The Benefits Urban Agroforestry Can Provide to Urban Areas

Agroforestry is defined as the integration of trees and shrubs within an agricultural production area where trees are grown alongside or around crops to promote an agroecological approach to farming. Most often perennial woody vegetation is seen managed with common crops. Yet, what are the benefits that Agroforestry can provide to urban areas? Numerous benefits exist to this approach of farming in social, economic, and environmental contexts for the urban areas in which they exist. Urban Agroforestry establishes a greater mixture of species in a polycultural setting, supplying both food and ecosystem services.

According to a PP presentation by the USDA titled, “Urban Agroforestry: How can Agroforestry Support Urban Farmers”, urban agroforestry provides three main benefits: 

  1. Ecological Benefits includes the improvement of soil health, water quality, and air quality. In addition urban agroforestry can also “Provide wildlife habitat, support pollinators, and grow renewable energy sources”. 
  2. Economic Benefits that urban agroforestry brings involves the increased yield in crops and production of livestock, salable products, added-value opportunities and an increase in property value. 
  3. Social Benefits involve the ‘creation of jobs, opportunities to teach and learn from other in the community, and the potential development of cooperatives for value added processing. 

To build upon the ecological benefits mentioned, in an article titled ”Urban agroforestry and its potential integration into city planning efforts”, the benefits of trees are discussed as they state that, “Urban trees, as key components of green space, can help to modulate extreme weather events and disturbances such as flooding, strong winds, and heat waves.” Furthermore, urban agroforestry can tackle climate change by providing mitigation effects when it states “…urban trees offer a substantial mitigation strategy due to their potential to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that result from alternative land use types that require greater inputs of fertilizer and maintenance activity (e.g., lawn mowing). By encouraging a focus on productive trees and shrubs, UAF can be highly compatible with other tree canopy initiatives designed to combat the effects of global warming.” 

Economically, jobs can be created through the creation of urban agroforestry projects. According to agroforestry.org, “Urban forestry can provide jobs for the poor as both skilled and unskilled labourers. Tree planting and especially urban agroforestry systems can be labour-intensive and provide both initial startup jobs as well as more permanent employment in tree care.” Enhanced crop-yields can also benefit urban farmers economically as a result of windbreaks that trees can provide. Based on the USDA’s presentation, “Urban Agroforestry: How can agroforestry support urban agriculture?” windbreaks are plantings of trees that form a row which redirect or modify winds which is linked to higher crop yields. 

Moreover in a social context, the health of individuals from agroforestry can be improved passively by lowering the rate of respiratory illnesses through the improvement of air quality. Likewise, the aesthetics of an urban area can be beautified from the vegetation and greenery that is visually appealing and attractive to residents.

Urban agroforestry could be an alternative design to urban farming that proves to have plenty of benefits. Food justice and environmental justice can be further achieved through more agroforestry development. Food forests can become a reality in urban areas with more agroforestry projects. 

REFERENCES

Lovell, S. (2020, May 19). Urban agroforestry and its potential integration into city planning efforts. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/uar2.20000

Kuchelmeister, G. (n.d.). Overstory #142 – Urban Trees and Forests. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.agroforestry.org/the-overstory/130-overstory-142-urban-trees-and-forests

MacFarland, K. (2018, June 21). Urban Agroforestry: How can agroforestry support urban agriculture? Retrieved from https://www.nacdnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/NE-NAC-Jun2018.pdf

Sauer, T. (n.d.). Agroforestry Helps Protect Crops and the Environment. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.ars.usda.gov/oc/utm/agroforestry-helps-pro

Why There Should Be More School Farms and Gardens

Introduction

            In recent years, schools have been starting their very own farms or gardens in hopes of educating their students about things such as nutrition, learning about where their food comes from, and how important our environment is. Although not all schools have the space or resources to begin a campus wide school farm, even having a planter bed where kids from each grade could plant their own herbs, fruits, and veggies would be beneficial. This is a wonderful way to bring students together and gives them endless opportunities to engage in school activities outside of the classroom. It will also encourage students to learn through hands-on activities instead of observing others or watching video tutorials.

The Importance of Teaching Nutrition to Kids

            Due to the fact that nutrition is not taught to kids at a young age, that means there are a lot of students who do not consume enough fruits, veggies, and proteins in their meals since they do not know what makes up a balanced meal. The American Federation of Teachers explains that through school farms or farm to school programs, students will be able to learn about alternate food options that are healthier and begin to consume more fresh produce instead of junk food both at home and at school (2015). In addition to that, gardening at school can show students upfront about all the time, energy, and resources involved in growing their own food.

