Is Urban Agriculture a Waste of Resources?

This past weekend while manning the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance booth at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland a guy came up to us with a question. He seemed to have a point to prove and his point was that urban agriculture was a waste of resources particularly around the topic of water. Actually his point was specific to water. Was using city water on our urban farm more wasteful than agricultural water which he argued was just pulled straight out of the delta, rivers and wells? No treatment was needed of water for agriculture. In this sense sure, it’s more wasteful to use city water but this is a singular and relatively small issue in regards to resources, even revolving around water.

I used to live in San Luis Obispo when I was in college and the drive through the San Joaquin Valley – the most productive patch of agricultural land in the U.S. – was a twice a week trip for several years. Overhead spray was the preferred method of watering and it usually occurred in the middle of the day when it was the windiest. More water evaporated than actually met the soil to be absorbed. Why conserve water when it’s subsidized and cheap? And the water that did reach the ground collected all of the chemicals that had previously been sprayed and then carried them to the groundwater. This is a far cry from the drip irrigation that I run for 20 minutes every 5 days in the early morning before the sun is up on my sustainably grown garden with soil that actually holds more water than those heavily used ag lands. We are also able to dry farm some of our crops such as artichokes, squash and tomatoes.

But let’s get away from water because there are so many other reasons why urban agriculture needs to be a part of the food conversation. As an organization, the EBUAA, promotes growing organically without the use of even organic pesticides. We take better care of our soil which helps further reduce the need for more water (hoping for an upcoming guest post on this soon). It also allows people to cheaply produce healthy food in communities that otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. It also reduces the amount of energy in the form of fossil fuels to grow and harvest the food because it’s done by hand rather than machinery. Transport of the food is virtually eliminated as well. And a well managed plot of land grown intensively using permaculture can produce enough food for one person in 4,000 square feet while those fields I drove by on my way to school and back were only productive enough to feed one person with 30,000 square feet.

It’s hard to argue that urban agriculture is a waste of resources when compared to industrial agriculture.

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