The Problem with Urban Agriculture? – A Fact Based Rebuttal to a Landscape Architecture’s Misconceptions

There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the later ignorance.

Hippocrates

The importance of urban agriculture (UA) is steadily growing as the issue of urban food security rises in prominence worldwide. Localised agriculture has historically always been the domain of communities, driven and lead by skilled and committed individuals who grew food to sustain their people. Furthermore, localised agriculture has worked without major problems, otherwise we wouldn’t be here today to be discussing the subject!

In the western world, localized agriculture has been intentionally driven out of urban public spaces and even declared taboo. This irrational fad started in the 17th century and has continued to the present day, but luckily, all things change. Clearly, the writing is on the wall. The increasing public interest in UA is creating shockwaves that are reaching the establishment, the very people who continue their current unsustainable practices which enforce the creation of urban food deserts.

What we’re now seeing is curious state of affairs where a schism is emerging amongst the greatest opponents of UA who have vested interests in keeping it out of public spaces. Some of the landscape architecture profession are toying with the fanciful idea of repositioning themselves where they believe they rightfully belong (entitlement?) as the experts and authorities in the area of UA (which they have neither expertise or authority in) while others are digging in their heels and preparing to oppose the rise of UA at all costs with campaigns of misinformation.

In order for UA to thrive and to reclaim our sovereign birthright to grow our own food, we need to counter the misinformation put out by those protecting their questionable interests. That’s precisely what we’ll do here!

Setting the facts straight

What follows is a fact-based rebuttal of a badly researched and gravely misinformed subjective opinion piece of an article titled “What’s the Problem with Urban Agriculture?” published by the Landscape Architects Network.

In my previous article Cities – Food Free Zones? The Creation of the Urban Food Desert I discuss the history, training and skill set of this profession, pointing out the fact that in general landscape architect have little to no skill in plant design. They definitely have no formal training in horticulture or agriculture, let alone growing food, yet they somehow feel entitled to writes critiques on UA.

This uninformed criticism from unqualified parties has two major consequences. Firstly, it leads to a very ill-informed public debate based on unsubstantiated opinion. Secondly, it creates a source of disinformation which gullible local governments unthinkingly swallow – hook, line and sinker from their ‘professional advisers’. The end result is that UA is seen to be ‘problematic’ by local governments, who then oppose community food security efforts at every step, allowing landscape architects to free reign to continue designing urban food deserts based on aesthetic design principles, and nothing changes.

Subjective and objective realities

The curious thing about humans is they can live in multiple realities simultaneously – objective, factual realities that can be quantified by science, and subjective realities that only exist in the human mind, divorced from any real fact, based on opinion and interpretation and coloured by bias and personal prejudice.

The article in question that we’ll be rebutting falls firmly into the latter case, pure subjective opinion blended with what appears to be some misguided referencing of large-scale broadacre rural agriculture textbook material and data which is not relevant to the subject at hand.

So, without further ado, let’s critically examine the short article “What’s the Problem with Urban Agriculture?” published by the Landscape Architects Network, and correct the fallacies with fact and reason.

Having issue with the activities of millions

The article starts with the opening paragraph:

• “With urban agriculture popping up everywhere, we take a step back and look at some unresolved issues that need to be addressed before we can consider urban agriculture as a permanent solution to our food needs.”

Well, excuse me, I didn’t realise the landscape architecture profession was a key decision maker in global food security matters. First factual error corrected, UA is already a permanent solution to our food needs and is a growing phenomenon.

To quote United Nations research data “The role of urban agriculture (UA) in the food supply of cities and towns, as a complement to rural agriculture, is becoming an important issue in a globalizing world economy. It is estimated that approximately 800 million people worldwide engage in urban agriculture… there is evidence that UA is increasing in many urban areas, sometimes dramatically so, particularly in developing countries. …Recent estimates indicate that 72 percent of all urban households in Russia raise food, and 68 percent do so in Tanzania. Berlin has over 80,000 urban farmers, while in China the 14 largest cities produce 85 percent or more of their vegetables.” (1)

I question the author’s lack of perspective. UA raises unresolved issues for whom? Landscape architects? Urban agriculture is a piece of a larger solution that also incorporates peri-urban and rural agriculture to create a decentralised and resilient food system. Each of these three elements have their inherent strengths and weaknesses.

