Friday, 31 March 2006

Urban Agriculture - Jac Smit

Urban Agriculture: Improving the Environment for Living and Contributing to a Sustainable Ecosphere
© By Jac Smit, February 2006

Global warming has reached the 'Tipping Point'. Kyoto and similar 'one big solution' strategies are as obsolete as the dinosaurs. Today we need one billion small steps where we live and breath.

Archeology tells us that farming inside the city wall and at its perimeter existed 4,000 years ago on the Indus, Tigris and Euphrates and within another thousand years on the Jordan River [consider a. Agriculture, b. City, c. Agriculture-in-the-city]. We know that this intensive form of agriculture moved from the Middle East to European walled cities after the so-called Dark Ages and the Black Plague.

The 19th Century industrial revolution introduced: germ theory, the steam engine, railroads, chemical fertilizers and cities without walls. Farming the City became less essential and began a long decline. We learned that garbage and wastewater caused disease. Chemical fertilizers reduced the need and utility of urban waste for soil maintenance and enrichment. Railroads replaced rivers, dirt roads and canals and enabled farmers in relatively remote places to serve city markets.

The 20th Century, perhaps the second half more than the first, brought the world "Agribusiness" and/or the Agrifood industry. The vertical integration from farm to market of Agribusiness, more integrated than any other industry, brought the industrialized countries of Europe and North America cheap reliable food year-round. It also established methods of production, processing and distribution that kicked-off the demise of a sustainable ecosphere.

We first became aware of this death knell with the publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in 1976. Now-a-days we receive monthly, if not weekly, new data to affirm her prediction. What we hear/read much less about is the turn-around of the AgriFood industry.

The second half of the 20th century brought the end of the City as it had existed for 4,000 years. Urban human settlements now consist of: a. central city, b. suburbs and c. exurbs. The geographers' description is: a. Megapolis [multicentered with millions of us] b. Metropolis [usually one center and hundreds of thousands or a few million] and c. Micropolis [one central place and tens of thousands]. The last is substantially related to limited access highways. Urban geographic areas covered somewhat less than 3 percent of the earth and agricultural areas somewhat over 30 percent in year 2000.

The 21st Century City is fast becoming a polka dot pattern of settlements rather than an octopus with a dense center and several rambling arms:

The 21st Century welcomes the return of urban agriculture [UA] and its beginning of improving the environment for living in Mega, Metro and Micro, and slowing the deterioration of earth's ecosphere. A big assertion; And there is a lot of evidence, more than can be presented in a short article, but we can sketch the basics.

Its not only environmentalists, consider a 2004 study by NASA [not an agriculture, food or environmental corporation]. NASA found that in the lower 48 American states that the three percent of the geographic area that was urbanized [night lights] had the agricultural capacity of the 39 percent that was being farmed. Theirs was a complicated equation that included: soil, water, temperature, carbon and nitrogen cycles and more.

Studies by many other government, private and institutions have determined that the intensive production methods typical of UA produce 10 to 15 times as much food per square meter or acre as typical rural agriculture. 'Tis consistent with the NASA finding. Studies in Russia following Perestroika found that the small Dacha Gardens produced ten times as much per acre as the State farms with one-tenth the capital investment.

The 21st century human settlement pattern delivers the end of the short-lived [150 years] separation of the city and agriculture and its negative impact on the environment for living and the ecosphere.

Urban development in American metropolitan areas from 1990 to 2000 placed one household per acre, including malls and highways. Pre WW II urban density was approximately eight households per acre. The food market is moving to the farmer.

What makes urban agriculture viable today and into the future?

1. There is space for farming in our new settlement pattern:
2. UA produces ten times as much per acre or more:
3. "Waste is Food", UA uses household, restaurant, and food shop waste and processed waste water as inputs to production:
4. UA is energy efficient. Agribusiness uses ten to 15 calories of petroleum energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to the market shelf. UA uses one to three.
5. The internet [listservs] enables the UA farmer to grow and deliver to the nearby market [Cisco over Sysco and farmers' market over Wal-Mart]
6. Small-scale drip irrigation uses one tenth +/- as much water as trench irrigation:
7. UA delivers green space in the city at not cost to the taxpayer, 'land rent':

What are the benefits to the Environment for Living and the Ecosphere?

1. Green cities are healthier for children and adults: 2. Fewer farm acres means more forests, prairie and wetland:
3. Waste is Food means less pollution:
4. Energy efficiency equals less pollution:
5. Rich soil replacing pavement and packed earth, green roofs replacing tar & metal sequesters carbon and reduces global warming.

One billion small steps are urgently needed to extend life on Earth. Farming the city provides an opportunity for such small steps, where the majority of us live and breath.

Farming the city provides a greener healthier environment for living. Farming the city reduces global pollution and slows the progress of global warming. And Urban Agriculture does these things while building a secure economy and a healthy diet.