Urban Farming—Just for the Few?

Urban agriculture likely has more social than material impacts. But who does it benefit most?

Read Time: 2 minutes

October 24, 2016, 6:00 AM PDT

By Elana Eden


With the continued popularity of urban agriculture and community garden programs, Vox sets out to determine their true value. Specifically, writer Brad Plumer asks, "Are there real social or environmental benefits to growing food within city limits? Or is urban farming just a well-meaning but ultimately insignificant hobby for urban elites?"

Plumer explores a May study from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that found, in so many words, that "the actual food grown in community gardens and urban farms nowadays is their least important contribution."

Undeniably, many people in American cities cannot easily access healthy or fresh food. But today, that’s a failure of distribution, rather than of production. "We're not suffering from a dearth of cropland," Plumer writes.

Rather, in some cities, urban agriculture has been found to increase social bonds and provide a forum for science education, civic engagement, youth development, and workforce training.

Still, even these social impacts can cut both ways, depending on how, where, and by whom the programs are administered. "Urban farms aren't always as inclusive as they aspire to be—and there are often huge class divides," Plumer writes.

From the study:

A number of case studies have found that urban farms and gardens — both for-profit and non-profit — have been led by mostly white non-residents in predominantly black and/or Latino neighborhoods, unintentionally excluding people of color from participating in or reaping the benefit of such efforts.

Moreover, Plumer adds that "when a community garden is established in a neighborhood, property values typically shoot up in the surrounding area. This can also raise thorny issues around gentrification and displacement in low-income areas."

And the study found that when urban ag initiatives are led by low-income communities and communities of color, they are often stymied from realizing their full potential by "disparities in access to land, government funding, and political support compared to urban agriculture efforts led by white and middle-class groups."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 in Vox

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Aerial view of dense single-family homes in neighborhood still under construction

How Virginia Counties Use Zoning to Stifle Development

Some state legislators are proposing action at the state level as counties block development using zoning and development requirements even as housing prices rise sharply in the region.

January 23, 2023 - The Virginia Mercury

New York City Coronavirus

The Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to Remake Downtown

Urban cores around the country were transforming into live, work, and play destinations before the pandemic. The pandemic was a setback for this transformation, but it could also be a rare opportunity. It’s up to city leadership to seize it.

January 23, 2023 - The Washington Post

Rendering of red seven-story student housing building with students walking in open grassy plaza in front of building

L.A. Times Editorial Board Calls for CEQA Reform

The Board argues that the environmental law, while important, has too often been ‘weaponized’ by NIMBY groups to delay or halt housing development.

January 31 - Los Angeles Times

Seattle buses in line at a depot with Seattle skyline in background

Seattle Brings Free Transit to Public Housing

Linking transit programs to housing can lower administrative costs and streamline the process for riders.

January 31 - Route Fifty

Broad street in downtown Columbus, Ohio with two pedestrians in crosswalk

Columbus Could Lower Downtown Speed Limits

The city council will vote on a proposal to lower speed limits to 25 miles per hour to improve safety and make downtown more walkable and welcoming to pedestrians.

January 31 - The Columbus Dispatch