The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

Urban Agriculture

Megan Gyoerkoe | NUTR 245 | Spring 2012 | 4/24/12

Why Urban Agriculture?

  • There are approximately 313,334,397 people currently living in the United States. [3]
  • An estimated 250 million Americans live in or around urban areas; that is about 80% of the population (as of 2011). [3]
  • Of the 80% of these people living in urban areas, 14.9% were living below the poverty level (as of 2010). [3]
  • Evidence shows that even when urban residents have access to money, they do not always have access to food, let alone healthy food. [3]
  • Inadequate nutrition is linked to individual issues such as obesity, heart failure, diabetes and hypertension, as well as community issues such as the increased incidence of infectious disease. [1, 3]

Benefits to Individual Health:

  • Provides access to more fruits and vegetables; increasing the understanding of the value of nutrition
  • Improved nutrition due to increased intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Decreases the amount of food processing, therefore less exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Increases physical activity, decrease in cases of obesity.
  • Improvements to psychological well-being and physical health

Benefits to the Community:

  • The creation of a more aesthetic environment for inner-city areas
  • Promotion of outdoor activity and interaction between community members
  • Enhancement of social and community bonds due to individuals working together in shared spaces
  • Harbors a stronger sense of community pride
  • Children learn new values and have been shown to be more willing to try new foods and more easily accept cultural differences

Economic Benefits:

  • Encourages people to buy/trade locally, promoting the local economy and community members
  • Low-income families become less dependent on government food programs
  • Because of positive health benefits, community members less likely to require health care
  • Makes use of land which would otherwise be underdeveloped, preventing new land from having to be developed

How To Get Started:

  • Many community gardens allow for members to purchase or rent plots
  • If there isn’t a local community garden, get started at home using windowsill space or indoor pottery. Since urban gardening is becoming more popular there are many companies that develop unique indoor gardening materials
  • Don’t have any space? Attempt guerilla gardening! Guerilla gardening is planting in areas of land which do not belong to you (i.e. vacant lots, unclaimed land, etc.)

The Future of Urban Agriculture:

  • Many architectural projects are being developed that include the implementation of gardening in their structures. Examples include rooftop gardening, vertical gardening (gardening on sides of walls or developing vertical towers for gardening) and converting abandoned structures to garden plots.
    • Rooftops account for a large percentage of a city’s land area and therefore provide ample space for gardening and food production. Gardening on rooftops have also been shown to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the buildings
    • China is working to develop the world’s first ‘eco-city’ in Tianjin, which is predicted to be completed by 2020.
      • If built as planned, the city will be 30 square kilometers and will include the latest in energy-saving technologies, including an innovative rail system to provide transportation for city residents


[1]              Brown, K.H., and Carter, A., (2003) “Urban Agriculture and community food security in the United States: farming from the city center to the urban fringe” Community Food Security Coalition.  

This article was a general overview of various aspects of urban agriculture. It provided definitions for urban agriculture, statistics about urban areas and city residents, and discussed many of the potential benefits to this type of agriculture. The authors provide in-depth analysis of the various benefits related to different aspects (i.e. social, economic, health), but also considers the issues and challenges with urban agriculture

[2]             Lautenschlager, L, and Smith, C., (2007) “Beliefs, Knowledge, and values held by inner-city youth about gardening, nutrition, and cooking” Agriculture and Human Values. 24:2,245-258.

Lautenschlager and Smith conducted a study of inner-city youth in Minneapolis/St. Paul to determine the effect gardening programs may have on behavior, beliefs and values. By comparing children involved in a youth gardening program to children not involved in a similar program, the researchers were able to find differences in the children’s food choices, nutrition, social skills, etc. Children who were involved with the program were positively impacted. They were more likely to try new fruits and vegetables, and were also more open to other cultures and willing to try unfamiliar foods.

[3]             “People and Households.” United States Census Bureau. 2010. Web.

This government-run website provided me with statistical information about populations of people living in urban areas. The data was collected during the census and had been collected into various tables where I was able to pull the information from.