Perhaps the issue to be addressed in the author’s mind and that of his profession is what will happen to their work if they have to share their ‘blank canvas’ public space with the rabble who want to grow food for the boring uninteresting purposes of food security, food sovereignty, food justice and food equality. My suggestion is that they can go back to the role that gave birth to their profession, creating ‘designed landscapes’ for wealthy people who loved to waste valuable land as a show of opulence.

Mistaking necessities for fashions

In the next paragraph, we see:

• “Urban agriculture — also known as urban farming, guerrilla farming, foodscaping, and by many other terms relating to agricultural practices in the middle of the city — is becoming all the rage in societies all over the world. Urban agriculture provides many benefits, including food security for people in the city, a reduction of energy used in conventional agricultural practices and food service, a reduction of carbon footprints, and environmental services for cities in terms of providing open green space.”

Urban agriculture is “becoming all the rage” because there is the serious issue of food security looming, it is not dictated by the vain aesthetic fashion trends or fads (‘rages’) that drive landscape architecture. It is driven by real community needs.

A historical perspective is needed here. It has always been the default human practice of human societies to grow food close to where we since the very beginnings of agriculture 12,000 years ago. We deviated away from localised agriculture once societies became industrialised under the ‘ornamentals only’ influence of landscape architecture. We reverted back to ‘victory gardens’ in public spaces to grow food during wartime, much to the chagrin of landscape architects who complained that they ‘messed up their designs’. This current state of foodless public landscapes is a sad historical exception and not the norm for human civilisation.

More misunderstanding follows in the next section:

• “All over the world, people are turning unused lots, back yards, and even rooftops into gardens. Imagine if this movement could grow so massive that cities would no longer have to depend on rural and suburban agriculture to produce food for their own citizens.”

Imagine if we all held hands and there was world peace… That is just idle fantasy and wholly impractical, there are upper limits of how much people can be sustained per unit area biologically, just as with any other animal. The issue is not how much food natural spaces can produce, the issue is unsustainable human population densities – a problem created by another lot of misguided ‘designers’ but that’s another whole issue in itself.

An exercise in convoluted logic

Reasoning gets somewhat fuzzy at this point:

• “Unfortunately, like the two sides of a coin, there are always pros and cons. Some people still believe that there are lots of challenges facing urban agricultural practices and potential problems regarding the impact if it is done wrong.”

If things are done wrong then things will go wrong
If things are done wrong then things will go wrong

The logic here is tedious, as anything ‘’done wrong” will create problems. This is a tautology, as it is saying that if things are done wrong then things will go wrong, which isn’t really saying anything!

This also begs the question, why would UA be done wrong? Because the plant design will be carried out by people with no skill in plant design, such as landscape architects? Done wrong as in designing food deserts in public spaces filled with ‘ornamental fluff’ because we have an irrational cultural fixation that associates food growing with poor people? It’s quite funny that landscape architects can raise the matter of things being done wrong, a bit of self-reflection might be insightful collectively for a profession that lacks a feedback loop and a capacity for self-analysis. Maybe they’re so arrogant to believe that they can never do any wrong…

The mini farm mentality, the fixation with the rural agriculture model

At this point the subjective realities we spoke about earlier enter the equation:

• “Here are some of the problems facing urban agriculture:

No More Space: Is it Worth it to Farm in the Middle of the City?

As we all know, in a big city there are no more spaces left on which to build; they even sometimes lack open green space. Even when there are still unused public or private lands, the prices are sky high. While urban agricultural practices often put idle land into productive use, in other cases, farmers take over land planned or set aside for other purposes, mostly economic purposes.

