Delusion or Solution: The Practicality of Urban Farming

Student Alex Rifkin weighs in whether or not urban farms make practical sense. 

The big question on a lot of people’s minds it would seem is whether or not urban farming is a pragmatic solution to the food issues that have become increasingly urgent (eg. food deserts, diabetes, and general malnutrition). While we have all seen the grand drawings of vertical farms, the vast skyscrapers of hydroponic agriculture which would feed large swaths of the city, there is little to show that this is anywhere near a widespread reality. Few cities could afford such an endeavor. So what really is the fuss about urban farming? It is clear that in its present state it will not provide the masses with nutritious foods nor make high quality produce affordable to the underprivileged. Viewed through the narrow lens of quantity production, urban farms appear to be a relic of the dreamer, the nostalgic, or the deluded.

The Battery Park Urban Farm in New York City
The Battery Park Urban Farm in New York City

But perhaps this view is far too narrow. Every movement has its own series of currents and sub-currents, some sustaining, others coming and fading quickly. Perhaps urban farming is something greater than production. Swept up in nationwide concern over food insecurity and diet related disease, urban farming has become the very essence and sustaining force of food movements across the nation. No, these urban farms do not make a huge dent on the nutritional needs of food scarce areas, but they sustain the conversation that something could and should be done. The urban farm is where the food movement has become grounded, quite literally. People, ordinary people, get together and touch and feel the dirt from which their food will grow; the satisfaction of working the earth and reaping its rewards instills a deeper connection with our food.

Children growing up in urban areas, some of who may have never seen a farm but for on television, can experience their food in a new way. I have seen it in my own family, being the oldest of five children, in my youngest brother, Hunter. At ten years old he already has a tremendous appreciation for produce. Introduced by my mother at a young age to farming, he appreciates food that is wholesome for him and the world as a whole. He can name countless herbs, vegetables, and fruit and how to best care for them. He probably knows more about soil qualities than I do. This kind of early and intimate interaction with the farming and food world do far more than simply creating activities. It can be seen as an almost preemptive, preventative measure: connect kids with the food early on and that many more in the future will help to sustain solid, responsible food practices. A child who appreciates the efforts and benefits of farming is more likely to become an adult with the same values. And it’s darn fun for them too!

All in all urban farming was probably never about feeding the masses and eliminating food deserts single handedly. It becomes more of a community building experience, bringing together those who may have never wielded a hoe or a shovel and bringing their experience of food to a more personal level. While I am sure one day urban farming will in fact become a major producer of food for city dwellers, right now it seems to be more an educational tool, a means of relating food to people on a much more intimate scale. What could be more humbling than bringing an urban space to productivity and life, creating an oasis of agriculture and community, and inspiring people to take their food practices into their own hands. Urban farming transcends the traditional dogma of production and distribution. It is the anti-industrialization of our food system. It is perhaps the greatest sustaining force in the conversation around food scarcity; our gardens remind us everyday of that vital conversation in their need for tending.

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