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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beyond the Cash Crop: The Economics of Urban Farming

Posted By on Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 6:08 PM

click to enlarge Big score at Alemany. - ESLI SF/FLICKR
  • ESLI SF/Flickr
  • Big score at Alemany.
Our favorite morsel from the blogs.

At Grist, Tom Philpott reveals how the economics of urban farms can be trickier than navigating a city lot laced with lead. If you're laboring under some hippie idyll that places like Alemany or City Slicker could one day make their surrounding metropolises food secure, Philpott's here to douse your bong:

For all the hype urban farms have gotten of late, no one who works in the field expects cities to become anything close to self-sufficient with regard to food. Any realistic vision of "green cities" sees them as consumption hubs in a larger regional foodshed: dense population centers surrounded not by sprawling suburbs, but rather by diversified farms of a multiplicity of scales.
And yet, he argues, referencing a piece by Sena Christian in Earth Island Journal, urban farms have a value far beyond the cash crop.


The farms profiled by Christian provide significant positive goods for which the market doesn't compensate them: interesting, learning-oriented jobs for teens who would otherwise be consigned to the fast-food or narcotics trades; high-quality produce in low-income neighborhoods with limited food access; open public spaces in neighborhoods that lack parks; community organizing opportunities; a mechanism through which food expenditures can circulate within communities, building wealth; and more.
And even though foundations and other fund-raising strategies have made ― and kept ― places like City Slicker possible, he predicts that many urban farms could one day operate in the black. Only don't expect market forces alone to make millionaires out of tillers of the empty lot.

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