The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that, from 2010 to 2012, nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world, were suffering from chronic undernourishment. This means that one out of every eight people were not getting enough food.
A recent French study has predicted the world population will rise to almost 10 billion by 2050. So not only are people not getting enough food now, but the amount of people on earth is expected to increase by about 3 billion people in the next 40 years.
Continuing “business as usual”, and letting billions more people starve around the world as the population grows, is clearly not an option.
The Failure of Modern Agriculture
Through excess usage of water, pollution from chemical pesticides, pollution from transporting food, loss of habitat for animals that would normally live where we farm, and the resulting food which is both toxic and lacking nutrients, Modern Agriculture has had an enormous negative impact on our planet.
From our article The Secrets of Soil – A Miraculous, Vibrant, Living Community:
Agriculture is turning grasslands into desert all over the world. Each year about 10 million hectares of cropland are lost due to soil erosion. In his book Gardening the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America, Agricultural Historian and Author Steven Stoll wrote, “The plow is at once the symbol of domestication, and the world’s most feared ecological wrecking ball. It unearths microenvironments, destroys nests and burrows, throws open moisture”. The 15 million acres of native tallgrass prairie in Nebraska, once known for their fertility, are now 98% gone due to our parasitic industrial food system. Like a parasite, modern agriculture rages war on biological life, until soil becomes salt and dust, incapable of growing anything.
The two problems that need solutions when it comes to modern food production are to find a way to produce food that will enable us to feed the world, and to repair the damage done from current food production methods. Both issues will be solved as you read the rest of this article.
The Rise of Crowded City Living
Since 1950 there has been an enormous increase in the percentage of people living within cities, and the trend shows no sign of stopping. Dickson Despommier, Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at Columbia University, has stated in a speech that 20 years from now, 80% of us will live in cities or suburbs.
Since halting the movement of people from urban dwellings into cities would be nearly impossible, we need to find a way to use this to our advantage. As Buckminster Fuller once said, “Don’t fight forces, use them.”
Why Crowded Cities Are The Most Sustainable
We have been taught to think that crowded cities have a devastating impact on our environment, but according to David Owen, staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of a dozen books, “New York”, the country’s biggest metropolis, “is a paragon of ecological responsibility”.
Although Forbes chose Vermont as the greenest state in the US in 2007, David Owen believes that New York city is not only the nation’s biggest city, it is also its greenest city. In his 2009 article, published on Yale University’s Environment 360 website, he talks about why New York is a better environmental model than even the reigning ‘victor’, Vermont. Anything seen below in quotations are the words of David Owen, and anything below without quotations is my own input.
- Low Gasoline Consumption – “The average city resident consumes only about a quarter as much gasoline as the average Vermonter — and the average Manhattan resident consumes even less, just 90 gallons a year, a rate that the rest of the country hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s.”
- Less Electricity Consumption – In 2012, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,837 kWh. According to David Owen, “New Yorkers consume only about 4,700 kilowatt hours per household per year.”
- Less Water Consumption – 30 to 60 percent of urban fresh water is used for watering lawns. Those living in highrise apartments don’t have lawns, and so all that water is saved.
- Extreme Compactness – “Moving people and their daily destinations close together reduces their need for automobiles, makes efficient public transit possible, and restores walking as a viable form of transportation.”
- Less Automobile Ownership – “Metropolitan New York has by far the lowest rate of automobile ownership. Fifty-four percent of New York City households — and 77 percent of Manhattan households — own no car at all.”
- Preservation of Natural Landscape – “If you spread all 8.2 million New York City residents across the countryside at the population density of Vermont, you would need a space equal to the land area of the six New England states plus New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia — and then, of course, you’d have to find places to put all the people you were displacing.”
- Smallest Carbon Footprints – As a result of lowered energy use, water use, and living in apartment buildings, the world’s most energy-efficient residential structures, New Yorkers have the smallest carbon footprints in the United States. “7.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases per person per year are produced, which is only 30 percent of the national average.” A 2009 study has found that city-dwellers have smaller carbon footprints than the national average.
The Rise of Urban Farming
Although crowded cities are the most ecologically sustainable setup for human habitation, there is one critical puzzle piece that is missing from city living – Food production.
Urban farming is on the rise across the globe as people get involved in the production of their food, farming in front yards, parks, factories, abandoned lots and on empty rooftops. Not only are people growing fresh, local, organic produce for themselves and others, but even goats, chickens, and beehives are on the rise within city limits.
With urban farming, cities are becoming self sustaining ecosystems, which provide all the food and energy requirements of their inhabitants.
Now, instead of growing chemically-sprayed tomatoes in Mexico, picking them when they are green, and shipping them in trucks to your local grocery store in the United States or Canada, food can be grown locally all year, picked when it is perfectly ripe, and eaten on the same day. Here are some of the benefits of locally produced food:
- Creates New Jobs – Many urban farmers will be needed in every city of the world.
- Reduced Food Prices – When food is grown locally, its price is reduced because nobody had to pay to ship it across the country.
- More Nutritious Food – Urban farming brings the control of how food is produced back into the hands of the people, where it belongs. Now we can use the most cutting edge methods to maximize the nutrient density of our food.
- Requires Almost No Shipping – Transporting food is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Watch Institute. Each year, 817 million tons of food is shipped around the world, and as a result of this, a basic diet of imported food can use four times the energy and produce four times the emissions of an equal domestic diet.
- No Chemical Pesticides – When indoor urban agricultural methods are used, there is no longer a need for any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Even outdoors, there are methods to grow plants organically, without the need for chemicals of any kind.
- Year Round Crop Production – With indoor urban farming, crops can be grown 365 days a year, with no crop losses from severe weather events.
- Restores Environment – Allows ecosystems damaged from modern/industrial agriculture to be restored.
- Reduced Water Usage – Energy efficient/soil-less growing methods such as hydroponics or aquaponics use up to 90% less water.
- Less Wasted Food – According to a paper by the National Resources Defense Council, from the farm to our forks, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. Most of this can be avoided by growing food where it is consumed.
Can Urban Farming Feed the World?
All that we need is for urban farming to be the primary source of food production, not the sole source. In some cases, such as the raising of livestock, a rural setting may be more ideal. With that in mind, let’s do some calculations to find out if we can actually feed the world by farming solely in an urban setting. To demonstrate the potential of urban farming, we’re going to focus only on the lawn for the production of food.
- Lawns are the biggest “crop” in the U.S., accounting for between 35 million – 50 million acres.
- 1 Acre = 4000 square metres
- 10 square metres can feed a single person
- 400 people can be fed per acre
- 35 million acres x 400 people fed per acre = 14 billion people fed
Even if it took 20 square metres to feed a person, 7 billion people could be fed off the lawn area in the United States alone. Keep in mind, that in addition to lawn gardening, urban farming can also be done in parks, factories, abandoned lots and on empty rooftops, and in even more efficient ways.
The remainder of The Future of Food course, will focus on existing urban farming developments, to inspire your passion and creativity for food production.
Learn More with Books about Urban Farming:
|Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability||Urban Food Revolution – Changing the Way we Feed Cities||Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution|