measured, we conducted a systematic review of 272 peer-reviewed publications, which drew on insights from urban agriculture sites in 57 different countries. Through content analysis, we investigated socio-cultural benefits in four spheres: engaged and cohesive communities, health and well-being, economic opportunities, and education. The analysis revealed growth in research on the social impacts of gardens and farms, with most studies measuring the effects on community cohesion and engagement, followed by increased availability and consumption of fruits and vegetables associated with reduced food insecurity and better health. Fewer studies assessed the impact of urban farming on educational and economic outcomes. Quantifying the multiple ways in which urban agriculture provides benefits to people will empower planners and the private sector to justify future investments. These findings are also informative for research theorizing cities as socio-ecological systems and broader efforts to measure the benefits of urban agriculture, in its many forms.
... A recognition that urban farms and gardens produce many co-benefits, some by design and some as unintended consequences, has encouraged researchers to measure and analyze these impacts. For example, reports from John Hopkins University [75], University of California [76], and Toronto Urban Growers [77] provide evidence of such co-benefits and suggest indicators to measure socio-cultural, health, economic, and environmental outcomes of urban agriculture. Scholarship has also emerged to critically assess the social justice outcomes of urban agriculture [75][76][77], examining the racial, ethnic, and class disparities that exist within urban agriculture organizations and farm and garden projects, examining who controls and benefits from food-growing activities, and scrutinizing instances in which urban agriculture risks perpetuating social divisions [78], with communities with a higher socio-economic status being able to access funding and land more easily than less-advantaged communities [29]. ...
... For example, reports from John Hopkins University [75], University of California [76], and Toronto Urban Growers [77] provide evidence of such co-benefits and suggest indicators to measure socio-cultural, health, economic, and environmental outcomes of urban agriculture. Scholarship has also emerged to critically assess the social justice outcomes of urban agriculture [75][76][77], examining the racial, ethnic, and class disparities that exist within urban agriculture organizations and farm and garden projects, examining who controls and benefits from food-growing activities, and scrutinizing instances in which urban agriculture risks perpetuating social divisions [78], with communities with a higher socio-economic status being able to access funding and land more easily than less-advantaged communities [29]. ...
... UA remains a relatively small, yet important percentage of the larger food distribution systems in cities: "few, if any, urban agriculture projects, are intended to replace traditional food retail or would claim to lead to food self-sufficiency for individuals or for cities" (Santo et al, 2016). ...
... Own food production has been found to be important for improving households' UA remains a relatively small, yet important percentage of the larger food distribution system in cities: "few, if any, urban agriculture projects, are intended to replace traditional food retail or would claim to lead to food self-sufficiency for individuals or for cities" (Santo et al, 2016). ...
... Terrace gardening is gaining importance because of increasing concern of city dwellers for safe and nutritious foods, besides it has potential environmental and ecological benefits (Santo et al. 2016). Beside supplying fresh and safe foods, it helps reduce energy consumption of buildings by acting as insulation, thus extending life-time of roofs and reducing storm water runoff (Khapte et al. 2019). ...
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Terrace gardening or rooftop gardening is becoming popular in urban and peri-urban areas of metro cities worldwide including in India. Among various crops suitable for growing in terrace garden, strawberry is a popular one as being an important annual herbaceous plant with delicious fruits which can be easily grown in pots or containers including grow bags filled with different potting substrates. In the present study, different combinations of soil, organic manure (vermi-compost and FYM) and cocopeat were tested for growth, yield and physico-chemical characteristics of two strawberry cultivars (Winter Dawn and Sweet Charlie). Winter dawn was found better than Sweet Charlie for measured growth and yield parameters, and potting substrates had similar effect on both the cultivars as no interaction effect was noticed. Combination of Soil + vermi-compost + cocopeat or soil + FYM + cocopeat in equal proportion (1:1:1) was found most appropriate potting substrate for strawberry cultivation, hence suggested as a suitable growing medium for the production of strawberries in terrace or rooftop gardening in peri-urban areas of Delhi/National Capital Territory. Further investigation is needed to standardize cost-effective management agro-techniques of strawberry cultivation in terrace gardens involving some other cultivars, nutrient management, environment protective structures and so on.
