For some, it may be hard to contextualize food systems in dense urban areas, especially when living in a town like Boulder, Colorado, where we have large farmers markets, local agriculture, and easy access to many grocery stores. However, when it comes to larger cities, this may not be the case, and obtaining fresh produce becomes more of a challenge. A proposed method to combat this is seen with urban agriculture and community gardens, which are dedicated areas within an urban environment that allow residents to grow produce, on an individual and collaborative level. Many studies have been conducted on the economics of urban agriculture, and most have found that community gardens can help urban neighborhoods on numerous levels.
Urban Areas as Food Deserts
One major problem associated within cities, especially in low-income areas, is that of food deserts. The USDA defines a food desert as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers”. Limited access to supermarkets, produce, and other sources of healthy and affordable food can pose a challenge for those striding towards a healthy diet, as food deserts contribute to nutrient deficiency and obesity. Even if there is produce within an urban area, many individuals living in low-income neighborhoods may not be able to afford food that is outside of food stamps and fast food chains. An inclusion of a community garden in these areas provides individuals and communities to grow their own produce in close proximity to where they reside, giving an opportunity to include greater amounts of fruits and vegetables into their diet.
Economics of Urban Agriculture
Many view urban agriculture and community gardens from the angle of social and health benefits, but it has also been proven that community gardens benefit local economies and food budgets for individuals. Urban agriculture has been argued in terms of food dollars, which is a measurement of an annual expenditure made on domestically produced food by an individual. As some may focus on buying bulk food that fills them up and may not be nutritious, the inclusion of community gardens and small scale farming has been seen to reduce household food dollars. Studies report that every $1 invested into a community garden plot yields about $6 worth of vegetables. Another study conducted in 1996 finds that 1,900 gardens in community lots on 30 acres in Newark produce approximately $915,000 of food value in one year and almost $4 million over 5 years. If community gardens are successful enough, farmers markets arise, which also lead to benefits in local economies. Every dollar spent at a farmer’s market circulates through the local community 27 times, and according to the The Detroit Eastern Market’s website, it is estimated that if 25% of food could be sourced locally it would generate nearly 5,000 jobs, create $20 million in new local taxes, and $125 million in new household income.
Social Impact of Community Gardens
Besides the factors of economy and health, urban agriculture has a very strong social influence can can be seen as beneficial on almost all levels. Growing and producing your own food simply increases an individual’s relationship with the food they consume, when you put in the time an effort to grow fruits and vegetables, you know exactly where your nutrition is coming from and you are responsible for promoting a healthy and sustainable diet. Community gardens are also beneficial towards local leadership and community education, which can be extremely empowering. In terms of land use, community gardens can be utilized to reuse the space of a vacant lot, increasing productivity in land use in urban areas. Lastly, urban agriculture provide a green space in otherwise concrete dominant areas, providing a plot of land that is a change of scenery and can provide fresh air. Through health, economy, and social benefits, it is clear that urban agriculture and community gardens can be used to greatly improve food systems in urban areas.