Farming in the City

by Ivan Low (ELP 2016) | Senior Policy Officer, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Australia

On 8 July 2016, the 2016 Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) participants visited urban agriculture sites across Berkeley and Oakland. The trip was undertaken as part of the field trip component of the ELP. The sites visited include Urban Adamah (Berkeley), Spiral Gardens (Berkeley) and City Slickers (Oakland).

The field trips sites visited share a common feature in that they undertake agricultural activities in an urban area. I also note that the various urban agriculture operations have as a purpose an aim to provide affordable, if not free, and nutritious food to their community.

Crops at Urban Adamah

Through the ELP, I have learned from eminent experts and my fellow ELP participants about the difficulty of feeeding people around the world. Some people may envision this problem to be an issue exclusive to the developing economies. However, the ELP urban agriculture field trip illustrated that there are also certain demographics in advanced economies that are facing difficulties in accessing quality food.

Through my interaction with the operators of Urban Adamah, Spiral Gardens and City Slickers, I learned about the difficulties faced by Californians from low socioeconomic backgrounds in accessing fresh produce. This is an issue because the alternatives relied upon by impoverished people for sustenance are not necessarily the healthiest options. In summary, these urban agriculture enterprises seek to combat the effects of food deserts, urban areas that lack fresh food.

City Slickers' West Oakland Farm Park

The visit to the urban agriculture sites provided an opportunity for ELP participants to learn about how the various urban agriculture operations came about. It provided an insight into why there was a need for nongovernment organizations to participate in the food supply chain. In particular, I learned that the sites we visited formed because the private sector and the public sector were not in a position to assist with supplying fresh food to poor people at an affordable price point.

In the absence of government intervention, the various organizations we visited formed to create a new supply of fresh food through the practice of urban agriculture. These organizations benefited their urban communities by providing access to agricultural products at a relatively low price or for free. In addition, these operations focused on organic farming methods to ensure that their products are safe and conform to a standard that can lift the quality of life in their communities.

As noted previously, undertaking the field trip enabled my peers to understand the socioeconomic circumstances that gave rise to these urban agriculture movements. Furthermore, the opportunity to visit urban agriculture sites also enabled ELP participants to learn about better practices in agriculture and engage with urban agriculture practitioners. For example, I recall fondly an instance when some of my colleagues engaged in a lively and passionate debate with an urban agriculture operator about the amount of water required to ensure maximum productivity in a farm and the optimal ratio of growing fruits versus vegetables at an urban farm.

I see the field trip component of the ELP as an invaluable feature of the Beahrs Sustainable Environmental Management course. This particular form of teaching provides opportunities for interested students to learn by observing. I trust that the skills and knowledge gained from this part of the ELP will benefit my fellow colleagues in their endeavors to work on various schemes ranging from agriculture to sustainable development.