Urban farming also cultivates social ties


By growing fruit and vegetables in the middle of town, urban farmers also reap the fruit of a new kind of social cohesion.


Cities house more than half of humankind today. This proportion is expected to reach 70% by 2050. Given this demographic pressure and the shortage of arable land in certain parts of the world, the challenge is colossal: how can we feed all these billions of people? In this situation, urban farming is a viable alternative for the future. Across the planet, thousands of projects are blossoming in cities, with tomatoes growing on rooftops, in schoolyards, on urban wastelands – and the list goes on. For several years now, urban farming has been going strong.

Urban farms are a real means for strengthening social ties and urban communities

Although these farms can only provide part of the solution and cannot feed everyone on their own, they also play a major social role. A report by the Center for a Livable Future at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, published in May 2016, revealed that urban farms are a real means for strengthening social ties and urban communities. After examining 167 studies on the impact of urban farming from different economic, environmental, health and other perspectives, the American researchers concluded that “urban agriculture’s most significant benefits center around its ability to increase social capital, community well-being, and civic engagement with the food system.”

This was also observed in Detroit, where a successful experiment is shown as an example in the outstanding documentary Tomorow, by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent. In recent years, associations have been taking over industrial wasteland for vegetable gardens, providing less-privileged populations with fresh fruit and vegetables.

On the rooftops of Brooklyn, New York, another experiment has generated a buzz: Seeds to Feed Rooftop Farm. Managed by a social action center, this urban garden is located on the roof of a shelter for the homeless and people living in complete destitution. The cultivation of fruit and vegetables, supervised by the establishment’s personnel, is part of the therapeutic assistance given to the residents. Three years after its launch, the experiment has had a positive outcome on several levels, especially with regard to the mental and physical health of the residents, who have gained a sense of self-worth through their labors. A partnership has even been signed with a neighboring pizzeria to supply it with fresh herbs from the garden.

A boost to the autonomy in terms of food and income

Across the Atlantic, in Kenya, urban farms appeared much earlier, starting in the streets of the capital, Nairobi, during the 1990s. Most of the farmers are uneducated women who see this as a way to provide for their families and gain an additional source of income. Although women in the rural areas of Kenya traditionally made up the majority of workers in the fields, they could not be landowners or reap all of the benefits of their work. By taking care of vegetable gardens in cities, these women have been able to assume a decision-making role, choosing which fruit and vegetables they want to grow, managing their farms, and so on. The result is a boost to their autonomy in terms of food and income. Today, many of them are members of the Nairobi and Environs Food Security, Agriculture and Livestock Forum (NEFSALF). These little farms were initially illegal, but are now authorized by the Nairobi City Council, which has even created an agriculture department to better protect them from theft.

From education to wellness, by way of the empowerment of local populations and civic engagement, the benefits of urban farming extend far beyond the garden fence, as they involve not only the nutritional but also the environmental and social impacts of food as a whole.

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