Does Urban Agriculture Improve Food Security? Examining the Nexus of Food Access and Distribution of Urban Produced Foods in the United States: A Systematic Review
2. Materials and Methods
3. Food Access: Do Low-Income Urban Consumers Access Urban Produced Food?
3.1. Spatial Analyses Highlight Productive Potential and Uneven Distribution of UA
3.2. Cost of Urban Produced Foods
3.3. Cost of Land and Labor
3.4. Culture, Education, and Innovative Urban Food Sources
|Diversified revenue streams are key to the success of urban agriculture initiatives providing access to food insecure communities. Additional evidence of success in the literature includes examples of sustained operations over time (allowing sustained access), and evaluations (both internal and external) that demonstrate food access in underserved communities.|
|Sustained operations over time: ||Multiple revenue streams: (grants, donations, and in-kind contributions, allows farms to provide a substantial percentage of the food they grow to low-income households, via donations or discounted sales).||Evaluations demonstrating food access:|
|These organizations do not rely on produce sales to cover production expenses, but rather cross-subsidize operating expenses and salaries with revenues from grants, donations, educational activities, or other services offered . They combine mission-driven values, education, and public “goods” with growing food in order to attract investment for their inherent value to a community; they are seen as desirable and “worthy” places to volunteer one’s time; and they attract numerous partnerships with other businesses, schools, or non-profits within the city. Building connectivity through strong social relationships with nonprofits, schools, donors, and city governments appears to be a promising mechanism for improving food access while meeting the operating expenses of an urban agriculture operation . A particularly well-connected, city supported network of UA is the NYC GreenThumb program, a network of over 550 community gardens with employees/youth interns, tools and resources provided through the City. Neighborhood residents manage gardens, enabling sovereignty over planting decisions and crop varieties.|
4. Food Distribution: How Do Urban Farmers Get Their Produce to The Consumer?
4.1. Distribution via Corner Stores and Supermarkets
4.2. Distribution via Farmers Markets
4.3. Theorizing the Distribution “Foodshed” via Alternative Distribution Channels
5. Access and Distribution
5.1. Economic Viability
|Case Study 1: Growing Power|
|Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI, was a leader in the community or “good food” movement . Operating as a nonprofit between 1993 and 2018, the organization, founded by basketball star Will Allen, “expanded people’s ideas about what was possible in local food production and youth education” . The son of sharecroppers, Allen has a passion for vegetables, composting, and youth mentorship that he channeled into Growing Power, making it a bastion of urban food production, healthy soil creation, urban revitalization, and youth empowerment. In 2008 he was awarded a MacArthur Genius Award worth $500,000, which fueled the organization’s growth and construction of hoop houses for aquaponics systems across the city. He was operating over 100 hoop houses and distributing food to over 10,000 people via below-market-cost CSAs, farmers markets, sales to schools, and restaurants, as well as managing flourishing vermicomposting and aquaponics programs, and hosting the annual Growing Food and Justice for All conferences organized by his daughter since 2008. These are known for their efforts to “forge new partnerships around food system self-determination for low-income communities and communities of color… [placing] racism front and center in the context of food and agriculture” . Growing Power, Inc. operations produced 40 million pounds of food and over 100,000 fish annually at its peak, selling over 40,000 pounds of carrots to schools in 2014, representing the largest sale in farm-to-school according to the USDA . Visitors came from around the world, adapting Allen’s knowledge of growing, composting, aquaponics, and closed loop systems (for growing both good food and good people) for their own communities. The organization received additional large grants from the Kellogg Foundation and WalMart in 2011 and 2012, but by 2014 revenue could not keep pace with expenses related to growing staff (over 200 people) and expanded operations.|
|Allegations of “founder’s syndrome” and Allen’s inability to surround himself with a high-functioning organizational management team are both cited as reasons behind Growing Power, Inc.’s ultimate dissolution in 2018 . Allen, who considers farming a form of personal therapy and has always been growing “more than food,” continues to grow, now under the for-profit enterprise “Will Allen’s Roadside Farm.” While now a for-profit business, Allen continues to prioritize serving underserved communities, teaching kids and young people with disabilities, and centering the social impact of his work. While he has said that operating a commercially viable urban farm as a nonprofit “cannot be done,” there are others who still maintain that “a nonprofit, structured properly, or a co-op can be successful in larger-scale urban agriculture projects” .|
|There are lessons to be learned from this case study for those evaluating the impacts of urban agriculture. How do we evaluate economic outcomes in relation to social and educational outcomes? While Growing Power, Inc. may be considered a “failure” to learn from in economic viability terms (due to lack of board member oversight and insufficient collaborations), it is certainly a timeless social success in terms of the individuals it has inspired who are now leaders in their own urban food system and social justice enterprises, the education it has provided to thousands of youth, and the infrastructure of hoop houses, aquaponic greenhouses, and food producing sites that remain in place across Milwaukee and around the world.|
|Case Study 2: The Food Project|
