When food and plant life are scarce in a city, a logical solution is urban farming. From green roofs to brownfield redevelopment into community gardens, urban food production in its many forms has many more benefits. On a larger commercial scale, however, urban food production gets a bit tricky.
Even on a smaller scale, urban agriculture brings food closer to the consumer, eliminating the energy use required to transport it long distances. With long travel distance eliminated, organic food produced in a city has a longer shelf life. Urban farms can act as a living classroom showing many who have never had access to farming about food production and nutrition. It also brings communities closer together, fostering communication and connection via a garden or small farm.
Finally, aside from noted psychological benefits of nature in urban landscapes, there are added physical health benefits through improved air quality. But big farms require big spaces and resources. Some methods of large-scale, rural agriculture do not translate well to the city. According to Pierre Desrocehers' recent article in New Geography, here are five main pitfalls preventing successful urban food production on a commercial scale:
1. "Urban land is too valuable to be devoted profitably to food production"
- Land in cities in a scarce, and expensive, resource.
- There is a higher return on investment in agriculture outside the city where natural resources best fit for growing food are abundant.
2. "The productions costs of vertical farming are prohibitive"
- The costs of labor, land, and getting needed products such as feed to vertical farms are much higher in cities than in rural areas.
- Nonexistent amount of skyscraper space would be needed for vertical farms to make up the 400 million acres of U.S. farmland.
- The electricity needed to keep vertical farm yield up via grow lamps is expensive and energy inefficient.
3. "Undervaluing wholesalers and retailers"
- Without wholesalers and big retailers, the cost comes back to the consumer.
4. "An urban location does not keep agricultural pests at bay"
- Biological methods of pest reduction needed for organic farming in densely populated areas are not always as effective as pesticides and herbicides used in large-scale agriculture.
5. "Failure to learn from failure"
- There are many cases in which large-scale urban farming has failed, and recent successes do not take into account why preceding operations came to an end.
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