A Successful School Farm

            Magic Years International School in Bangkok, Thailand is an example of a school that has created a successful school farm. Magic Years states on their website that their school farm had the ability to meaningfully impact their students’ development by helping them become more compassionate and reflective human beings. On their website, they list several benefits of their school farm, two of which includes the promotion of scientific discovery and enhancing the literacy & language skills of their students. While students were on the farm, they were able to learn valuable lessons about the various processes and systems that occur in nature. Students were also encouraged to use the scientific method to figure out how to care for the plants and animals properly by knowing what they needed to thrive. On the other hand, students were also exposed to different vocabulary terms which are often used on a farm. They were introduced to various plant and animal names, which helps them improve their literacy and language skills.

Helping Children Become Socially Aware of Key Issues

            Teaching young kids about food and society will give them the chance to understand how agriculture has an impact on the health of their community (Actions for Healthy Kids, 2019). By educating them about agriculture, it will make them socially aware about environmental issues that directly affect agriculture, such as sustainability, climate change, deforestation, and waste. It is important to inform children about these issues since that can inspire them to take steps to become more eco friendly and keep our planet healthy.

Infographics 

            The first image below shows a balanced school lunch meal from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It also provides statistics about how school meals have the ability to encourage kids to grow up healthily. The second image shows a teacher planting some herbs in a school garden with a young student.


Bibliography:

Farm-to-school. (2015). American Federation of Teachers. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://www.aft.org/childrens-health/nutrition/farm-school

Farm to School. (2019). Action for Healthy Kids. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/farm-to-school/

6 Highly Impactful Benefits of Our School Farm. (2018, December 3). Magic Years International School. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from http://magicyears.ac.th/news/6-highly-impactful-benefits-of-our-school-farm/

Contaminants and Urban Soil

In recent decades, urban gardens have become a popular option for people who want to grow their own produce at home. However, for those wanting to start an urban garden on a non-residential urban property such as a school yard, commercial area, or vacant lot, there is a high chance that the soils on that site are potentially contaminated with various chemicals. As a result, it is important for an urban gardener to have the soil at their potential site tested prior to planting the first few crops. Prior to the 1970’s environmental laws were almost nonexistent and it was not uncommon for hazardous chemicals to be dumped at any location where they were being used. Some of the common causes of soil contamination include unauthorized dumping, construction projects, and usage of lead based paints in nearby buildings.

The most common chemical contaminate in urban soils is lead with elevated levels of lead posing a significant health risk to young children who can ingest it either through playing in the soil or helping out in the garden. Once inside the body, ongoing exposure to lead can cause damage to the nervous system, and interfere with brain development along with creating other significant health problems. Aside from lead, other trace elements in the soil such as arsenic, cadmium, and copper can be elevated to unsafe levels by various past land uses. In addition to interaction with infected soil, another way consumers can unintentionally consume toxic chemicals is through plants. Plants absorb toxic chemicals in the soil through usage of various structures such as the roots, shoos, and leaves and pass the chemicals onto the people who consume the produce. Depending on the type of contamination, low levels of exposure may result in nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches while higher exposure levels can result in neurological conditions and birth defects.

In order to avoid the negative aspects of contaminated soils, there are a number of steps that a person can follow. When selecting a potential site, if plants are growing abundantly on the site and if the soil is reasonably easy to dig through, than this is a positive sign that the soil can support crop growth. Also, the history of the site is important since any building built before 1979 and has old and peeling paint may be a hazard due to the lead in the paint.

If an urban gardener is concerned with the levels of chemicals in the soil at a potential site, they can have the soil samples tested at a lab. However, if the person cannot afford to have a lab test the soil samples, they can purchase a basic soil testing kit at a hardware store to provide some basic information on the fertility of the soil, but does not provide any information on soil contaminates. If the results from the lab test show that the soil at a particular urban site is contaminated there are a variety of things an urban gardener can do to live up to their food safety responsibilities. In areas where the levels of contamination are between 80 and 400 parts per million, the EPA recommends digging deeply and mixing large quantities of compost with the soil to dilute the levels of contamination and to avoid planting crops where the roots or foliage are consumed. In areas where contamination levels are higher than 400 parts per million, one option would be to hire a professional to safely remove the contaminated soil and replace it with clean soil. While this is a costly option, a cheaper option is to use raised beds for planting food crops. With this option, a piece of sheet fabric is laid down on the bottom of the bed before adding a layer of topsoil. The purpose of the fabric is to allow moisture through but prevents the roots from contacting the contaminated soil below.

