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Myth: Urban farming can’t produce enough food to support communities

Gotham Greens in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

TRUTH: A question many policy makers, food activists, and community boards address is how to get fresh fruits and vegetables into low income areas with limited access.  Many people argue that sourcing local food will not support the entire population; however urban farmers are proving skeptics wrong.  Farmers’ markets sales in New York City are booming, as they are nationwide and there is more opportunity for growth.

In New York City, the concrete jungle abundant with take-out restaurants, high yield urban farming may seem like a childish fantasy.   Home gardens don’t sound so appealing when they’re topped with a light dusting of garbage and exhaust.  Yet, Brooklyn is re-establishing its agricultural roots.  In the 1800’s, Brooklyn was a booming agricultural area and its resurgence can be attributed to creative individuals and conscientious companies.

New York City is home to some of the most progressive agricultural endeavors; some include restaurants like Roberta’s (which grows about 20% of its produce needs) and huge rooftop gardens like Gotham Greens and Brooklyn Grange (which are both expanding significantly).  The newest addition to the group: a huge (100,000 square foot) hydroponic rooftop greenhouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn that’s expected to yield a million pounds of produce per year.  Not only will it be the largest rooftop greenhouse in the United States, the system will collect 1.8 million gallons of rainwater per year and could meet the fruit and vegetable needs for 5,000 New Yorkers.

So, let’s break this down.  100,000 square feet of available rooftop space would supply enough produce for 5,000 people.

New York City has 5,000 acres of available land for farming (about 217.8 million square feet).  If that space alone was farmed, 10.89 million people could have an adequate supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Also consider the available rooftop space of huge corporations, backs, academic institutions, city buildings and offices.  If we gardened, everyone would benefit – jobs would be created and our carbon footprint reduced.

Outside urban areas where more land is available, home and community gardens can greatly contribute to fruit and vegetable needs during the growing season.

BOTTOM LINE: Skeptics argue that the produce grown in urban farms wouldn’t be enough calories to support life.  However, the prevalence of the obesity epidemic (especially in low income areas) clearly indicates that we’re not lacking calories.   Increasing fruit and vegetable intake is critical for health and urban farming can be a powerful opportunity to do so.  Calculating exactly how many people can be fed is not a literal suggestion of what we should do, but rather a way to highlight the opportunity that we have.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  1. Urban Design Lab, Columbia University: The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City: Growing Capacity, Food Security, and Green Infrastructure
  2. New York Times: Huge Rooftop Farm is set for Brooklyn

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