The government usually believes that where the use of land is not managed and an economic rent is not paid, urban farming may be an economically or environmentally inefficient use of the property. These land rent issues sometimes become the biggest obstacle to urban agriculture when a government does not pay enough attention to regulating land use to encourage farming.”

Urban agriculturists and Permaculture practitioners would beg to differ about the point of “no more space”, we can still see plenty of viable space to grow in even the densest of cities. The unspoken premise here, based on ignorant opinion, is that we want and need to create ‘mini-farms’ in the middle of the city that are just scaled down rural farms, occupying vast stretches of expensive urban land.

Every garden bed, irrespective of size, can be used to grow food. Landscape architects might not want to entertain the notion that any of the ineptly created, boring, clichéd, supposedly aesthetic ornamental ‘gardens’ they design can be replaced with functional designs that produce food.

As far as economic purposes go, what price do you put on food security and community building?

This argument raises a rather difficult question for the author, are the ornamental food deserts being produced by the landscape architecture profession ‘economically or environmentally efficient’? Many would disagree. How many landscapes address social justice issues? How many are chemical free and environmentally friendly? Is the obsessively tidy and overly contrived ‘man-controlling-nature’ visual aesthetic which is overused by landscape architects ‘efficient’ in any way or a tired fashion statement?

Habitation salad – completely mixing up deserts, cities, urban and rural areas

Next we see some confusion between like-for-like examples and apple-orange comparisons:

• “High Water Requirement for Agricultural Activities – According to Urban Agriculture: Food Jobs and Sustainable Cities, published by The Urban Agriculture Network, some urban farmers are still using water from the potable municipal water supply, which can create water shortages in the city. A survey showed that although four of 10 households active in gardening in Amman, Jordan, use some gray water for irrigation, most households (86 percent) rely on the public water network for at least part of their irrigation needs.”

Seriously, Jordan is desert, an extreme arid environment! Yes, such places are known to have water shortages, that’s why they are called deserts. Most modern cities are not built on deserts, they have adequate rainfall, and the civil engineers are traditionally tasked with the job of ensuring that as much rainfall as possible is channelled into stormwater drains where it mixes with pollutants and is washed into the ocean, ensuring a net loss of freshwater from inland areas.

Some enlightened urban planning types have discovered the concept of permeable paving which permits rainwater to seep into the ground, allowing groundwater to be replenished, which stops trees dying. Who would have thought that letting water seep into the soil could be a good thing?

While we’re on the topic of Jordan, most of their agriculture does not use ‘public drinking water’. In Wadi Rum, a desert valley 60km east of Jordan’s only coastal city Aqaba, a 2,000-hectare farm named Rum Farm provides much of the food consumed in Jordan. The Food Tank article entitled “This 2,000 Hectare Farm in the Desert Feeds Most of Jordan” gives us the whole story –

“In Wadi Rum, or the Valley of the Moon as it is often called, agriculture has thrived for more than twenty years. In 1986, the Rum Farm was established on 2,000 hectares of desert. At first glance, farming in a desert may seem inefficient or even impossible, but a key geographical feature actually makes farming in the Wadi Rum conceivable. Below this desert lies a large aquifer, which provides drinking water to most Jordanians and water to support the crops grown above it. Water is pulled from the aquifer 30 to 400 meters deep and then used to irrigate 78 hectares of circular fields. These fields, which look like crop circles in aerial photographs, rely on pivoting watering mechanisms to grow crops. According to the Managing Director of Rum Farm, Sijal Majali, “the farm employs between 300-600 workers seasonally – who produce 1,800 tons of grapes, 20,000 tons of potatoes, 10,000 tons of onions, and thousands more tons of apricots, nectarines, peaches, pears, tomatoes, figs, olives, corn, lettuce, oranges, mandarin, grapefruit, cabbage, broccoli, squash, loquat, dates and more…”

Again, the author’s facts don’t hold water, pardon the pun. The water comes from a natural water source, it’s not mains water supply from a dam. The fact that they have such a community that grows most of its food locally and employs so many people is an exemplary example of clever functional design.