What’s all the Buzz in Urban Agriculture?

Bee-ing Active in Urban Agriculture

Bee keeping is an exciting form of agriculture that is taking off in urbanized areas. There are many factors to consider when Starting a Small Beekeeping Operation. To be able to tend to bees, there are many items to consider. These small arthropods or livestock are important contributors to pollinating a large portion of produce across the nation; in numerous classes and seminars, speakers always remind the guests that bees provide ecosystem service of pollination accounting for about a 1/3 of the vegetation as well as produce. As described in the Bees in the City, urbanized areas can be viewed as a beneficial environment for bees as-

  • They are shielded from predation
  • Protected from herbicides and insecticides
  • Biodiverse environments
  • Warmer climactic conditions from the urban environment

Urban Farmer Moving Hives

These insects not only provide pollination for flowers, fruit, and vegetables but, provide populations with byproducts of beeswax and honey-based products. These arthropods can aid in the biodiversity of an urban forest; to provide green in areas primarily of stone and structures.

Varroa Mites in a Developing Bee Population

The Challenges of Beekeeping

There are common types of issues that can arise from beekeeping in urban areas provided in the Guide to beekeeping, community gardening & more in the city

  • Bee phobia and allergy
  • Keeping distance from the surrounding neighbors and businesses
  • Swarming for a new colony establishment
  • Limited to minimal access to food and water; poor nutrition
  • Viruses in colonies
  • Bacterial pathogen exposure
  • Parasites (Varroa Mites)

Beekeepers have a variety of responses to these issues to prevent colony collapse. They create documentation or information for individuals who have bee phobias to lessen the fear. It is important to establish good connections with the locals of the areas to aid in the success in the business. It is important to provide a stress-free zone for the bees to prevent the colony from swarming and or reestablishing; it is also important to provide the correct type of housing or hives and the necessary equipment for their safety as well as individuals near the colony. To ensure health of the colony, the keepers must monitor and inspect their bee population to ensure there is sufficient nutrients or any visual signs or symptoms from disease or pathogen exposure. If the colony is exposed to the Varroa Mites, there are a variety of integrated pest management strategies that can be employed.

Beekeeper Inspecting the Population

The Regulations of Beekeeping

There are regulations and ordinances for beekeeping described in the Honey, It’s All the Buzz: Regulating Neighborhood Beehives. There are few federal restrictions on honey production and sales however, the USDA can restrict the importation of honeybees and pertaining products into the United States to protect the bee industry from exposure to diseases, parasites, and genetic complications. Both the USDA and the FDA have oversight of honey manufacturing and labeling; the labels must identify country of origin as well as nutritional ingredients. Individuals states also impose regulations and inspections to apiaries to prevent contamination and disease spread. There are regulations on a variety of aspects of bee management-

  • Procedures for conducting inspections
  • Requirements for moving bees across states
  • Provisions for quarantine
  • Seizure of non-compliant hives
  • Destruction of diseased bees and contaminated equipment
  • Requirement for apiary siting and identification
  • Provisions for nuisances

Some regions such as San Diego require that colonies require commercial beekeepers and hobbyists to take online beekeeping, complete apiary registration forms, as well as report the number and location of bee colonies (according to the tier system-A, B, or C) to the Agricultural Commissioner.

There are stipulations under the Cottage Food Law, where individuals who own the bees can process the food item at their residence do not need a Cottage Food Operations permit whereas individuals are processing the food item in their home from bees they do not home, a Cottage Food Operation permit is needed.

Urban Beekeeper Tending to Bees

In some cities, they may need to amend ordinances to reclassify or clarify that bees are not prohibited wild animals. In California there are legislation in regards to bee management and honey production. A limiting issue to beekeepers is the lot size and density they can house on their property; these limitations ensure that the population does not grow to extreme numbers and become a nuisance. In some states, there are bee ordinances that include registration requiring information about the number and location of the hives in order to obtain registration from the state Department of Public Health. At local levels, there are apiary registration laws. The apiary must be identified with signage that is easily identifiable with contact information of the beekeeper.

Considerations

Even though the urbanized area is said to provide a safer environment for bees it still poses the question if Colony Collapse Disorder is lessened or reduced due to the urbanized environment. Or if there is any exposure to wild bees or Africanized Honey Bees. Also, the extent of transporting hives to different regions (building tops) with injuring or disrupting the bees.

References

Agriculture Ombudsman, Cottage Food Operation (n.d.). University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. https://ucanr.edu/sites/CESonomaAgOmbuds/Value_Add_Products/Cottage_Food_Bill/#list

Bees in the City. (2020). Beeproject Apiaries. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://beeproject.ca/urban-beekeeping

Code Section Group: Bee Management and Honey Production. (2020). Retrieved November 23, 2020, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayexpandedbranch.xhtml?tocCode=FAC

French, K. (2019). Urban Agriculture: A Guide to Beekeeping, Community Gardening, & More in the City. Cambridge Public Health Department.    https://www.cambridgepublichealth.org/publications/urban-agriculture/Urban-Agriculture-  Guide-2019-Cambridge-MA.pdf

Mussen, E. C. (1994). Starting a Small Beekeeping Operation. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/pubs/SFNews/archives/94032/

Salkin, P. E. (2012). Honey, It’s All the Buzz: Regulating Neighborhood Beehives. Boston College Environment Affairs Law Review. 39(1). http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/ealr/vol39/iss1/2

Side Effects of COVID-19 around the Globe

Eka Yulianti, the urban farmer in action tending to newly planted spinach plants. The Jakarta Post/ Vela Andapita.

COVID-19, the pandemic that halted the world. The world was not prepared for a virus with a force as destructive as we have experienced. The pandemic has been going on for more several months now, and in that time there have been some drastic changes that people around the world have come to adapt to. One of those common side effects has been the spread of growing what you need in what ever space you have available. Urban agriculture has gained a greater importance during this time.

Stay at Home Citizens Evolve into Urban Farmers

In a period of precautionary measures taken at every step to avoid spreading a deadly disease one of the most effective ways in combatting COVID-19 is to simply stay home. In Indonesia, their time at home sprouted farming in ways that very limited on space. There one researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) believes that urban agriculture for their country could very well be a solution to food security (The Jakarta Post, 2020). Urban farming is meant to be a small scale operation however, if you have every other neighbor growing or raising produce and live stock that might just make a big enough change to change a nations demand from depending on the big agricultural industries. Several alternatives for urban agriculture in limited spaces included:

  • Developing an integrated rice-fish farming system
  • Hydroponic rice systems
  • Container planting
  • Vertical planting
See the source image
Farming in Uganda has taken to the skies. CITI I/O/ Nils Adler.

Becoming Independent through the Pandemic

As the surge of COVID-19 cases rise throughout the world it began to strain the world’s food supply. In severe cases a nation may have not been able to supply all of its citizens with the necessary nutrition they need. In Kampala, Uganda’s capitol, the area is highly dependent on exported produce. It is safe to assume that during this time the capitol suffered greatly. The government pushed for its citizens to begin growing what they need. An agricultural researcher David Omoding, believes that through this effort of cultivation in such short time a they were able to yield an estimated 65% of vegetable produce in Kampala alone (Cornell Alliance for Science, 2020). The complete turn around of urban agriculture is a big factor for the residents in the area. It goes to show that there is always more that can be done within the community. The city of Kampala is seeing great success in their urban agriculture that they want to continue this trend even after the pandemic ends. See how Ugandan’s have taken urban agriculture into their own hands in Rooftop Farming: Why Vertical Gardening Is Blooming In Kampala

What has COVID-19 done to Urban Agriculture back home?

As the pandemic continues its toll in the U.S. so have the endeavors of urban farmers. The supply and demand chain of America’s food supply took a hit during this pandemic as any other country, and as seen around the world this nation’s citizens rose to the challenge of food insecurity. It is during times like these in which going back to our roots has made an positive impact. Personally I know this pandemic has enhanced the urban farmer in me. Around this time I usually only have one vegetable garden going, however with the extra time at home and less income I took it upon myself to grow as much as I can. This includes a system of vertical drain tubes I have around my house that houses a variety of veggies/herbs including; lettuce, peas, tomatoes basil, tomatillos. This growth of urban farming is also being back federally, the USDA has announced $3 million in grants for the development of new urban agriculture production projects, (USDA, 2020). The backing of the government during the pandemic is a fruitful sign that urban agriculture can and will make an impact on the world. The only variable at play is the willingness of citizens to get up and get their hands dirty.

