Benefits and Limits of Urban Ag

Urban agriculture receives a thorough and balanced look in a new study, “Vacant Lots and Vibrant Plots: A review of the benefits and limitation of urban agriculture,” published this spring by Johns Hopkins University Press.  Authors Raychel Santo, Anne Palmer, and Brent Kim wade into a complex field that has disparate aims, methodology, and results.  Benefits and problems of urban food production include economic development, community health, environmental concerns, and more.

However, as the author warn in introducing their review, “In some cases, the enthusiasm is ahead of the evidence.”  Most urban ag projects are actually gardens that do not produce food for sale. The benefits tend to be less in measured food production than in improvements to the urban environment and community-building relationships.  Properly understood and supported, urban food production “can be a part of a constellation of interventions needed to reform the food system into one that is more socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable.

Given limited public and other resources available for improving local food economies, realistic expectations will strengthen prospects for expanded urban food projects. The authors conclude that urban food’s most significant benefits center around its ability to increase social capital, community wellbeing, and civic engagement. Here is a link (pdf) to the full study:

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