Urban and Suburban Farming Improves Food Safety and Security

Questions about where our food comes from—as well as where it will come from—continues to be a rising trend. Shifting food production closer to where people actually live (and eat!) would help answer the questions about food safety and security.

Food Safety

At present, much of our food is grown on large ‘mega-farms’ that are often owned & operated by large corporations. This is true in the Organic food industry as well: despite the 2012 spinach salmonella scare being traced back to just a few farms, the recalls attached to these farms involved dozens of brands—including Earthbound Farms and O Organics, two organic labels (O Organics is a Safeway private label).

Switching to urban & suburban farming would require establishing numerous, smaller farms—including backyard & rooftop gardening. By diversifying the sources of our food, it not only arrives fresher (allowing less time for bacteria to multiply), it shrinks the impact any one farm’s safety scare can have.

Food Security

While food scarcity is more of a political problem (see “Diet for a Small Planet,” by Frances Moore Lappé), there are some legitimate reasons to be concerned about where our food will come from in the future:

  • The political, social, and economic issues Lappé discussed in her book have not gone away despite being brought to light more than 40 years ago.
  • Existing farmland continues to vanish via suburban sprawl and economic pressure from the mega-farms I discussed earlier.
  • Numerous factors are affecting food production at existing farms around the world: global warming, colony collapse disorder, diseases, wars, pollution, and more.
  • As a result of disappearing farmland, we get more & more of our nutrition from fewer types of food. Fewer farms eliminates many regionally adapted varieties, and increased shipping distances means stores only stock fruits & vegetables that ship well.

Having smaller, more numerous ‘micro-farms’ encourages diversity in the food supply—growers would compete on local grocery shelves based on taste & nutritional qualities rather than ship-ability. More growers means more genetic diversity in specific crops, encouraging the development of varieties that are resistant to disease without resorting to genetic modification.

Further, being able to affordably source all of our food locally limits our vulnerability to production problems elsewhere without eliminating the import option when crises happen.

Environmental Sustainability

Growing & eating food locally reduces shipping fuel consumed—helping open the door for renewable alternatives. However, the environmental benefits reach far beyond that:

  • Locally grown food is fresher and usually cheaper. This could help people make healthier food choices, reducing the amount needed to be grown and consumption of environmentally damaging animal foods.
  • When our food is grown in our neighborhood, it reestablishes personal connection to the local environment. We could expect to see stricter, better-enforced rules regarding pollution in urban and suburban areas.
  • Growing more plants—including fruits & vegetables—in urban areas would improve air quality.
  • Studies have shown that rooftop gardening as well as replacing paved areas with gardens helps reduce the “heat island effect.”

There are more reasons than food safety, security, and environmental concerns to grow & eat food locally; regardless, these reasons alone create a compelling argument to do so. Hopefully more local and state governments will enact fiscal policies that encourage such a trend.

This is a guest post by Liz Nelson from WhiteFence.com. She is a freelance writer and blogger from Houston. Questions and comments can be sent to: liznelson17 @ gmail.com.

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