... Assim sendo, a AUP, para a construção de uma cidade mais sustentável, deve passar pela sua consideração numa perspectiva ampla e integrada, reconhecendo o seu valor ambiental, econômico, social e de saúde e bem--estar e implicando muito a sua integração no processo de planeamento urbano e ordenamento do território (Loudiyi et al., 2017;Mok et al., 2014;Paül e Mckenzie, 2013;Santo et al., 2016). Ora, dada a sua diversidade, é por muitos autores considerada de difícil medida (Mok et al., 2014). ...
... As critics claim, it is likely that growing leeks in the city per se is not going to subvert the industrial agri-food system and end world hunger, but what is certain is that the creation of common urban spaces, with shared objectives, and based on agroecological principles necessarily contributes to the generation of social capital (Santo et al., 2016). Properly managed projects serve to promote diversity (both cultural and biological), create community bonds, offer educational opportunities to young and/or marginalized people, and encourage the individual to express their creativity and become a participatory citizen, ready to claim their right to public space. ...
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As urban and peri-urban agriculture's popularity arises, one could predict a near future in which cities transform into hyper-local food production landscapes. The question of whether allotments , community gardens and urban farms can actually feed cities and significantly contribute to food sovereignty, especially in times of food insecurity, is still under debate. What has been shown in previous studies is that nutritional provisioning is only one of the multiple ecosystem services offered by urban agriculture. Vegetable patches are not all about food. In fact, the garden's greatest appeal for urban dwellers might rather lie in multidimensional benefits that are harder to quantify. These include a desire for contact with nature, for belonging and connection, for cross-generational bonding, for a sense of purpose and creative expression, for work that yields tangible results-all through growing food. Is gardening an effective way to meet human desires and necessities otherwise neglected in our hectic daily lives? The aim of this paper is to reflect on some of the socio-cultural implications of urban gardening referring to literature and selected research on different approaches towards the practice.
... informed in part by the emerging research on the potential benefits of community-based urban agriculture, including improved food access, urban environment, and community health (Al-Delaimy & Webb, 2017;Santo et al., 2017). ...
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A questionnaire based on the Life Satisfaction Inventory A (LSIA) was used to investigate older adult (age 50+ years) gardeners' and nongardeners' perceptions of personal life satisfaction and levels of physical activity. The LSIA measures five components of quality of life: "zest for life," "resolution and fortitude," "congruence between desired and achieved goals," "physical, psychological, and social self-concept," and "optimism." Additional multiplechoice questions were asked to determine respondents' level of physical activity, perceptions of overall health and well-being as well as to gather demographic information. The survey was posted on a university homepage for ≈1 month. Responses were gathered from 298 participants who differentiated themselves as gardeners or nongardeners by responding positively or negatively to the question "do you garden?" Results indicated statistically significant differences in comparisons of overall life satisfaction scores with gardeners receiving higher mean scores indicating more positive results on the LSIA. Four individual quality-of-life statements included in the LSIA yielded statistically significantly more positive answers by gardeners when compared with nongardeners. Other questions regarding healthful practices revealed that personal reports of physical activity and perceptions of personal health were statistically significantly more positive among gardeners when compared with nongardeners.
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In recent years urban agriculture has gained the attention of policy-makers, social organizers, and academics alike. This new wave of work and attention focuses on projects that ameliorate issues ranging from food insecurity to urban blight, and environmental degradation to the subversion of industrial food production. These projects consist of a variation of community gardens, educational programs, demonstration farms, and entrepreneurial production farms (I will identify all of these under the umbrella of urban agriculture (UA)). However, by simply studying the social impact of UA, researchers fail to consider who the active agent is in social change; this results in little acknowledgement of a movement that is predominately white, hegemonic, and exclusive. As a movement, UA is largely championed by a middle-class white populace as part of the alternative food movement, rather than being understood as having historical roots in predominately black and/or Latino neighborhoods. As a result, urban agriculture generally creates white spaces in otherwise black or Latino places. In this paper I will argue for a new research direction that considers UA from a critical race theory framework and that will allow researchers to examine how urban agriculture might create white "spaces" and white "ethics" in predominately black and Latino neighborhoods. Understanding UA from a critical race theory framework will be useful in helping the UA movement talk about food sovereignty rather than food insecurity in urban communities.