What would landscape architects do in the desert? Put in more hard landscaping like they do everywhere to absorb heat and make the environment more hostile to life? They would be frustrated trying to put trendy looking expensive paving on shifting sands. Maybe they could helicopter in some piece of exorbitantly overpriced useless contorted pre-fabricated concrete structure painted in garish colours and claim it’s abstract art and call it a day?

• “Overuse of surface or groundwater can reduce the city water supply. In some of the cities, this problem is well mitigated by using treated wastewater for irrigation. Low-cost water-saving technologies such as underground and drip irrigation also can help to increase water efficiency, as can allowing safe use of low-quality water resources in some cases.”

So what is the city’s water supply for again? Primary human needs (water and food) or watering manicured lawns or ornamental public gardens designed by landscape architects? So using water to grow food is bad is it? Is having purpose-built impermeable surfaces that flush perfectly usable rainwater into stormwater drains then out to sea a better option than using rainwater to grow food?

This is really a case of the author reading all the wrong rural agriculture textbooks from the local library for reference. UA is not a commercial large-scale broadacre farm and does not have similar intensive water requirements! We aren’t talking hundreds of acres of lettuce growing in wide open windswept fields in bare soil. A lack of real world experience is showing through here.

Urban gardeners are well versed in water-wise gardening, we don’t get subsidised water like rural agriculturists do, and these water-saving techniques only work UA scale setups. Ever tried mulching several acres of garden beds? UA is qualitatively different from its rural counterpart, and water requirements are also.

We can play another game here too. We don’t necessarily need additional water to drastically expand UA in cities. Where does the water come from to irrigate the prissy unsustainable gardens in public spaces that landscape architects design? If we rip up and replace the useless and inappropriate plant species that landscape architects specify that need bucket-loads of chemicals to keep alive with more resilient and deeper rooted perennial productive plants, we can also achieve a net sustainability gain through decreased water use.

Further confusion about agribusiness and UA

Inappropriate reference material can lead to strange conclusions as we see here:

• Soil and Water Pollution Lead to Waterborne Diseases – According to FAO, inappropriate and excessive use of agricultural inputs from pesticides, fertilizer, nitrogen, and raw organic matter can pollute the soil in an urban area. The chemical substances become residues in the soil, making it less fertile or even poisonous in the long term. These residues then may leach or runoff into the main water sources of the city. Chemical and mycobacterial contamination of the water sources can lead to several waterborne diseases, such as dysentery, salmonella, cholera, and schistosomisis.

Once again the author has difficulty differentiating between rural and urban agriculture, indicating little depth of understanding of the subject matter. There is so much wrong here that to be honest, dealing with this level of ignorance is rather tedious. It’s also a classic straw-man argument, a case of propping up an imaginary problem or opponent to attack.

UA is community run, it’s not about poisoning people for money as is the case with agribusiness. Those who grow what they eat don’t poison it, most community gardens actually grow organic food, free of synthetic chemicals and poisons!

Highly toxic agricultural grade chemicals are restricted, meaning that it is illegal for them to be sold to the general public. Here in Australia, schedule 7 poisons can only be purchased by holders of restricted chemical permits, issued by the government. The chemicals are even restricted in terms of when and how they are used by rural farmers, and are not definitely allowed in urban areas.

The runoff from urban areas does not go into the city’s water supply, it goes down the stormwater drain into the ocean. That’s the problem with cut-and-pasting from rural references and using them as facts in UA discussions, they don’t make any sense.

Happy businessman making okay gesture against eye test. Makes no sense.
Happy businessman making okay gesture against eye test. Makes no sense.

Hypocrisy and self-awareness

The landscape architecture profession can use a some much needed self-reflection. Fancy creating straw man arguments suggesting that UA practices may poison the environment when conventional ornamental gardening, landscape architecture style, is guilty of this very thing.

How many unsustainable and ill-though out garden designs do we see in public spaces that require ongoing application of weedkillers such as glyphosate or worse to stop lawns encroaching on paths, garden beds or trees (against which people sit). These chemicals have been implicated in some serious human health concerns and the evidence is mounting.