|The Food Project (TFP) in Boston, MA has operated for over 25 years as a nonprofit with an operating budget over $2 million. The organization operates several farm sites in Boston as well as the surrounding suburbs in Lynn, provides food to low income and minority neighborhoods, and offers paid summer work and internships to high school students. While they do generate revenue from food production, this revenue stream is marginal compared to incomes from grants, donations, investments, and educational services provided by the organization, and food sales cover less than half of the expenses related to food production. TFP has been “able to successfully combine substantial commercial agriculture production ($412,000 in annual revenue, FY2014) with mission-driven, non-profit work. TFP’s economic practices are non-capitalist, as are the logics and metrics it uses to allocate resources and assess success” . They pride themselves on going beyond “mere food access” with their Real Food Hub model, combining TFP’s expertise in sustainable agriculture cultivation and youth development with partner organizations’ education, family services, and community development expertise to “give families the tools, skills, and resources to define healthy food options and practices that build physical, social, and cultural well-being” . Compared to other “good food” organizations in Boston that struggle to provide living wage jobs, speaking to the significant challenges to economic viability that any urban agriculture initiative faces, TFP’s “economic viability and sustainability rest squarely upon its ongoing ability to convince donors (of both money and time) that it is engaging in practices and achieving outcomes that are worthy of their ongoing support” . However, the question of wealth transfers across economic class lines (wealthy to lower income), rather than truly reciprocal economic transfers, continues to plague the organization’s quest for increased economic equity in the food system at large. Along with many organizations that rely on volunteer and unpaid food work, the question of whether this is non-exploitative and anti-capitalist rests on the nature of the work, degree of choice involved among participants, who can afford the time and ability to volunteer, and ultimate goals of the organization .|
5.2. Policy and Planning Models
5.3. Civic Engagement and Advocacy
6. Reframing UA as A Public Good: Using an Equity and Systems Lens to Integrate UA into Municipal Planning and Policy Efforts
Conflicts of Interest
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|Basic Food Systems Flowchart: Production → Distribution → Consumption/Access|
|For Researchers||For Policymakers||For Urban Farmers and UA Participants|
|Generate more robust empirical analyses of the impact of urban farms on the commonly cited “multiple benefits,” and particularly on addressing food insecurity.||Secure long-term public land tenure for UA, and ensure it is distributed equitably across class and race||Advocate for justice-oriented UA policy at city council meetings and via local Food Policy Councils|
|Increase research attention on parameters that create food justice outcomes within UA operations (at city, state, and site level)||Revalue UA as a public good and integrate/align with other public funding priorities (including schools, transportation, public health, economic dev. goals, etc.)||Collaborate and partner with other UA sites/networks, and aligned interests across the city (housing, schools, youth and family services, neighborhood organizations, etc.)|
|Consider the production impacts of home gardens as well as larger UA sites (community gardens and commercial operations) when evaluating the potential and actual food contributions of UA||Link UA and housing policy to both provide urban gardens to residents of affordable housing and low-income communities, and prevent displacement via eco-gentrification||Quantify your impact to back up advocacy efforts and increase success in attracting grants/donations|
|Generate more robust analyses of distribution successes & challenges exploring transportation, infrastructure, and investment needs.||Guarantee a “right to food” in your jurisdiction that includes, but is not limited to efforts to incentivize UA||Define a clear focus for your work and stick to a mission, rather than trying to deliver all the benefits of UA at once|
|Map the current landscape of urban ag locations overlaid with neighborhoods experiencing food insecurity and barriers to access in order to identify strategic sites for UA; map distribution channels and food flows as well||Communicate with food policy organizations, food justice advocates, and urban farmers to understand their needs and provide support from city infrastructure||Help set up more home gardens for individuals in order to democratize access to food production|
|Partner with food justice activists and citizen groups working in UA to conduct participatory analyses of on-ground UA realities, including consumption of UA foods.||Promote backyard and home gardens as part of urban food production planning||Places voices of communities of color at the forefront, create space and/or leadership roles for disadvantaged groups within the organizational structure.|
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Siegner, A.; Sowerwine, J.; Acey, C. Does Urban Agriculture Improve Food Security? Examining the Nexus of Food Access and Distribution of Urban Produced Foods in the United States: A Systematic Review. Sustainability 2018, 10, 2988. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10092988
Siegner A, Sowerwine J, Acey C. Does Urban Agriculture Improve Food Security? Examining the Nexus of Food Access and Distribution of Urban Produced Foods in the United States: A Systematic Review. Sustainability. 2018; 10(9):2988. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10092988Chicago/Turabian Style
Siegner, Alana, Jennifer Sowerwine, and Charisma Acey. 2018. "Does Urban Agriculture Improve Food Security? Examining the Nexus of Food Access and Distribution of Urban Produced Foods in the United States: A Systematic Review" Sustainability 10, no. 9: 2988. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10092988