Urban agriculture: good food, good money, good idea!

This post comes to us from Professor John Mogk of Wayne State University Law School, specialist on the question of urban development.

Urban agriculture on a grand scale is nothing new to American cities. The most successful home front effort during World War II was the growing of Victory Gardens by residents in every city and town in the country.   The United States Department of Agriculture reports that Victory Gardens produced an estimated nine to ten million tons of fruits and vegetables, more than 40% of the nation’s crop, through the nearly twenty million gardens planted in Americans’ backyards and instilled the art of canning into urban life.   

Today, distressed American cities such as Detroit can greatly benefit from urban agriculture once again both economically and socially, as well as environmentally.  Urban agriculture increases economic prosperity by creating jobs and developing new, local industries.  Additionally, it improves the health and safety of residents by providing wholesome food and greater access to well-maintained green spaces, fostering a sense of community, building social capital and organizational capacity, and uniting residents around a common purpose.  Urban agriculture improves the local environment by removing blight from vacant lots and returning a green landscape to the city’s neighborhoods.   

There is an increasing demand for locally grown food in America, especially in local restaurants and grocery stores.  The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that demand for locally grown food will rise from the $4 billion market in 2002 to a $7 billion market in 2012.  Importantly, money spent on local agriculture stays within the local economy.  Detroit’s enormous vacant land inventory of nearly 50 square miles in the aggregate could provide wholesome vegetables and fruits for a large percentage of its population, as well as its restaurants and retail food outlets.  Today, there is little, if any, demand for the city’s vacant land for traditional urban uses. 

Investing in urban agriculture is a smart business decision.  Approximately every $1 invested in a community garden yields $6 worth of fruits and vegetables. Researchers in Ohio estimate that “urban farmers can gross up to $90,000 per acre by selecting the right crops and growing techniques.” In Philadelphia it is estimated that “urban market gardens” earn up to $68,000 per half acre.  Projections are that locally grown fruits and vegetables in Detroit could generate $200 million in sales and approximately 5,000 jobs.  When vacant land becomes clean, productive, and more attractive to existing and new residents through agriculture, the city’s housing values will benefit and, in turn, its tax base.   (more…)