Maybe landscape architects should consider how their inept soft landscaping (plant design) which has no ecological design rationale, and treats living plants as lifeless ‘architectural features’ with different colours, shapes and heights is a major contributor to the poisoning of the urban environment,

Plant design is not interior design, plants are living things, landscape architects should either learn about ecology or stick to paving! They get away with a lot of really bad plant design by relying on poisonous chemicals as a crutch to prop them up. Garden maintenance crews are expected to keep badly design gardens alive, which usually necessitates the use of systemic pesticides such as the neonicotinoids banned in Europe for toxicity to bees. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, even at straw men!

Misunderstanding the current synthetic chemical food contamination issues

The inability to differentiate between urban and rural agriculture issues leads to further spurious arguments:

• “Contaminated Food – Serious Health Problems – Urban areas used as farms are highly susceptible to containing toxic substances, such as heavy metals including lead, zinc, copper, tin, mercury, and arsenic. The main sources of metals in urban soils are mainly from emissions from factories, automobiles, and sewage. The high amount of heavy metal substances may lead to a serious health problem for consumers. The contaminated food issue becomes even worse if there is an occurrence of food-borne parasitic disease caused by poor hygiene in an urban area.”

Food-borne parasitic diseases? We are talking about modern cities, we don’t fertilize with ‘night soil’ (raw humanure) like they do in some parts of remote rural China.

Food grown by home gardeners is less likely to be contaminated with the toxic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. If food is grown by agribusiness, they will have contaminated it for you, and there’s nothing you can do about it! With UA the gardeners have the choice, and they always choose the healthier option.

In respect to automotive pollution and heavy metal contamination, it’s an issue that all urban gardeners are aware of and know how to take remedial action.

Speaking of contamination, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the USA, a large not-for-profit, independent group comprised of many experts including scientists and other researchers, analysed data from the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food and Drug Administration from 2013, covering 34,000 produce samples, and found that almost two-thirds contained pesticide residues. All produce was tested as it would be consumed, washed and peeled if appropriate. Their key findings were as follows:

• “99 percent of apple samples, 98 percent of peaches, and 97 percent of nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide residue

• The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce

• A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides

• Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece” (3)

There already is an issue with food contamination in the US. A Similar study by Friends of the Earth (FoE) found similar food contamination issues in Australia (4). The details are discussed in more detail in Sustainable Gardening Australia’s article “Pesticides in Fruit and Vegetables”. (5) UA is a viable solution for producing uncontaminated food and addressing the issue.

There are many solutions currently employed by UA to overcome contamination issues, such as selection of plant and tree species that do not uptake contaminants, soil sequestering through humus enrichment, raised beds and wicking beds, container gardening, hydroponics and aquaponics. UA is not seeking to replicate the ecological disaster that is rural agriculture because people do care about what they eat.

Aerial crop-spraying community gardens?

The ‘mini-farm’ delusion is perpetuated in the next section:

• Air Pollution – The old problem of any agricultural practice is still the conventional use of pesticides. For urban agriculture, it becomes even worse, because harmful chemicals applied in the middle of the city travel into the atmosphere of the dense and crowded urban environment, potentially harming a big population. Allergies, cancer, birth defects, male sterility, contamination of breast milk, genetic mutations, respiratory diseases, behavioral changes, and a variety of intestinal disorders could add another problem for the city if the pesticides issue not handled properly. Would you want your food growing in the middle of a polluted city?

Yes, the arguments keep getting worse and worse. I’m not sure which reality the author is dealing with but it surely isn’t an objective one! This is getting repetitive, once again the author has difficulty differentiating between rural and urban agriculture, indicating any depth of understanding of the subject matter.

The air pollution we’re seeing where there is unregulated expansion of industry is not worldwide, we’re seeing it in China now, as it similarly manifested in sooty early-industrial England.

There’s a reason why we wash your food, even chimpanzees have learned to do it as a social convention.

