Monday, September 26, 2011

City Farming

The evil "S" word, sprawl, is cited in many cases as the cause of such societal ailments as health problems and loss of farmland among others. Funny enough, cities around the country have developed a solution to at least the two former issues. The best part about it, there is no government interference, no subsidies, no forced reappropriation of land, no tax incentives, not anything on the part of government officials. What you may ask is this solution that required absolutely no direction from the government? Urban farm sites.

Before I found an article about it on the Wall Street Journal website, I had no idea that there were large plots of land within cities that non-governmental groups had purchased for the purpose of farming all natural produce and raising hormone free small livestock(mostly chickens). The market perceived a need for inner city farming and fulfilled that need by purchasing plots of land in derelict areas of the city as well as rooftops. Some schools have even gotten in on the farming craze sweeping American cities by providing gardens that students attend to.

As more people become conscious of health concerns with mass produced produce and desire to purchase or grow healthy, organic alternatives, these gardens and small farms will become even more prevalent. Undoubtedly, sprawl pushes back the boundaries of larger, commercial farms, but it seems like that isn't a bad thing. While cities may be engulfing land previously used for farming with their ever-expanding suburbs, people within the city are recognizing the opportunity to reclaim rundown areas of the city. In the case of the Bronx in New York, few people had good things to say about it before it began to convert old, ruined lots into community or small private farms.

Not only do these small plots provide fresh, organically grown, better tasting fruits and veggies to be sold at farmer's markets, but they also improve the perception of the areas in which they are being constructed, encouraging further urban renewal efforts. Builders are much more likely to redevelop an area if there is something about it that is considered desirable to the people they would end up selling units to.The fact that people are getting out to farm and are demanding fresher produce within the city is a good sign that they are waking up to the health concerns created by their sedentary lifestyle. Perhaps as awareness of and demand for these types of community gardens grows, so too will the health of our cities' citizens improve. Encouraging children to spend time tending to plants instead of playing video games provides the fundamental understanding that exercise and fresh air, even in minimal amounts are good and rewarding things. The popularization of healthy, organic food is a huge step towards our overall population making healthier eating choices and educating our youth about nutritional eating.

Aside from the social benefits of urban renewal, reduced obesity/increased health, and an increase of alternative farm areas, there are purely economic benefits of these urban farms. Some of the larger farms, especially those with chickens, are enclosed behind gates and are able to charge money for tours. In fact La Finca del Sur (translated to "The Estate of the South") in the Bronx is able to charge $30 dollars to drive people do different farm plots on a small trolley. This promotes tourism and entrepreneurial farming in areas previously experiencing a loss of economic activities. As mentioned earlier, the farms that are created in especially run-down areas of the city are making them more attractive areas to live again and drawing in redevelopment funds, thereby revitalizing the housing market in these areas. Without the push of sprawl initially drawing funding away from these areas, the people who have purchased the land for farms would not have been able to afford it due to high land prices and many of these economic and social opportunities would not have been created.

The economy, in my opinion, is a self-correcting unit that will ensure that market demands are met. The results of these farms are proof that significant advances in urban renewal, and correcting social problems can be achieved by the sheer desire of the citizenry. The policies of New Urbanism and Smart Growth are an effort to speed up and standardize this process, but they require intervention by the government, which has been proven to be unnecessary and often burdensome. Also, it is unclear as to whether urban containment and other policies central to Smart Growth actually produce a greater net economic benefit than allowing cities to sprawl and the market to correct for any inefficiencies that result. Clearly, the presence of these farm plots will not solve all issues perceived to be the result of sprawl nor will they achieve an overall effect as fast as public policy would, but they're a good start that allows the people affected by mass suburbanization to make the decisions about how they would like to deal with it.

1 comment:

Larry Eubanks said...

You suggest that "the market" perceived a need and filled it.

I think it is best to think of "the market" as exchange, and thus "the market" doesn't perceive, nor does it take action.

How about people saw a need and acted in response, and they did so without any direction from government?