Challenges and opportunities of urban food production : a case study from Victoria, British Columbia

Date

2011-09-09

Authors

McLeod, Heather

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Abstract

Food production in urban areas has been conducted worldwide as a subsistence strategy and source of income. Recently, however, it is recognized that urban agriculture has the potential to contribute to the development of sustainable urban environments. This study examines the benefits of urban food production in North American cities, as well as focusing on some of the critical barriers to its widespread expansion and acceptance. It also explores the potential for contamination of produce from the ambient atmosphere in mid-sized urban centres. Through interviewing nine urban farmers and one urban planner, in the city of Victoria, British Columbia, I documented each producer’s knowledge of the benefits and limitations associated with urban food production. Each interviewee impressed upon me the numerous benefits that can be accrued through the practice of urban agriculture, but they also painted a picture of the struggles that urban farmers face. Issues identified included: a real and perceived risk of contamination, problems with land ownership and access, and lack of meaningful support for urban farmers. Although urban agriculture has been accepted in principle by the City of Victoria and other Canadian cities, there are many challenges that must be overcome for urban food production to truly produce a viable, sustained food system. A coordinated, comprehensive government policy for involvement in the urban food system is critical to effectively addressing urban food issues. Investigations of heavy metal levels in lettuce (Lactuca sativa) grown in sampling sites across an urban/rural gradient showed that atmospheric contamination by heavy metals is greatest at urban sites, but also affects residential and rural sites. Sampling site types included: a control area (rural farms and properties outside of Victoria); residential sites (yards in residential neighbourhoods in the City of Victoria); and, industrial/business sites (heavily trafficked and industrialized areas in downtown Victoria). Site types were intended to reflect areas perceived as safe, probably safe, and probably not safe, and were selected based on expert opinion and land use. Results indicate that caution should be exercised in growing leafy greens at downtown sites, and that growing food in most residential neighbourhoods and green spaces is typically no worse than growing greens in rural Victoria. In fact, due to the proximity of urban agriculture to the market, growing food locally eliminates the need for transportation and extra processing; reducing the extra exposure crops otherwise might face during these phases. Urban food production requires the support of communities and governments in order to contribute to both urban food security and urban sustainability. The City of Victoria has started on a path to ensuring that this food system receives the required support, but it requires concerted effort and action. Further research into urban food systems is necessary to ensure that urban food production is able to become a viable, sustained food system.

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Keywords

urban agriculture, heavy metal contamination, atmospheric pollution, food systems, urban sustainability

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