Is urban farming destroying the planet?

Plus: Is lettuce going to kill you?

Friday. Apologies in advance for sending you into the weekend with nothing but bad news, but here goes: Six in ten U.S. adults have at least one chronic disease, and four in ten have more than one. Chronic diseases, which often start to take hold in individuals' 30s, are the leading cause of death, with cardiovascular disease alone responsible for 859,000 deaths annually. Cancer, the second leading cause of death, claims 600,000 lives yearly, with lifestyle changes able to mitigate many risk factors. 37.3 million Americans live with diabetes, and another 96 million have prediabetes, with a quarter of those with diabetes unaware of their condition.

That is the current state of our health in the U.S. It’s grim, and we aren’t doing enough about it. Instead, we are worrying about things like urban farms and how they are “allegedly” ruining the planet. Don’t believe me? Let’s dive in.

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So You’re Saying Urban Farming Is The Problem?

In recent months, a study on urban farming's environmental impact has sparked quite the conversation. Headlines in major publications like Modern Farmer, Bloomberg, and Forbes made some pretty bold claims, suggesting urban farming had a surprisingly high climate cost. Apparently, some veggies growing in a backyard are a big deal. Tsk tsk to anyone trying to grow their own food—you might as well be throwing plastic straws into the ocean.  

Forbes wrote something similar: “Urban Farming Has A Shockingly High Climate Cost.”

They even said urban agriculture's carbon footprint was six times greater than traditional farming. SIX TIMES! Taylor Swift can do no harm as she jet sets around the world in her private plane, but that garden bed you’ve been thinking about starting—how could you? Don’t you even care about the polar bears? Greta would be appalled.

Understandably, these headlines stirred up more than just dirt; they ignited a wave of criticism from urban farmers and gardeners themselves (READ THE CRITICISM HERE).

The uproar wasn't just about being misunderstood; it was about the fear that this negative press could harm urban farming's future, including the funding for specific projects. The critics, including a group of students from the University of Michigan, argued that the research was flawed from the start (YOU CAN FIND THE STUDY HERE). 

They said it unfairly lumped together commercial urban farms with community gardens, skewing the results. Urban gardening advocates are worried that if people believed these headlines, it could threaten support for urban agriculture, especially from important places like the USDA's Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production.

But here's the thing: When you separate urban farms from community gardens, the so-called "higher rate of greenhouse gas emissions" nearly vanishes. The claim also just doesn’t pass the sniff test. How can you say that small communities coming together to grow their own food is a bad thing for the planet? What are we doing here? 

The conversation didn't stop at emissions. The study also noted that a significant portion of urban farming's carbon footprint came from initial setup costs, like building raised beds or bringing in soil. However, if recycled materials were used, urban farms could essentially match the carbon efficiency of traditional agriculture. Sure, these huge mega farms are efficient, but aren’t we ignoring the chemical inputs and long distances food has to travel if you get your food from the conventional food system? 

Critics of the study argued that comparing community gardens focused on education and community engagement to commercial agriculture completely misses the point. Yeah, you think? 

Urban gardens offer benefits beyond food production, including environmental improvements like reducing runoff and combating urban heat islands. These spaces often rejuvenate areas that would otherwise be neglected or developed, adding greenery and biodiversity to concrete jungles. There is nothing but upside. 

The key takeaway? Anyone trying to tell you that urban farms are bad for the planet is up to something, and it can’t be something good. As the debate continues, it's clear that urban farming is more than just a trend. It's a vital part of creating sustainable, resilient food systems, especially in our cities. Whether it's reducing emissions, offering fresh produce, or bringing communities together, urban agriculture has proven its worth. Don’t believe the headlines, and go ahead and plant your own garden this summer if that’s something you want to do. I promise you that a few tomato plants and fresh herbs in your backyard are a step in the right direction, despite what some mainstream outlets have to say. 

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"Urban farming isn't just about growing food; it's about growing communities and greening our concrete jungles for a sustainable future."