[4]             “Startup Profile: Podponics gives rise to sustainable lettuce enterprise in used shipping containers.” Seedstock. 2011. Web.

Seed Stock is an informational blog that not only provides news stories, but also highlights sustainable businesses and helps spread innovative ideas. This website featured a story about a company in Atlanta which renovated storage containers in order to grow lettuce inside. The company uses sustainable practices to grow lettuce inside these old containers and then sells them to restaurants in the area.

[5]             “Tianjin Eco-City In China: The Future of Urban Development?” Huffington Post (Green). 2011. Web.

This news website featured a story about Tianjin, the world’s first ‘eco-city’ being developed in China. The article featured a slideshow of computer-generated plans for the city, with background information and information about what developers hope the outcome to be.

[6]             “Urban gardening: you can grow food, no matter where you live.” Earth First. Web.

This informational blog highlights many different aspects of urban agriculture. On this website there is a guide to various types of gardening with information about how people can get started. The information was useful because it covered gardening ideas for many different solutions to the issues that are caused by inner-city gardening (i.e. different ways to utilize limited space).

[7]             “Urban Farming Food Chain.” EOA: Elmslie Osler Architecture. 2012. Web.

This architectural firm is working with a program called Urban Farming Food Chain, which is working with already existing structures to build ‘food walls,’ in order to help provide healthier foods with those who don’t have access to it. This firm also features a component called Grow Studio, which specializes in urban agriculture and helps to create agricultural systems in inner-city areas. EOA’s website provided me with information about advancements in urban agriculture and also pictures of projects being implemented.

[8]             “Urban Farming.” Questpoint: Going green. 2009-2012. Web.

This online magazine provides information for providers and consumers, related to everything from green architecture to green clothing to green technology. From this website I was able to find information about new and future developments for urban agriculture, especially considering vertical farming and other innovative ideas.

[9]             Van den Ber, A.E., et al., (2010) “Allotment gardening and health: a comparative survey among allotment gardeners and their neighbors without allotment” Environmental Health 9: 74

Researchers conducted a survey study with members of a community in which some members were given an allotment garden, while others were not. The participants were required to provide measures of their own health. Through this study, it was found that people who had access to allotment gardens were more physical active and therefore led a healthier lifestyle.

[10]           Wakefield, S. et al., (2007) “Growing urban health: Community gardening in South-East Toronto” Health Promotion International.22:2, 92-101.

This case study uses Toronto to analyze the various health benefits from community gardening. Not only were researchers able to determine some of the health benefits but they also saw some of the social benefits as well. The researchers worked closely with the members of a particular community in Toronto and relied on their cooperation in questioning, mainly during group discussions organized by garden coordinators. In-depth interviews were also conducted as a way to determine information about certain health benefits. While members of the community were diverse, they were unanimous in their improved health due to access to more nutritional foods.

[11]            Watson, D.L.B. and Moore, H.J., (2011) “Community gardening and obesity” Perspectives in Public Health.131: 4 163-164

This article analyzes the impact that community gardening can have on individual obesity. The researchers consider findings from studies in England that reflect that gardening increases physical activity and generally decrease obesity levels amongst individuals. They also conclude that many individuals experienced improved diets and increases in self-esteem, demonstrating that community gardening also positively affects mental health. This article provided statistical information related to obesity levels and the amount of fruit and vegetable intake, comparatively.

[12]           Xiaolu, Z. and  Masud, P.R., (2012) “Social benefits of urban green space: A conceptual framework of valuation and accessibility measurements” Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal. 23:2, 173 – 189.

This paper is an exploration of not only the social benefits of urban agriculture, but a consideration of the most appropriate way to measure the benefits to adequately reflect producer and consumer benefits. The researchers determine that multiple measurements ensure a better understanding of how certain aspects of urban agriculture create social benefits. Through this paper I was able to obtain information about what types of social benefits urban ‘green spaces’ have and how to appropriately measure those benefits, in order to determine how accurate the information is.


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