References

Urban Farming a Solution to Food Security Issues During A Pandemic. (2020, October 28). Retrieved November 18, 2020 from https://www.thejakartapost.com/paper/2020/10/27/urban-farming-a-solution-to-food-security-issues-during-pandemic.html

Urban Agriculture Thriving in East Africa During COVID-19. (2020, August 3). Retrieved November 18, 2020 from https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2020/08/urban-agriculture-thriving-in-east-africa-during-covid-19/

USDA Announces Grants for Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. (2020, May 6). Retrieved from November 18, 2020 from https://www.fsa.usda.gov/news-room/news-releases/2020/usda-announces-grants-for-urban-agriculture-and-innovative-production

Exceptions to the Rules: How Farmers Markets Meet Food Safety Measures

The Importance of Food Safety 

Food Safety is the strict practices of when handling, preparing, and storing food to prevent foodborne illnesses. The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans get sick each year from a foodborne illness. The most common pathogenic bacteria that consumers come in contact with includes:

  • Shiga Toxin- producing E. Coli–  STEC
  • Salmonella spp.
  •  C. Jejuni. 

Typically these pathogens enter the human body when we eat undercooked proteins, unwashed produce, or drinking contaminated water. This can easily be avoided by cooking proteins at the recommended degree of doneness, washing produce before eating, and testing or checking with your city about water contaminants. 

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed in 2011 to establish preventative food safety issues. This act pushed for mandatory federal food safety standards for produce across the US. This directed growers to follow the new standards rather than voluntarily following guidelines. There are seven rules that growers must follow in order to meet the new federal standard and sell their products to consumers. 

Exemptions to the Rules

There are a few FSMA rules that small growers can bypass

  • Food that that is rarely consumed raw such as beans, some leafy greens, root crops, or grains
  • The produce is for on farm consumption
  • The average sales in a 3-year period do not exceed $500,000 or $250,00 for very small businesses
  • Produce that receives commercial processing in which it reduces the presence of microorganisms 
  • Qualified Exemptions to farm sales that meet qualified end users such as a direct consumer or a food establishment within 275 miles from the farm. 

Those with qualified exemptions are given modified requirements they must follow. 

  • Label their product with the name and business address of the farm the product was grown or disclose that information at the point of purchase 
  • Keep thorough records and documentation of their sales. 

What Does This Mean for Farmers’ Markets? 

Farmers’ markets are places where small growers can showcase their produce directly to consumers allowing them to build a sense of community. It is like a bridge that connects two worlds supplying each other education, support, and accessibility to amazing food. With the increase in popularity in buying from local vendors, farmers’ markets are seeing new and loyal buyers. 

Most, if not all, these markets are held out in the open making a great place for people to gather under the pleasant sun or cooling breeze depending on the season. Certified Farmers’ markets are regularly inspected for food hygiene but bacterial pathogen checks are often overlooked due to the FSMA exemptions. Between 1994-2016 there were  only 10 foodborne illness outbreaks, a majority of them being Salmonella and E. coli. Out of those 10, two were traced back from originating at farmers markets (Young. 2017). 

However, these markets still practice safety measures by all means to continue to provide to consumers. Preventative measures include:

  • Handwashing or sanitation stations
  • Food Safety Training 
  • Setting up booths in U shapes to prevent the least amount of cross contamination
  • Keeping up to health code and regulations

What to Take From This

Just like buying from a grocery store, it is very important that we as consumers know that there may be a risk of contracting a foodborne illness from the produce and proteins we eat. We constantly hear on the news about a new foodborne outbreak, the most recent being E.coli in romaine lettuce. Whether we buy our favorite foods from your farmers’ market on the weekend or getting them from the grocery store down the block, we must always remember to cook our meat  and wash our produce thoroughly. No one wants to get sick so stay safe and keep eating good when you can!

References

(Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses in the United States, 2018) 

https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/index.html#:~:text=CDC%20estimates%2048%20million%20people,Learn%20about%20our%20methods.

(Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), n.d.)

https://www.fda.gov/food/guidance-regulation-food-and-dietary-supplements/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma

(FSMA Final Rule Produce Safety, n.d.)

https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/fsma-final-rule-produce-safety 


Young, I., Thaivalappil, A., Reimer, D., & Greig, J. (2017). Food safety at farmers’ markets: A knowledge synthesis of published research. Journal of Food Protection, 80(12), 2033-2047. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cpp.edu/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-17-193

Life or Death: Cuba’s Urban Farming

Life or Death

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba commercially grew sugar cane. It was well known that Cuba traded this crop for staple items like rice, wheat, machinery, gas, and cattle. Unfortunately, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the implementation of the United States trade embargo, Cuba’s agriculture fell short soon after. Many farmers in Cuba struggled to farm and therefore did not have any other choice than to leave their tractors without fuel to operate. Additionally, their cows died as a result of a lack of imported pesticides and fertilizer to grow the food they needed in order to survive. In order to survive, Cuban people completely transformed their agriculture system and began turning plots of land into farms.

What is Organoponicos?

When making the transition from conventional farming into sustainable urban agriculture in order to feed the isolated country, Cubans developed a farming method called organoponicos. The term of Organoponicos refers to producing more food with less. Organoponic gardens helped turn poor soils into thriving farms. Through this method, farmers were able to grow more food with less. Farmers opted for using organic methods such as using crop residue, household waste and animal manure to build soil fertility. It was common for organoponic gardens to develop with furrow in the soil with a barrier of reused material like wood, stone, bricks, or concrete. Farmers focused especially on high yielding vegetables like lettuce, chard, radish, beets, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, and peppers.

Havana’s Thriving Markets

Havana, Cuba has implemented national agriculture programs for urban and peri-urban areas. The Cuban government has played a strong role in advocating for urban farming. This encouraged universities to focus on soil fertility and natural pest prevention. For instance, this was achieved when marigolds were planted within lettuce patches to help repel harmful insects by feeding on cash crops. Using the organoponicos method, the city of Havana in Cuba has been successfully able to produce over 90% of its fruits and vegetables. In fact, Miguel Sacianos, owner of the Vivalaro farm, has produced enough produce to feed 80,000 residents. 

What we can learn from Cuba’s Urban Agriculture

Through Cuba’s extremely successful agricultural transition, we can learn that through crisis and governmental support the implementation of methods can accelerate a new food system. 

In addition, it shows that communities and even countries as a whole can make the transition from large industrial agriculture and into sustainable urban farms. Until this day, Cuba’s agriculture has been able to sustain itself because it has focused on growing for and within the local community, biologically intensive farming, and encouraging a variety of farmers to grow instead of one large industrial farm. I believe that the United States can reflect on this approach by supporting urban agriculture through backyard farming and community supported agriculture to redevelop food systems. 

ˈɜrbən•maɪˈkɑlədʒi (urban mycology)

The biggest challenge in urban agriculture is space to grow food. Outside of access to available land, soil contamination, water availability and climate are the major concerns and limiting factors (Wortman & Lovell, 2013). One overlooked option in urban agriculture is mycology, mainly mushrooms. The main reasons mushrooms are fantastic for urban agriculture is that they require very little in invested money and can be done in the unused spaces of a home. The main reasons it is not more readily adopted is because it is intimidating. It is not planting seeds and that is scary for many future urban farmers. So how is mycology the answer to urban agriculture inclusion?

Growing mushrooms as a part of urban agriculture is a strong choice. Mushrooms can be grown with great success in plastic containers (bags) and indoors (Grimm & Wosten, 2018). Why is this such an amazing concept? Someone who wants to participate in an urban agriculture movement in their community is not required to find a vacant lot or have a back yard or access to a rooftop. There is no need for expensive grow lights, pumps, or fish tanks. It does require a high degree of sanitation and protocol when starting so as not to cultivate different specimens.

Overcoming the intimidation of growing mushrooms comes from education. A successful urban agriculture community would encourage members to grow mushrooms, even if there is physical land to spare. The waste products from a mycology endeavor can be used in composting for traditional urban agriculture operations very effectively (Dhar & Shrivastava, 2012). Mushrooms offer a variety throughout the year of different flavors and textures. LA FungHI, a local mushroom farming operation in Los Angeles offers a seasonal menu of available product. This is a market filled with opportunity. YouTube and Reddit are both filled with bountiful resources for beginners.

A fun aspect of growing mushrooms is that being an organic operation is very easy to accomplish. The USDA sees the mushrooms, other than white button caps, as specialty crops and is a recognizable product to receive a USDA Organic certification (Ellor, 2020). The same requirements that would be required of other specialty crops to obtain that certificate are required for mushrooms. This means a greater opportunity for income generation within the community as specific species of mushrooms can retail for up to $12 per pound.

