Most of our food grows on farms in rural areas, yet food production can be a thriving part of urban environments as well. Historically, gardens were a prominent feature within cities, with many people relying on gardens to grow some of their own food. Changing urban culture and farming practices over the past 50 years has made growing food in the city, and especially raising small livestock, less common.
In recent years, the re-emergence of urban agriculture (including urban farming, backyard, and community gardening) has taken Canada by storm. An increasing number of people are looking for ways to produce more of the food they eat in an effort to be more economical and health conscious, to foster a deeper connection to food and to nature, and to improve their neighbourhoods.
Not-for-profit organizations, schools, and hospitals have also caught the urban agriculture bug and are using food for a wide range of purposes such as youth engagement and education, creating therapeutic spaces, seizing niche business opportunities in urban centres, and building community.
The resurgence of urban agriculture has pushed the boundaries of possibility in terms of where and how food is grown. Gardens now exist on rooftops and herbs are being grown in hydroponics operations in schools. Beekeepers are starting apiaries in backyards and aquaponics operations are getting their start in warehouses. Greenhouses are being built as vertical structures and on industrial sites, and urban farms are being cultivated on university grounds. Pollinator gardens are popping up everywhere, and forest foods are being cultivated in city parks.
The benefits of urban agriculture are extensive. Integrating agriculture into the urban realm builds a lively and healthy landscape while fostering a deeper understanding of where food comes from. It creates more opportunities for residents to access healthy, affordable food, while providing opportunities for community members to share knowledge about the relationship between their cultures and health. Creating vibrant green space contributes to the mental health and general well-being of urban residents, and activities such as planting and harvesting can provide an important form of regular exercise.
Urban agriculture is a way to engage local residents in the stewardship of their neighbourhood’s green spaces and their urban environment more broadly. Expanding urban spaces for food production can be used as a tool for turning underutilized spaces into productive ones, and deteriorating lots into vibrant community gathering spaces. Physical improvements to the environment enhance community safety, decreasing the need for policing and municipal maintenance of blighted properties.
Growing food close to home contributes to a more equitable and sustainable city. Not only does it shorten the distance that food travels, but it can be leveraged for waste water management, soil remediation, and to improve biodiversity and pollinator habitats. People who grow food are more likely to see food as a resource and divert food waste from landfills to composting. Urban agriculture builds climate resiliency by reducing individual reliance on imported foods. According to an increasing number of urban planners, bringing nature back into cities is essential to fostering sustainable urban ecosystems.