by Cheryl Saito
November 16, 2011 - Urban farming. What
was once a contradiction in terms is now a growing symbol of
innovation and efficiency in response to an impending food
With the realization last month our planet reached a record
seven billion people, the highest in its 4.55 billion year history,
this is both a timely and important topic as we search for modes of
creating a resilient and sustainable future.
Coupled with this population explosion (a mere one billion
people were on earth at the beginning of the 19th
century), one must also grapple with the recognition that rural
populations are on the decline in Canada and elsewhere around the
The influx of people to urban areas
means smaller populations in rural areas, and fewer and fewer
individuals farming land and growing crops. Quite simply,
food comes from farming.
With the arrival of industrialized agriculture following upon
the heels of World War II, large industrialized farms began to
emerge across Canada and the US. The small family farm that
produced a number of crops and animals through considerable
physical labor is something most of us in the Western world have
only read about.
The USDA definition of a food hub is a 'centrally located
facility with a business management structure facilitating the
aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of
locally/regionally produced food products.' On a more holistic
level, it provides people the opportunity to use land within a city
and experience food and agriculture at a very personal
So what does this mean for
Cities pivot around their economic and social existence. To take
on a leadership role and collaborate with food hubs as an active
supporter, business can invest in the communities in which it
operates and act as a catalyst to strengthen community assets.
Urban farming provides an opportunity for business to cultivate
partnerships with small local hubs and adopt regionalism in local
economic development, providing food to schools, hospitals,
restaurants and retail locations.
The growing interest in regionalized food systems has resulted
in more food variety being sourced locally. Many now want
better access to fresh, healthy food and they want to support an
environmentally friendly agriculture. With these movements
emerging within urban locations around the globe, stronger regional
food economies means maintaining existing jobs and providing new
jobs in this sector.
According to Janine de la Salle, Director of Food Systems
Planning at HB Lanarc Consultants based out of Vancouver, B.C.,
"with public demand for locally produced food soaring, and
political and funder interest / partnership potential growing in
building a sustainable green economy, there is now a significant
window of opportunity for successfully developing food hubs across
She notes that there has been so much interest in establishing
food hubs that funders and partners have been unable to keep up
with the demand.
Doors are being opened for entrepreneurs to start their own
urban agricultural businesses and harness economic possibilities
through the creation of a new eco-system. Organic farming and
eco-villages are responding to a new way of living, and people
young and old are beginning to take control over feeding themselves
through small urban agricultural businesses.
At the core of this topic is the
fact that most city dwellers are dependent upon someone else to
provide them food. Self-sufficiency in food production is a
rural skill that is rarely experienced in
Food hubs provide people with an opportunity to learn a
much-needed skill that has been vastly on the decline in Western
society over the past 60 years. This food model embraces a
new way of doing things and empowers people with skills and
education. Websites for individual urban land-exchange programs are
sprouting up too. Sharingbackyards.com was created in response to
a shortage in space at city-run community gardens in Victoria,
The different models currently being integrated into cities are
dependent upon many factors. Land availability,
community and stakeholder engagement, and government policy on land
use are all taken into consideration. The 'community model'
is designed to provide locally grown food to residents in need and
create social equity within urban areas.
One such model is the very successful The Stop Community
Food Centre located in Toronto, ON. Its mission is to strive to
increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity,
builds community and challenges inequality.
City planners are now addressing the challenges of a surging
population and the obvious pressures placed upon agricultural
supply and demand by integrating these hubs into long-term city
And the benefits are as abundant as the produce itself.
Community collaboration, new skill development, strengthened local
economies, reduced energy use and gas emissions, an understanding
and appreciation for food cultivation, and an opportunity to
experience a sustainable way of living are just a few.
Not a bad business to be in.
Cheryl Saito is a Toronto based freelance writer