Study suggests cities could produce most of their food

 Resize text         Printer-friendly version of this article Printer-friendly version of this article

Urban agriculture, the practice of growing food on rooftops, in backyards and in community gardens, has been an increasing source of food in developing countries for the last half century. In recent years the practice also has become popular in America, especially in many post-industrial cities that have experienced decline as manufacturing businesses closed.

Despite the increase in food production within cities, citizens continue to depend on the importation of food to meet their daily basic needs. A new study from The Ohio State University, however, suggests that most modern cities have the potential to generate up to 100 percent of their current needs for produce and other items.

The study, “Can cities become self-reliant in food?,” conducted by Parwinder Grewal, professor of entomology and director of the Center for Urban Environment and Economic Development at Ohio State University, suggests that a city such as Cleveland, OH, could produce most of the food its citizens need.

Grewal determined that Cleveland has more than 3,000 acres of vacant lots that are the result of years of manufacturing job losses, the recent economic downturn and a high rate of home foreclosures. He also found 2,900 acres of flat rooftops.

"Cleveland is very progressive in urban agriculture, with more than 200 community gardens (about 50 acres) in existence and legislation that allows for beekeeping and the production of small livestock within the city," Grewal said. "While not trivial, current local food production only accounts for 1.7 percent ($1.5 million) of the $89 million Cleveland spends annually on fresh produce, and 0.1 percent of the city's total food and beverage expenditures. However, the potential for food self-reliance is significantly higher considering available space in the city."

Grewal says Cleveland annually spends about $115 million on fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, eggs and honey, “most of which comes from somewhere else -- California, Mexico, South America, even as far away as China and Thailand. Our study indicates that the city can prevent economic leakage anywhere from $27 million to $115 million annually by increasing its production of fresh produce, poultry and honey. This could boost the city's economy and lead to increased job creation."

Local food production has many other benefits, he says. Several studies have found that urban agriculture can help boost access to and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables; cut obesity rates due to consumption of healthy food and increased physical activity; promote a sense of community and decrease crime activity; and raise property values as vacant lots are put to attractive and productive use.

Urban farming can also reduce human impact on the environment. Grewal said food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to the consumer's plate, requiring large amounts of fuel and energy for transportation and refrigeration. Additionally, increasing green space in the city through farms and gardens can boost carbon storage in the soil, reduce problems associated with stormwater runoff, and curtail the urban heat island effect.

"Just like the organic food movement, where it was about five to six years ago, the local food movement is gaining a similar type of momentum right now, and every city has the potential to at least increase its local self-sufficiency and resilience by producing its own food. This is something we must move forward to, and the city of Cleveland is positively moving in that direction."

Comments (10) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

us  |  September, 09, 2011 at 06:22 AM

This is sweet!!! major brands give out samples of their popular health products best place is "Get Samples 123" tell your friends too.

Roxanne Christensen    
Philadelphia PA  |  September, 09, 2011 at 10:18 AM

New urban farmers in the US and Canada are having success with SPIN-Farming, which is an organic-based small plot farming system that outlines how to make money growing in backyards, front lawns and neighborhood lots. SPIN provides everything you'd expect from a good franchise: a business concept, marketing advice, financial benchmarks and a detailed day-to-day workflow. In standardizing the system and creating a reproducible process it really isn't any different from McDonalds. By offering a non-technical, easy-to-understand and inexpensive-to-implement farming system, it allows many more people to farm commercially, wherever they live, as long as there are nearby markets to support them. A free calculator that shows how much farm income can be made from backyards and neighborhood lots is available at the SPIN website -

Harrisburg, PA  |  September, 09, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Whatever was paid for this study, it was too much. The entire premise that enough food to feed the residents of a city can be raised within the limits of the city is a joke for a number of reasons, amoung them; toxic ground produces toxic food (old industrial sites are all toxic); tall buildings limit sunlight. limit sunlight and the crop doesn't do well; city weather is more extreme, higher winds, harder rains, and more...all are bad; On small lots how do you efficiently work the land? No one that knows Ag or has worked in Ag could ever take this seriously.

Chilton, WI  |  September, 09, 2011 at 11:15 AM

Anyone have any experience with theft in these systems? I produce some of my own food, but limited due to WI environment. I've heard about Detroit's possibilities, but I wonder just how long unattended peaches and apples and sweet corn would stay waiting for the owner to harvest in an urban environment.

michael reed    
kansas  |  September, 09, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Great idea - no chance in hades it'll ever be more than the standard unicorns & rainbows. Urbanites, I'm sorry to say, are lazy and shiftless when it comes to the hard work and thought that goes into any kind of signigicant food production, on any level. In addition, you just have to read a few blogs to find out that most home gardeners end up spending more setting up than the returns justify. Expectation is, considering Cleveland is a leftist politics driven quagmire of government dependency - ala' Detroit, nothing will come of this but more begging for tax money sourced grants and "programs" that will go for more waste & corruption.

Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  September, 09, 2011 at 12:30 PM

How about we have the Ohio State University trot some people out here to Billings, MT in January to do a study on how well the locals can grow their own food. Hope they remember their snow shovels and artic wear.

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC Canada  |  September, 11, 2011 at 04:26 PM

What a novel idea. Let's put farmers out of business by making cities self-sufficient in supplying their own food. How exactly is this sustainable? Absurd if you asked me. Mischa Popoff Author of Is it Organic? The inside story of the organic industry Some people won't like this book, but you will Osoyoos BC Canada

cathy x    
sydney, australia  |  September, 12, 2011 at 02:54 PM

How will farmers survive? Have you heard of the export market? It's been happening for some time now. It's highly unlikely for cities with extremely high population density to be able to grow their ownfood given current technology simply given the ratio of people to available rooftop space, etc. Decentralising food production will no doubt have a great effect on food security especially in lower socio-economic regions. We need to turn production on its head. What we're doing right now with industrialised agribusiness has posed too many threats to sustainability and to human health.

Paul Lightfoot    
New York City  |  October, 24, 2011 at 09:06 PM

AG10 Series Silage Defacers

Loosen silage while maintaining a smooth, compacted bunker space resulting in better feed and less waste. This unique tool pierces, ... Read More

View all Products in this segment

View All Buyers Guides

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight