The author of this post is Taylor Schuweiler, a junior Biology and Environmental Science major at the University of St. Thomas.
In addition to expanding food production to help meet the needs of a growing population, urban agriculture has many other benefits. Urban agriculture has the potential to help offset environmental changes that have been caused by urbanization such as carbon emissions and nutrient cycling imbalance. In addition to providing people with fresh and local food, urban agriculture provides an opportunity to address environmental problems within our cities and try to improve our urban ecosystem.
Due to the large amount of transportation and industry that comes along with urbanization, cities are point sources of CO2. The top 20 largest cities in the U.S. produce more CO2 than the entire land area of the continental United States can even absorb (Grimm et al. 2008). This startling production of CO2 from cities is a concern as urban areas continue to grow. Urban agriculture has the potential to help with these concerns. Urban agriculture can help reduce net CO2 emissions by bringing food production and markets to the same location.
Minnesota is making the move to local agriculture. In Minnesota alone, there are 176 farmers markets selling local produce and other locally made products! In addition to farmers markets, urban farms such as Stone’s Throw (http://stonesthrowurbanfarm.com) are popping up around the Twin Cities that can reduce food transportation from thousands of miles to just a few blocks. By reducing the great distances that produce often travels, we are able to reduce transportation emissions (Deelstra and Girardet 2000).
In addition to the carbon emissions coming from our cities, it is important to keep in mind the nutrients we may be losing as well. In modern urban areas, nutrient cycling is not a circular process but rather a straight flow in and out of the city. Resources are continually funneled through cities with little thought as to where they are coming from or where they are going. This unsustainable nutrient cycle can be improved by urban agriculture through the recycling of food waste and water waste (Ackerman et al. 2014, Deelstra and Girardet 2000). Urban agriculture provides the opportunity for recycling food waste for use in compost which keeps the nutrients within the urban environment.
People in the Twin Cities are beginning to make the push for food recycling. Currently the United States only recycles about 3% of its food waste. In effort to improve that, Eureka Recycling has begun a zero-waste movement focused on bringing composting to St. Paul to reduce food waste (http://makedirtnotwaste.org). The goal of the plan is to offer composting services to all St. Paul residents, either curbside or backyard, so that St. Paul may recycle or compost 75% of its waste. If all residents in St. Paul were to have access to food waste composting, we would be able to close the nutrient cycling and produce a large amount of nutrient-rich dirt to use for urban agriculture.
Together, the small environmental problems that urban areas face build up and put strain on urban ecosystems. Urban agriculture can help provide solutions to these problems and improve urban environments in addition to producing food for a growing population.