Urban Agriculture: Need for a focusing event

I am a Social Research and Public Policy major taking “Introduction to Urban Agriculture” class. Although these two subjects in one sentence might sound odd at first, one will eventually understand that the two are in fact not mutually exclusive. Recently, a couple of policy recommendations to encourage urban agriculture and the provision of healthy food on local community levels were provided. There even was a bill assigned to a congressional committee in September called “Urban Agriculture Production Act” aimed at enhancing urban agricultural production and agricultural research. Particularly with regards to low-income families, a rise in urban farms will allow them to consume healthy food at a lower price – something uncommon in their neighbourhoods due a lack of supermarkets or other outlets. In an ideal world, such increase in urban farms will also yield economic development as there will be more job opportunities.

Then one might ask, “If urban farms are so great, why is it not happening all over the place?” While it is definitely true that urban agriculture has been a rising subject, it also is true that it has not been aggressively implemented in urban areas. And although there must be ample reasons behind this, the one that I can provide while wearing the hat of a public policy student is that there are not enough focusing events. This is an explanation following John W. Kingdon’s model of public policy where a focusing event is required to push an issue to the agenda. Simple put, it indicates that an issue requires for an example a strong public opinion to be expedited to the agenda of the politicians. And in our situation with the lack of aggressive growth in urban farms, it can be stated that there is a lack of public voice.

How many urban dwellers can actually say they know what a broccoli looks like when it’s growing? What about lemon verbena? And what kohlrabi even is? As such, food is such a vital part of human life and yet many stand oblivious to how it is actually produced. And I say this not to point fingers at any specific group, but just to remind us of our lack of interest in the food production process. It is so easy to say that urban agriculture is “good” but to not actually take any action. And what is required to actually make the change is the interest of people. There needs to be more awareness on the pressing problems of food insecurity as well as yearning for healthy food on our part. And although the cause might have been different, the example of Cuba and the enthusiasm on the part of citizens is definitely worth noting and emulating.

As a public policy student taking a course in urban agriculture, I am incredibly excited at the prospects that this field can take both economically and culturally. Change is already taking place. What is needed now is just a little push from the public towards the right direction.

In case you were wondering, this is what a kohlrabi looks like!
In case you were wondering, this is what a kohlrabi looks like!

Written by Hee Eun Kwon (hkwon@nyu.edu).

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