I’ve already addressed the myth of UA practitioners spraying community gardens with restricted agricultural pesticides, this is nonsense, where does this landscape architect get these crazy ideas?

I have never seen a community garden group rig up a drone with a pesticide sprayer to do aerial spraying yet, this is just plain silly ivory-tower delusion from someone who sits on a computer all day dragging pretty little shapes and placing them on a grid. Out of touch, oh yeah!

Gaming in VR glasses

An unhealthy obsession with pathological tidiness

If the previous arguments by the landscape architect critic were somewhat disingenuous, I can assure you this next one is very real for them. Now we get to really telling part, the aspect of UA that genuinely, really, truly bothers landscape architects

• Aesthetic Issues – Some people say that urban agriculture is giving an unpleasant view of the city. What do you think? In some cases, the image of a cattle corral, pigs at a town dump, poorly tended vegetable patches in a community park, or chickens in a front yard can be offensive to many. Because urban agriculture is more exposed to public view, it should be well designed to make sure the visual appearance is as sweet as possible. And it goes without saying that this aesthetic issue is a landscape architect’s responsibility, so it is our duty to bring this practice into the city in a beautiful way.

This one has to be my all-time favourite, the most pathetic argument to come out of the landscape architecture profession, that is echoed in article after article where they talk about their greatest concern – their pathological obsession with contrived tidiness. Personal and cultural subjective aesthetic preferences are hardly the grounds for stating objective arguments.

Again, we’re dealing with some altered version of reality dreamed up in the authors head of what UA entails. What are we discussing here exactly? Third-world derelict towns, post-apocalyptic shanty towns or intensive animal operations? Commercial agribusiness ‘Confined Animal Feeding Operations’ (CAFOs) in public spaces? Who the hell would propose such a ludicrous idea. UA advocates are community and health-focussed and are most strongly against factory farming of any sort, we sure as hell would not set them up where we live.

So, we have self-appointed fashion police whose job it is to dictate aesthetics to us lumbering troglodytes without any appreciation for apparent beauty. Humans may all agree that Nature is beautiful, we’re hardwired neurologically that way. But what of man-made aesthetics? Who decides what is beautiful? I wasn’t aware that the philosophical debate had ever been resolved, perhaps the landscape architecture departments forgot to phone the philosophy departments in the universities to tell them to conclude that field of enquiry because they found the answer.

Oh the curse of a middle-class, first world, culturally isolated existence! In all places around the world where the creatively challenged, conservative and historically outdated profession of landscape architecture has not taken root to dictate 17th century English ornamental garden aesthetic ideals on public spaces, they somehow happily grow food in public spaces without any concerns or issues. Maybe it’s time for this profession to look outside the Anglosphere and ask all those people in other countries how they do it, or is it a case of not stooping to those they consider beneath them due to cultural superiority?

The truth is that the author is mixing up annual vegetable growing with perennial food producing plants and trees. The former has a boom-bust cycle of six months, whereas perennials lend themselves to very aesthetic designs as they are slower growing, more structured, and more visually interesting. Annuals and perennials can also be blended together in food forests and underplanted orchards amongst other designs. This is a huge design topic big enough to fill a book. Also, moving beyond simplistic aesthetic visual design, we can progress into multisensory gardens that appeal to all five of our senses, and still work at night too! Surely the author must have heard of the highly ornamental and functional orangeries that started in the Renaissance gardens of Italy, and spread through Europe, or the highly decorative English conservatories filled with rare and exotic edibles?

Edible functional gardens and visual appeal are not mutually exclusive, it’s just that such a task exceeds the limited plant design skills of your regular landscape architect. The erroneous logic here is “if I can’t do it, it can’t be done”. Without any real training in plant design, horticulture or agriculture, what makes any landscape architect think they are more able to do this than any other random unskilled person off the street.

