Please join us here at RealEstate.com in the coming months for a series of urban agriculture articles. If you’re not sure what urban agriculture is, just think of it as growing your own food in your backyard. We won’t tell anyone if you read our urban agriculture articles and you live in the country.
We will be writing about growing your own foods, growing fruit trees, pruning grape vines, and a whole host of other articles on food production and how you can grow your own fruit and vegetables in your backyard garden.
Urban Agriculture is Important for Reducing Food Miles
With a need to reduce the number of miles our food travels to get to our dinner plates, the need for urban agriculture is becoming more and more important. You may or may not have heard of food miles. The term food miles refers to the number of miles your food travels before it lands on your plate, and most foods these days have logged more travel miles than the average frequent flier.
There was a time when you could tell what month it was by what foods were in season at the grocery store. There was kale in the winter; cool crisp radishes and sweet peas in late spring and early summer; and fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, watermelon, and sweet corn in the heat of summer.
These days, shoppers can typically buy these foods all year round. The advantages of a global food market are greater convenience and the ability to make whatever recipe you want whenever you want. You can buy asparagus in the grocery store in December, for example, because it’s being imported from Chile. That’s good, right?
Well, hold on a second.
With this convenience, we also create two important disadvantages. First, increased food miles create a greater dependence on fossil fuels. All of those food miles add up, and according to the Worldwatch Institute, the average food travels somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 miles before it reaches your table. Second, in order to make produce durable enough to hold up to long-distance travel, we have given up taste and freshness in exchange for thicker skins, uniformity, and increased herbicide and pesticide use. That’s bad.
Urban Agriculture is Important for Combating Food Deserts
The term “food desert” refers to an area where access to fresh, healthy food is limited or nonexistent. Most food deserts are found in rural areas and low socioeconomic areas of cities where access to good grocery stores is limited. The irony of the food deserts we have in the United States is that many of them exist in areas that we would normally think of as farmland. This USDA food desert locator provides census data on the food deserts that exist in the United States. You may or may not be surprised to find your county on the map as a food desert.
Food deserts are associated with numerous health issues related to poor dietary habits, so urban agriculture, or in rural areas, backyard gardens and small-scale agriculture, become important for combating those food deserts and the problems created by them.
Cities Respond With Urban Agriculture Ordinances
Policy makers at every level of government have recognized the importance of allowing urban residents to grow their own food, and many city governments have responded by creating or modifying their laws concerning urban agriculture. For example, in 2010, Seattle revised their urban agriculture and community garden laws. One of the many changes involved allowing city residents to have up to eight hens on a city lot. Roosters are still too noisy if you want to keep good relations with your neighbors, but you don’t need a rooster to get fresh eggs.
In New Orleans, urban agriculture has been important to the recovery after Hurricane Katrina. Chicago has announced new urban agriculture ordinances. Kansas City, Madison, WI, New York City and many other cities have drafted urban agriculture ordinances allowing city residents to decrease some of their food miles to zero. That’s good.
Questions About Urban Agriculture?
If this topic is new to you, come back for more urban agriculture articles in the coming months. We’ll try to cover everything you need to know about growing your own food in urban lots and small spaces.
Do you have questions? Comments? Does your city have an urban agriculture ordinance? Do you need help understanding the ovulation of a chicken? (That’s a trick question.) Fire away. We want to make these upcoming urban agriculture articles as useful for you as possible.