Written by Ran Goel, our Sustainable Farming Superhero. Read Ran’s full bio below.
Our children are obese, asthmatic and prone to allergies. Our rivers are polluted. Our soil is degraded. Our oceans have huge dead zones. Our farmers can’t make a living. Our best farmland is being paved over. And to add insult to injury, you can hardly find a decent tomato these days. City farming can play a central role in addressing these issues. And more.
The last decade has witnessed a swell of consciousness regarding the connection between our reigning food system and a slew of geopolitical, health, social and environmental problems. More and more of us are realizing that industrial farming is bad news for our planet and for our health. What to do? Experts and pundits point to a seemingly straightforward solution: eat less meat, eat less processed food and eat more organic and local. In some respects the counter-movement against the current food system has been swift. Farmers markets are proliferating, health food stores are the rage and the media is paying attention. But these promising trends are up against some very stubborn headwinds – a lack of public consciousness on food issues and, even where a consciousness exists, the lack of convenient and affordable ways to access healthy, nutritious food. Not to mention entrenched conglomerates with a deep interest in things remaining just the way they are.
So, what do to? Grab seed and a shovel and farm your city. The idea is by no means original or exotic. From the Hanging Garden of Babylon to a nineteenth century Paris that produced enough food for export, city farming has been around as long as cities themselves. But how can city farming solve our food problems? Not in how you may first imagine. Yes, city farming does reduce fossil fuel use related to transportation. Using organic methods it decreases energy use associated with fertilizers – and with mowing what would otherwise likely be lawn. It keeps people physically fit and provides a measure of food security in the event of supply shocks. It reclaims farmland chewed up by urban sprawl over the last two centuries. It may hopefully encourage a new generation of farmers to emerge to replace the current generation of farmers whose average age is now in the mid-50s. The list of spinoff benefits from city farming goes on. But I would suggest such benefits are a sideshow to city farming’s true potential.
Quite simply, city farming can win hearts and minds. It gets people excited about food. It provides a courtside seat to the rhythms of the seed-to-harvest cycle. Several studies have shown that young and old alike consume more vegetables and fruit when they are exposed to vegetable gardening. There is also evidence that less food is wasted when you know who grew it. In a world of customers facing a thousand ads daily, of little time with food decision-making being governed by inertia and habit, of misleading nutritional claims, of a giant marketing machine pushing processed foods, its city farming that may hold the promise of rekindling the intimacy between people, land and food. Most of us are two or three generations removed from any meaningful bond with food making. We have neither sense of seasonality nor increasingly the skills to cook anything from raw ingredients. City farming on a large scale can reach city people – four fifths of Canada’s population – in a way that rural farming cannot. Clearly, not all our food can come from cities. However, cultivating a critical mass of food production that makes farming and farmers ubiquitous in cities will go a long way towards engaging the public on food.
Question of the Day: Do you take advantage of city farming organizations?
Ran Goel was born in Israel, raised in South Africa, moved to Canada and then studied investment law in New York City. He decided to forgo the world of Wall street for the wonderful world of farming, and now owns and operates Fresh City Farms in Downsview area of Toronto.