Landscape architects feel justified to ban UA, but they pity all the starving children

The author concludes this poorly researched criticism of UA with this comment:

• All of these problems can be an obvious reason to ban or stop urban agricultural practices. But can you imagine all the possibilities we could lose as exploding population growth and food security become major issues in the world? It’s just too much. There are a million ways to solve the problem without sacrificing the opportunity to stop world hunger.

Really? “…an obvious reason to ban or stop urban agricultural practices”? With such questionable reasoning, I hardly feel compelled to notify those 800 million people already practising UA worldwide that some person who sits on a computer all day (dragging shapes in a CAD program, with no horticulture, agriculture or garden design skills) said there are problems with what they’re doing – feeding themselves and their communities. Perhaps the landscape architects out of the goodness of their hearts permit such atrocities as UA to continue because they pity the starving children…

A new threat on the UA horizon

The acknowledgment of food security leaves me with a faint glimmer of hope, but if the sheer wall of ignorance we have seen is representative of the rest of the profession, I suspect UA practitioners will be seeing a new obstruction on the landscape as this problematic profession decides that they should be in charge of UA in cities and try to place themselves in positions of ‘experts’ to remain relevant professionally as the interest in public land use shifts from elite ‘play-toy’ to something that serves real community needs. They are actually discussing this!

This arduous exercise has left me with many thoughts, many concerns, but it appears that others have come to the same conclusions.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

References:

1. Urban Environment Food publication – United Nations, www.un.org/ga/Istanbul+5/72.pdf
2. Food Tank article “This 2,000 Hectare Farm in the Desert Feeds Most of Jordan”, 5 September 2014 by Sandy Carter
3. Environmental Working Group (2015) EWG’s 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
4. Friends of the Earth (2012) The dose makes the poison. http://www.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/TheDoseMakesThePoisonFeb2012_0.pdf
5. Sustainable Gardening Australia – Pesticides in Fruit and Vegetables, April 2015
6. Landscape Architects Network article – “What’s the Problem with Urban Agriculture?” by Harkyo Hutri Baskoro

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13 thoughts on “The Problem with Urban Agriculture? – A Fact Based Rebuttal to a Landscape Architecture’s Misconceptions

  1. I was unaware there was a possible backlash to UA from such professionals, though it makes total sense. Thank you for posting this and dissecting their article with such detail. I live in a desert metropolis where, characteristically, there are numerous food deserts. There is a strong movement promoting UA and small-scale farming though as people are becoming more in tune with food democracy and the benefits it has for the community. I hope this movement continues to grow despite these irrational critiques. Thanks again for posting!

  2. Thank you @Angelo for this article.

    And yet, whenever I talk to colleagues, friends, business partners about the vegetables I grow on my balcony in the centre of Geneva, Switzerland, the first objection I hear is is “oh, I wouldn’t eat these, they must be polluted, there are so many cars in Geneva”.

    This is what people think and their concern is legitimate.

    I am eating my home grown vegetables with pleasure, but I am still looking for a non biaised study (not a partisan opinion one way or the other!) that allows me to relieve the fear of my colleagues, and frankly myself.

    They and I deserve to get transparent data. Please let me know if you have come across a study that is worth sharing.

    Thank you. Doris

  3. Loved reading your scathing rebuke of the landscape architects’ absurd critique of Urban Ag. I laughed through your article, and here is my favorite line: ” Is the obsessively tidy and overly contrived ‘man-controlling-nature’ visual aesthetic which is overused by landscape architects ‘efficient’ in any way or a tired fashion statement?”
    Fashion statements aside, here in Denver, Colorado where I live, the main problem seems to be what was touched on here, the fact of the value of land in the city for development is so high now that the urban farms that existed here and there are quickly being sold off to build high density apartments for big bucks, leaving our hardworking and frustrated urban farmers without a plot to grow veg. Unfortunately, the mayor and his henchmen are in the pockets of the developers and real estate folks, so there currently is little progress for the kind of urban farms some of us would like to see.
    thanks for the chuckles!!