The sustainable feature that works best with urban agriculture is that mycological substrate required can be created from certain waste products. Many start-ups have made a successful business model using the waste products from local businesses like coffee shops, while lumber and flour mills can also be a source for substrate (Rangarajan & Riordan, 2019). This is not something that might be available in all communities, but it is a greater possibility as the coffee shop trend is still a successful expansion model. This is encouraging for those looking to get started in urban agriculture as it creates a niche that can be filled by anyone in a community looking to grow delicious food.  

References:

Wortman, Sam E., and Lovell, Sarah Taylor. “Environmental Challenges Threatening the Growth of Urban Agriculture in the United States.” Journal of Environmental Quality Vol. 42, 5 (2013): 1283-1603. 01 September 2013

Grimm, Daniel, and Han A B Wösten. “Mushroom cultivation in the circular economy.” Applied microbiology and biotechnology vol. 102,18 (2018): 7795-7803. doi:10.1007/s00253-018-9226-8

Dhar, B.L. & Shrivastava, Neeraj.  “Mushrooms and Environmental Sustainability.” (2012) 400                                                                                                      CHAPTER 16Mushrooms and Environmental SustainabilityBL Dhar*, Neeraj ShrivastavaMushroom Research Development and Training Centre (MRDTC)

Ellor, Tina. “Mushrooms and Organic Mushrooms: A Specialty Within A Specialty.” (2020) USDA.gov, US Department of Agriculture, www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Ellor.pdf.

Rangarajan, A., & Riordan, M. (2019). The Promise of Urban Agriculture: National Study of Commercial Farming in Urban Areas. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Marketing Service and Cornell University Small Farms Program.

Soil Contaminant concerns and alternatives

For my blog, I wanted to go in depth into one of urban agricultures biggest issue, which is the presence of soil contaminants and some alternatives of how we can still continue to grow food when we don’t have viable soil. In many situations, urban soils have been exposed to contamination and degradation due to previous land usage and activities that include industry uses, unauthorized  dumping, construction, or heavy nearby traffic which has resulted in the contamination of that soil. Most commonly, elevated levels of soils have been known to be infiltrated in urban soils which pose serious health risks to not only children, but adults as well (ANR Publication). Arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc, are also naturally according elements in soils that can be elevated to an unsafe levels due to previous land use. Although relatively little of these contaminants are actually absorbed by the plant, it makes it fairly difficult to even have a successful crop when you have contaminated soil. The most common way a person will get exposed to these unsafe levels of contaminants is through swallowing or inhaling soil dust. So this begs the questions of how we can continue to grow food in urban areas which soil contaminants that may be food deserts or suffer from food security? 

My answer to this question and one of my favorite alternatives to growing food without soil is vertical farming. Vertical farming is something that I have recently gotten into after a lab project of mine was canceled last semester due to COVID-19 where a group of classmates and I were in charge of coming up with a working system that was vertical farming. While in the process, I couldn’t help but think about how easily one of these food systems could be able to be actually function and benefit areas that we consider food deserts or food swamps, which are areas with a high-density of fast food establishments and unhealthy food relative to healthier options. One significant benefit of Vertical farming is space saving relative to conventional horizontal farming. According to NewGeography, the Los Angeles median lot size is just slightly above .15 acres (“The High Residential Densities of California”), vertical farming therefore offers the possibility of providing fresh food by squeezing into urban locations near consumers. A good example of vertical farming is Freight Farms, which has claimed that its system can produce as much food in one year as two of farmland as well as using 90% less water use compared to conventional farming (Breewood 2019). Instilling such a system in food deserts or inner-city communities where fresh food may not be widely available, can only bring positive benefits to said communities. A lot of times, these food deserts or food swamps, are the way they are due to systemic oppression and the lack of real consideration of how limiting ones person access to healthy food will impact other aspects of their life. I think vertical farming can be a viable system in these areas that may not have a good soil or the space available to plant in the ground. These communities have a right to easy, accessible healthy options which I feel vertical farming can provide. 

Resources:

  ANR Publication 8552 Soils in Urban Agriculture.pdf

Cooksey-Stowers, Kristen, et al. “Food Swamps Predict Obesity Rates Better Than Food Deserts in the United States.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, MDPI, 14 Nov. 2017, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5708005/. 

