Cultivating communities development
Cities expand and so does the food demand. Communities that solely rely on food purchases are most vulnerable, with extreme, negative impacts on the urban poor. Urban agriculture is an effective way of diversifying food supplies while making cities more resilient and improving the quality of life of everybody.
Culture represents the knowledge and experience developed by a community in one or more fields. It is the flywheel for freedom and autonomy.
As its etymology reminds us, though, culture is not only the distinctive trait of a community, but also a practice of everyday dedication: culture from Latin cultura “growing”, “cultivate”. Literally, we can argue that by cultivating cities we can contribute to the making of the urban culture, by developing knowledge, expertise, and self-sufficiency.
According to the FAO, urban agriculture - meaning food cultivation, processing, and distribution within urbanized areas - is practiced by 800 million people, 10% of the world’s population. This trend is particularly relevant because of the rising percentage of people living in cities: two-thirds of the global population are expected to be concentrated in cities, by 2050 (World Economic Forum, 2018). Cities expand and so does the food demand.
What can urban agriculture do in the cities of the 3rd millennium?
The first evident asset of urban agriculture is locally harvested and healthy food, but the benefits are many and they go far beyond our tables: employment; the possibility of converting urban organic waste into fertilizers; the creation of greenbelts and buffers; increasing cities’ biodiversity and resilience to climate change.
Methods for diversifying food production in urban contexts are encouraged by the FAO. Through adequate policies, urban agriculture has to be legitimate and translated into a land-use. One sq.mt. of land can provide 20 kg of food a year, a fact that shows how much low-income urban residents could save on food purchases if access to urban gardens is provided.
Beyond the personal use and consumption, horticulture can generate 1 job every 100 sq of garden, related to urban farming activities (production, input supply, marketing) to provide locally harvested food to the wider community. Additional working sectors around urban agriculture can be: land engineering; recovering and securing suitable garden plots; research and development of bio-intensive practices to apply to limited cultivable surfaces.
When treated to composting facilities, urban organic waste (i.e. food waste) can become organic fertilizer to be used in urban gardens. Rainwater caption for irrigation is a further strategy following the same circular perspective: the ‘waste’ is turned into a ‘resource’ and brought back to the soil to (re)generate goods.
Diversifying food sources, income opportunities, and waste reallocation are top up with the great benefit of diversifying landscapes within cities. By introducing cultivable land, city hardscapes are integrated with fields, trees, flowers, increasing the overall biodiversity and adaptation to climate change. Enhancing vegetation cover and water infiltration through previous areas allows for a wiser use of natural resources, improving air quality, reducing urban warming and curbing land erosion.
Land is common, and so are its products
As shown, the wider advantage of urban agriculture is its contribution to improving cities’ ecosystems, because it enables positive interactions between the natural and built components. Obviously, this doesn’t come without risks. Land and water contamination is one such criticality, both in the case of unaware use of already polluted resources and when land and water are poisoned by inappropriate use of pesticides. The role of local authorities in monitoring and backing up urban agriculture is fundamental to keep this practice safe.
Whether the land for cultivation is assigned to individual citizens or managed completely collectively - like in the case of the largest urban garden in Europe, OrtoCollettivo (7 ha) in Genova, Italy - the bottom line is that land is common and so are its products. Practices of cultivation, maintenance, and sharing of urban gardens enhance the sense of belonging to a place, of responsibility, and the respect towards goods that benefit all the inhabitants of the city.
FAO, Urban agriculture
La Nuova Ecologia, OrtoCollettivo (Italian language)
United Nations, Sustainable Development Goal 02