    1. Denver upheld significantly higher community aesthetic standards throughout the 80’s, before the completion of Denver International Airport, as one proponent of its demise suddenly reigned supreme. Part of the issue is that all the really great modernists died or retired shortly after that time frame, and then came the trendy Boulder fashionistas, each bearing some awful form of post modernist infill, dramatically altering the emerging feel of places like Cherry Creek.

      Particularly maddening is the fact that avid promoters of retaining the green space were all ignored by this incoming profit-driven new breed of development. Out beyond city center there was a slightly willy-nilly undisciplined DIY quality to the regional housing remodels, but the underpinnings were very constructive and the real excitement of many neighborhoods is surely gone.

      The author rightly rebukes those ‘urban planners’ in tow, because they continue to deal with the physics of abject leftovers, foisting some great and woefully expensive solutions to the very problems the other people in their firms are literally creating as we speak.

  4. Hi Angelo, Excellent article. I’m a qualified landscape architect. I’ve designed community gardens and edible landscapes, as well as parks and streetscapes and ornamental gardens. From my experience I know that function (ie food production) and aesthetics can go hand in hand with a bit of knowledge and sensitivity.

    1. I’m glad there is ongoing discussion of the subject of urban agriculture. This is a subject that needs to be addressed and brought into the open. Part of the problem could be that Landscape designers aren’t aware of just how much, and how small scaled urban farming or gardening is going on. It’s very easy to over look all the nooks and crannies where food is growing. Perhaps if more food gardens were documented online, therefore easier to find, then Landscape designers could see for themselves what’s really going on. I believe that it is better to educate the curious than to bash the ignorant. Seeing is believing and digital photos are cheap – show the Landscape designers what they are missing out on.

  5. Did you even read the article you are criticizing? I read your article first, and then read the landscape architects article and to be honest, your sentiment doesn’t add up. The author is not trying to “banish” UA, rather pose some important questions and challenges for UA. The UA movement needs to take on board and engage in dialog, not respond with a long-winded unneeded diatribe!

    1. Hi Jamie, the whole original article in its entirety is reproduced here with my comments after each contentious statement, there’s no need to re-read it elsewhere. Did you miss the statement “All of these problems can be an obvious reason to ban or stop urban agricultural practices.” ?

      Firstly, none of the ‘problems’ stated are problems at all, and the ‘opportunities’ alluded to revolve around the fanciful idea of landscape architects displacing the grassroots community movements and taking leadership of UA initiatives through local government monopoly and control of public spaces.

      More than leadership, they’re playing with the notion of dictating what happens in the UA sphere. There’s another whole article I can write on that aspect of the topic, with quotes and references from keynote speakers in their industry symposiums suggesting this is what they’re planning. Opportunities translates to ‘career opportunities’ to avoid becoming irrelevant in an environment of social change.

      1. Our local State University received a prestigious award for the complete redesign of the watershed of Conway, Arkansas. One might be appreciative that the students were endowed with $500,000 in grants to undertake this study, the result of which will potentially involve around $3,000,000,000 in hard costs. And, with a population of just 62,000 in the metro area it would only take what, around 32 years to repay the bond, assuming a 2.6% tax hike in the midst of an inflationary depression.

  6. I found this book to be a really great crossover between the two fields. I think this post does a good job with the rebuttal to to the original article but it paints ALL landscape architects in a bad light—something I find unfair when you have many joining the ecology based design bandwagon. Integrate don’t segregate can apply to permaculturalists and landscape architects as well.

    https://www.amazon.com/Planting-Post-Wild…/dp/1604695536

  7. Just to be clear, in this article I’m being critical of the profession of landscape architecture in general, and the toxic culture of aesthetic design fixation along with the use of misinformation to protect vested interests.

    There are no doubt professionals in this industry that do have competency in plant design (soft landscaping) and functional design, but that only happens when individuals in the industry take the initiative to take extra training/study and go beyond the narrow scope of their educational syllabus with an open mind and a willingness to embrace a wider perspective. As a professional horticulturist, I’ve worked with a few who had a formal education in horticulture and even some with permaculture training, they do exist, but unfortunately they’re not the norm, they’re the exception!

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