2015 | Dec
Urban agriculture seems to be a paradoxical combination, as it involves two heterogeneous worlds, the urban and the rural. However, historically, the city and agriculture have always been intertwined. It was only in the 20th century and especially after World War II, that this relationship was geographically and functionally disrupted, following the full industrialisation of agricultural production and the internationalisation of markets. The transition from ‘traditional’ to the so-called ‘productivist’ agriculture was impressive as crop yields sky-rocketed. The perception that“the city is one thing and the countryside is another and the two can only meet in the aisles of supermarkets” (Fox 2011) became entrenched during that time.
Urban agriculture may be briefly defined as the cultivation of plants or even small scale animal breeding within the urban fabric and on the outskirts of cities (FAO 1999). What differentiates urban agriculture from open field agriculture is that the former is integrated and interacts with the ecological system of the city and the urban economy: it (re)uses human and material resources, products and services of the city while its production is mainly intended for the consumption of fresh products by urban households (Mougeot 2005, Pothukuchi and Kaufman 1999). Urban agriculture has a long tradition in the industrial cities of the Western world and gained new ground in the 1970s, as part of the dynamics of social movements that challenge consumerism as a value system. They put forward an alternative model for production and development, respecting nature and its pace, the rights of workers, local communities and their resources. The technological modernisation of agriculture and the globalisation of agribusiness have cut off consumers from family agriculture and places of production. This trend however has given rise to the need to re-establish our relationship with food and with the soil, to know where food comes from and how it is produced and to rediscover forgotten flavours, through local products and indigenous seeds.
It is worth noting that the international financial crisis led to price volatility and inflation in staple foods as well as growing problems of urban poverty – even in western metropolises. Those issues have sparked new debates on food issues in cities. The challenge is the seamless access to fresh and nutritious food for all social strata in the context of food planning in cities and food justice (FAO 2010, Gotlieb and Joshi 2013). From the famous vegetable gardens in New York, Detroit and Vancouver to Berlin, Paris and Lisbon, urban agriculture is considered the response to the generalised urban crisis. It is not only offered as a way to tackle the degradation of the quality of life in cities, but is also seen as an opportunity to improve the nutritional quality of the diet of the poorest strata of the urban population.
The proliferation of small family vegetable gardens in yards, balconies and terraces as well as collective urban farming initiatives of active citizens and city movements in abandoned, unused or other free open spaces expresses the very necessity of (re)localising agricultural production systems. Urban agriculture offers several benefits, such as the production of fresh food and savings for the family budget, the greening of the city, environmental management (e.g. composting of household organic waste to help reduce heat in cities), the re-enstatement of social bonds in neighbourhoods, the promotion of mental health and opportunities for recreation, exercise, education, etc. In other words, apart from food production, urban agriculture contributes to the production of public goods in the city and therefore its added value is much higher than the monetary value of agricultural production (Dubbeling et al. 2010).It rightly deserves a place in urban planning’s toolkit (Halweil and Nierenberg 2007).
- Halweil B και Nierenberg D (2007) Καλλιεργώντας στις πόλεις, στο, Η κατάσταση του κόσμου. Το αστικό μας μέλλον. O’Hara M (επιμ.), Αθήνα: Ευώνυμος Οικολογική Βιβλιοθήκη.
- Bell S, Fox-Kämper R, Keshavarz N, et al. (2016) Urban Allotment Gardens in Europe. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.
- Dubbeling M, Zeeuw H de and Veenhuizen R van (2010) Cities, poverty and food: multi-stakeholder policy and planning in urban agriculture. 1st ed. Warwickshire UK: Practical Action Publishing. Available from: http://www.ruaf.org/sites/default/files/PDFCitiesPovertyFood.pdf.
- FAO Economic (1999) Issues in Urban Agriculture. Available from: http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine /9901sp2.htm.
- FAO Economic (2010) Fighting Poverty and Hunger-What role for urban agriculture? Economic and Social Development Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
- Fox T (2011) Urban Farming: Sustainable city living in your backyard, in your community, and in the world. Calvert J and Deputato A (eds), Irvine, California: Hobby Farm Press.
- Gotlieb R and Joshi A (2013) Food Justice. 1st ed. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
- Lohrberg F, Lička L, Scazzosi L, et al. (2015) Urban Agriculture Europe. 1st ed. Lohrberg F, Lička L, Timpe A, et al. (eds), Berlin: Jovis.
- Mougeot LJA (2010) Agropolis:‘ The Social, Political and Environmental Dimensions of Urban Agriculture’. 1st ed. Mougeot LJA (ed.), London: Earthscan Ltd, IRDC Canada.
- Nikolaidou S (2014) Emerging forms of Urban Gardening in Geneva. Basel: Short Term Scientific Mission Report. Basel.
- Pothukuchi K and Kaufman JL (1999) Placing the food system on the urban agenda: The role of municipal institutions in food systems planning. Agriculture and Human Values 16(2): 213–224.
- Renting H, Schermer M and Rossi A (2012) Building Food Democracy : Exploring Civic Food Networks and Newly Emerging Forms of Food Citizenship. International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food 19(3): 289–307.
- Smit J, Ratta A and Nasr J (1996) Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities. UNDP – United Nations Development Program, New York: UNDP United Nations Publication.
Information on urban farming, food safety and cities’ agrofood planning:
Information on urban vegetable gardens in Europe (activities within the COST program):
- Nikolaidou, S. (2014) Emerging forms of Urban Gardening in Geneva. Basel: Short Term Scientific Mission Report, COST Action TU1201 Urban Allotment Gardens. www.urbanallotments.eu/fileadmin/uag/media/STSM/STSMReport_SN.pdf
- Lohrberg, F., Licka., L, Scazzosi, L. and Timpe, A. (eds) (2015) Urban Agriculture Europe. Berlin: Editions Jovis.
- Bell, S., Fox-Kamper, R., Keshavarz, N., Benson, M., Caputo, S., Noori, S. and Voight, A. (eds) (2016) Urban Allotment Gardens in Europe. UK: Routlegde.