A political democracy is worthless without an economic democracy. What we have in America, with its 1-10 percent minority in control of 95 percent of the wealth, is closer to an economic monarchy. The fundamental necessities of food, clothing and shelter are largely controlled by business and government interests that are far removed from the people who depend upon them. A community that can’t feed itself is vulnerable to the whims of others.
America’s large consumer economy was built at the expense of personal and community autonomy. Few of us can truly decide what we want for dinner, based on what nature offers and the work that we are willing to do to get it. Millions of Americans are learning that the convenience of letting someone else feed us has resulted in widespread side effects: dangerous chemicals in our food, poor nutrition, chronic diseases and damage to the environment.
Urban agriculture can change the food landscape and put the power to choose back in the hands of the people. The solution is in the soil close to where people live. For most of human history, food was produced within walking distance of where it was consumed, allowing people to maintain a direct connection with the land and their food. America was 95 percent rural in 1900. Today, 81 percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas.
“Urban agriculture can change the food landscape and put the power to choose back in the hands of the people.”
Not only is most of our food grown from genetically modified and hybrid seeds and sprayed with toxic chemicals, but it is also shipped to us from an average of 1,500-2,000 miles away. The longer food stays out of the ground, the more it loses nutrients that are vital to our health. We have no idea who grew this food, so we have no idea what was done to it. Urban agriculture gives urban dwellers the chance to know our farmers and know what we’re bringing to the table.
A frightening number of people believe that food originates in grocery stores. Many of them have never seen a family farm or even a garden and have no idea what food looks like growing out of the ground. Even in our grocery store culture, many Americans live miles from the nearest market, with no vehicle to get there in a reasonable amount of time and bring enough food home to make it worth the trip via public transportation.
At the same time, the “food” that is within walking distance in poor communities is on the lowest end of the health spectrum: greasy, high-calorie fast food, gas station snacks and highly processed, packaged food in dollar stores. Nothing fresh for miles around. More than 5 million American households live in areas that have little or no access to healthy fruits and vegetables. In these areas, diet-related disease rates are soaring.
Natural urban farms can significantly reduce these gaps in access by creating a healthy local food system. These urban oases lead the way to the health of body, mind and spirit by rearranging our lifestyles and relationships. They help us reduce the number of fossil fuels used in trips to large chain stores in favor of walking to a farm or garden in our neighborhoods. Urban farms become gathering spaces where we can spend time with neighbors while we get fresh, nutritious food harvested by growers that we know personally.
These oases improve the quality of city life by eliminating empty lots and blighted properties that are havens for crime. In their place, we find safe, beautiful spaces where we can eat, work and play close to home. Above all, urban agriculture empowers the community with food self-sufficiency, maintains stewardship over the environment and builds a sense of community.
City farmers and gardeners across the country are helping to connect the dots of healthier living. They are bringing together the best of what we have learned from rural and urban living using the sciences of ecology, technology, sociology and economics. Urban farmers are breaking ground on the city of the future.
“More than 5 million American households live in areas that have little or no access to healthy fruits and vegetables.”
Urban agriculture topples the myth that food production has to occur in wide-open spaces on large tracts of land. On my farm in Atlanta, we produce over 35,000 pounds of food annually on just 4 acres of land. This is happening across the country. Yet, we have barely scratched the surface. Millions of more acres are lying dormant, waiting to be cultivated and create vibrant communities that feed themselves, grow jobs and enhance neighborhoods.
A new generation of small farmers is emerging, with technical and entrepreneurial skills to fill a demand for local, healthy produce. By digging their hands in the soil, these young people learn to grow food, then return to their communities and start their own agri-businesses.
Through summer camps and farm-to-school programs, children learn the value of knowing where their food comes from, what it looks like in a natural, unprocessed state and what it takes to get it to their tables. They leave armed with knowledge to make better food choices, to reduce childhood obesity and other illness and become better stewards of the earth.
Urban agriculture transforms both people and places. It is a powerful catalyst for urban renewal and the revitalization of our communities. Farmers markets are sprouting up all over the place. Growing food can grow remarkable cities. The city of the future is now, and it’s being shaped by urban agriculture.
Find an urban farmer and farmer’s market near you ― one that you can trust with what’s for dinner.