Do Urban Gardens Significantly Contribute To Our Food Supply?

Dear EarthTalk: Do urban gardens significantly contribute to our food supply?

—Wayne Chow, New York, NY

The United Nations Development Program estimates that urban gardens, like the ones springing up all over New York City and Seattle, provide 15 percent of the world”s food supply. In the U.S., they are also creating sorely needed jobs in neglected neighborhoods and introducing concrete-raised children to the wonders of nature. Gardens bolster community pride and eliminate some of the environmental problems of modern agribusiness such as heavy use of pesticides and pollution from long-distance transportation.

Town planners, who may worry that constituents will be offended by manure and dirt, often view urban agriculture suspiciously. However, there are many examples of successful urban gardens. Hong Kong, one of the world”s most densely populated cities, produces about half of its vegetables in urban gardens. In Moscow, nearly 65 percent of families engage in some kind of food production. In Cuba, according to the Institute for Food and Development Policy (also known as Food First), urban gardens play a crucial role in feeding the country”s citizens. Havana, where nearly 20 percent of Cuba’s population lives, is home to over 8,000 community gardens, which are cultivated by more than 30,000 people and cover nearly 30 percent of the available land.

Back in the U.S., South Central Los Angeles” “Food from the “Hood” program has brought attention to the potential of its embattled Crenshaw district, while providing college funds for the high school students who maintain organic gardens. San Francisco”s Fresh Start Farms employs homeless families to grow produce, which is then sold to local restaurants. Even some U.S. prisons have now started urban gardens, which can be on rooftops as well as on the ground.