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Urban Agriculture – An Answer to Growing Food Deserts

With the rapid industrialisation and modernisation there has been rampant cutting of forests and the agricultural lands have been destroyed and occupied to construct buildings for the human settlement. This has led to a decline in the land suitable to cultivate crops and other eatable plants, and has resulted in the rise of food deserts. Food deserts can be best explained as urban and rural areas without ready access to fresh, affordable and healthy food. The term “Food Desert” was first documented in the United Kingdom in 1995 when a government report was released where they identified populated areas with little or no food retail provision. These were the areas where people experienced physical and economic barriers to accessing healthy foods.

Furthermore, agricultural practices play a heavy toll on the environment of the planet with around seven billion mouths to feed. The resources required in agriculture like water, to causing pollution and from habitat loss to energy use; agriculture alone can’t be the only source of food. Though there has been tremendous development in the agricultural techniques used, in many parts of the world traditional practices continue to emerge as a threat to the land and water resources.

Another factor has emerged in the form of areas that are located so far away and cut-off from agricultural areas that they may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer very few fresh and healthy food options. One example could be that of West Oakland California, which was once a vibrant industrial city where everything seemed abundant. However, at present it is a concentrated poverty neighbourhood and liquor shops outnumber grocery stores by a whopping margin of 40 to 1. The most abundant and readily available food in this area is fried and not fresh.

This emergence of food deserts in many parts of the world have posed a question mark on the food security rights of the individuals residing in these areas. However, a probable solution has emerged in form of Urban Farming. Urban farming or urban agriculture helps address the problem of food insecurity among urban residents by providing them an opportunity to learn to grow their own food and hence reconnect with the land and have proper access to nutritious food at affordable prices. Urban agriculture is a vital component to developing a sustainable community food system, and has the capability to alleviate many problems that food deserts face, such as obesity, diabetes, heart problems etc.

Urban agriculture is the practice of making food as local as possible by cultivating, processing and then distributing it in or around a village, town, or city. It can also include animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping and horticulture. The idea of supplemental food production is not at al a new practice and this solution for emerging food security threat has been largely used in the past during the war times and the Great depression when the food security issue arose. Urban agriculture has multiple benefits which include recreation and leisure, individual health and well being, landscape beautification, and environmental restoration and remediation, but most importantly this model fits within the current scope of sustainable design which is of utmost importance in the efforts aimed at the conservation of planet’s resources for future generations. Another benefit of urban farming is that it can add greenery to cities, reducing harmful runoff, increasing shading, and countering the unpleasant heat island effect.The impacts of Urban agriculture are plenty.

The energy used to transport food decreases significantly when food is grown in the vicinity of its consumers. In a study, it was found out that traditional, non-local food distribution system used 4 to 17 times more fuel and emitted 5 to 17 times more carbon dioxide than the regional transport. Moreover, the energy efficient nature of urban agriculture can reduce each city’s carbon footprint by reducing the amount and energy required in transportation to make food available to consumers in far off areas. Carbon footprint can be defined as the total sets of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an event, product or an individual. Plants grown on terraces and in balconies can lead to the area acting as carbon sinks which are reservoirs that accumulate and store carbon containing compounds for indefinite time periods. This can be a boon for the urban areas where the number of buildings and pavements outnumbers plants largely. Plants absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and release breathable oxygen.

A rooftop containing 2000 meter square of uncut grass has the ability to remove up to 4000 kilograms of particulate matter from the environment. This reduction in particulate matter and even ozone gases adds strongly to the case of Urban agricultural practices in enhancing the environmental conservation, as only one square meter of green roof is needed to offset the annual production of particulate emissions of a car. Urban agriculture can also serve as a method to mediate chemical pollution and can be effective in stopping the spread of many hazardous chemicals in the environment. Plants can be used as a method to remove chemicals and also to hold the soil and prevent erosion of contaminated soil decreasing the spread of pollutants and the hazard presented by these lots.Urban agriculture can lead to a miraculous drop in noise pollution as most roofs or vacant lots consist of hard flat concrete surfaces that reflect sound waves instead of absorbing them, adding plants that can absorb these waves and hence reduce noise levels. The abundance of fried and junk food and the scarcity of fresh vegetables and fruits has led to an immense increase in health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, cancer etc. Urban agriculture aims at bringing down the risk of such chronic diseases as it makes fresh fruits and vegetables available in local areas and that too at an affordable price. A Flint, Michigan study found that those participating in community gardens consumed fruits and vegetables 1.4 more times per day and were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits or vegetables at least 5 times daily.

Urban agriculture is practiced all over the world, from Cairo to Havana and from Mumbai to California and Argentina. If implemented properly, the practice of Urban agriculture could be the future of food security.

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