Is Urban Agriculture a Waste of Resources?

Posted on October 22nd, 2012 by Rachel

While manning the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance booth at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland a few weeks ago a guy came up to us with a question. He seemed to have a point to prove and his point was that urban agriculture was a waste of resources particularly around the topic of water. Actually his point was specific to water. Was using city water on our urban farm more wasteful than agricultural water which he argued was just pulled straight out of the delta, rivers and wells? No treatment was needed of water for agriculture. In this sense sure, it's more wasteful to use city water but this is a singular and relatively small issue in regards to resources, even revolving around water.

I used to live in San Luis Obispo when I was in college and the drive through the San Joaquin Valley - the most productive patch of agricultural land in the U.S. - was a twice a week trip for several years. Overhead spray was the preferred method of watering and it usually occurred in the middle of the day when it was the windiest. More water evaporated than actually met the soil to be absorbed. Why conserve water when it's subsidized and cheap? And the water that did reach the ground collected all of the chemicals that had previously been sprayed and then carried them to the groundwater. This is a far cry from the drip irrigation that I run for 20 minutes every 5 days in the early morning before the sun is up on my sustainably grown garden with soil that actually holds more water than those heavily used ag lands. We are also able to dry farm some of our crops such as artichokes, squash and tomatoes.

But let's get away from water because there are so many other reasons why urban agriculture needs to be a part of the food conversation. As an organization, the EBUAA, promotes growing organically without the use of even organic pesticides. We take better care of our soil which helps further reduce the need for more water (hoping for an upcoming guest post on this soon). It also allows people to cheaply produce healthy food in communities that otherwise wouldn't have access to it. It also reduces the amount of energy in the form of fossil fuels to grow and harvest the food because it's done by hand rather than machinery. Transport of the food is virtually eliminated as well. And a well managed plot of land grown intensively using permaculture can produce enough food for one person in 4,000 square feet while those fields I drove by on my way to school and back were only productive enough to feed one person with 30,000 square feet.

It's hard to argue that urban agriculture is a waste of resources when compared to industrial agriculture.


By Dan (not verified) on

We water very seldom and rely on good soil, heavy mulch and the annual rain. Even with water use the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.

By Jeanette Schuler (not verified) on

Better than grass!

By Jeanette Schuler (not verified) on

I had a friend that always talked about the 69 dollar tomato; I think this may be a book or article. I never thought about the cost; gardening was always hands down "worth it" to me. The asthetics and mental health alone are 10 times worth it. Even for frugality purposes...I revelled in what I did not have to pay for. Nature, God, whatever, gave it to me. :) Considering what other hobbies cost and I garden plastic free (think about that one), so seed and water were about the only costs.

I really did not have a comeback for somebody that lives the typical managers life, gets their hands dirty once a year in spring. To them it was not worth it, grocery store here we come.

But occurred to me...they grow (water) GRASS. They did not seem to consider that to be a waste of time or money...and you can't even eat it. The farmers compete more with lawns, then they ever do with urban gardens. Even the chemicals.

So I think I did end this one time...I shrugged and said..."I'd rather a tomato then grass"

By Filip (not verified) on

You should get in touch with Will Allen and his organization Growing Power, which for large parts, uses hydroponics, an almost closed watering system, which uses the correlation between flora and fauna to clean and enrich the water with nutrients, leaving out artificial fertilizers, and saving 90% of the water, compared to the common soil-based agriculture.

Kind regards