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