Breewood, Hellen “Spotlight on Urban, Vertical and Indoor Agriculture.” Resilience, 22 Jan. 2019, http://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-01-22/spotlight-on-urban-vertical-and-indoor-agriculture/.

“The High Residential Densities of California (and ‘Wild Wild’ Texas).” The High Residential Densities of California (and “Wild Wild” Texas) | Newgeography.com, 2020, http://www.newgeography.com/content/006196-the-high-residential-densities-california-and-wild-wild-texas. 

Health Concerns Amid Covid-19 Make Farmer’s Markets More Difficult and More Important

Shoppers wearing protective masks walk through the Historic Downtown Farmers Market during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

                During the current pandemic caused by Covid-19, public health concerns are on everyone’s mind. While contracting the virus is the number one worry, staying healthy while attending school remotely or working from home is another issue to consider. The tendency to overeat out of boredom or eating unhealthy fast food, as well as, limited access to healthy options has made this a difficult time for our diet and nutrition. According to a study by the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2020 Food and Health Survey, one-in-three said they are snacking more, and a quarter said they are thinking about food more than usual (Danley, 2020). Quarantines meant to prevent the spread of the virus, have many people confined to their homes and immediate surroundings. This can result in more limited access to healthy food options. Many areas are already considered food deserts and the pandemic has only made it more difficult for some to find healthy and affordable food options. I wondered what might be a viable option and whether that idea would be safe and appropriate during the pandemic?

Farmer’s Markets

After some consideration, I concluded that farmer’s markets could help increase the access to these foods in areas where food choice is limited and provide a safe alternative to grocery stores and large chain markets. After many businesses and services were restricted due to viral spread concerns, some areas are realizing how vital these markets can be in vulnerable communities. New York city, one of the hardest hit cities early in the pandemic, opened farmer’s markets in every borough to provide food while following extra precautions. San Francisco and Maryland are also areas where open air markets are frequently the only reliable source of food in low-income areas (Love & Storring, 2020). Some of the precautions that should be considered during the pandemic at farmer’s markets include:

  • Blocking your exposure to the virus (wear a mask)
  • Choose pre-bagged produce when available to limit direct contact with items
  • Consider the market set-up (social distancing, proper handwashing and overall cleanliness)
  • Get what you need and leave.

Safer Shopping

The characteristics of farmer’s markets might actually also make them safer than grocery stores during these difficult times. Early in the pandemic farmer’s markets were lumped in with parades and public parties but later states like California changed their minds. California declared that the state’s farmers markets were “essential to the functioning of our state” and said they “must continue,” (Linnekin, 2020). While large gatherings are discouraged, open air markets allow for better social distancing than grocery stores and shorten the supply chain resulting in less people having direct contact with the food before the consumer (Love & Storring, 2020). Farmer’s markets are helping provide food during this tough time but more work needs to be done.

Let’s Create A more Inclusive Space!

In the article, “If They Only Knew: Color Blindness and Universalism in California Alternative Food Institutions” by Julie Guthman, she brings up an important point that needs to be addressed to allow farmer’s markets to be a more effective alternate food source during Covid-19 and beyond. Farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture historically are frequented by upper-income white Americans that rarely have food insecurity concerns. A more inclusive atmosphere must be created by raising awareness and opening discussions on how these food systems often exclude low-income minorities (Guthman, 2008). These are the very people who commonly need the increased access to healthier foods and inclusive farmer’s markets might be one answer to easing their growing food insecurity concerns.

References

Danley, S. (2020, 6 12). Eight in Ten Consumers Changed Their Eating Habits Due To Covid-19. Retrieved from Food Business News: https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/16226-eight-in-ten-consumers-changed-their-eating-habits-due-to-covid-19

Guthman, J. (2008). If They Only Knew: Color Blindness and Universalism in California Alternative Food Institutions. The Professional Geographer 60(3), 387-397.

Linnekin, B. (2020, May). Shuttering Farmers Markets Over COVID-19 Is Stupid, Dangerous, and Counterproductive. Retrieved from Reason: https://reason.com/2020/03/21/shuttering-farmers-markets-over-covid-19-is-stupid-dangerous-and-counterproductive/

Love, H., & Storring, N. (2020, April). Farmers markets are vital during COVID-19, but they need more support. Retrieved from THE AVENUE: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/04/08/farmers-markets-are-vital-during-covid-19-but-they-need-more-support/