Why Urban Farming is Stupid and Evil

If you spend any time in the sustainable farming scene, you will inevitably run into people pushing the urban farming thing. Oh my goodness it is such a horrible horrible idea. It’s one thing to grow a few herbs in a window box– it is a whole ‘nother to pretend a city can self-produce significant portions of its own food.  It’s not sustainable or eco-friendly or green or sound.  It’s mostly political, sadly.  The entire point is to build a working proof that city dwellers don’t need those “Rethuglican” farmers in flyover country, they can hydroponic their way to food sufficiency!

Sometimes people will actually come out and admit this, but that doesn’t help much. Urban farming boosters are very good at not specifying percentages so they can fall back on “We just want people to produce a little bit for their own families, maaaannn” to critics while cheerfully hyping “long term food sufficiency”  or “community food sovereignty” to fellow fans. Sustainable agriculture advocates have to choose.  They can’t on the one hand say that there is a thing such as urban farming and it will aid in food security for poor people while on the other hand claiming that it’s just a fun community project to keep urban teens busy.  Continual talk out of both sides of their mouths on this is one of the many reasons real efforts towards a more diversified, decentralized, robust food production system are not happening.

It needs to be hammered home that if urban farming production isn’t meant to be significant on a local or regional level, then the money going into it really is a complete misallocation of cash, time and labor. And if it is meant to be significant, then we’re back to the craziness of trying to do that in an urban environment when we totally don’t have to and could put the money towards better farming techniques and opportunities for actual farmers instead of the current, well, racist and classist money grab that is urban agriculture.

Speaking of technology, that is usually where urban agriculture boosters start yipping about how improved technological advancements and farming techniques suddenly make “urban farming” a sane thing.  But having better tech just changes the tradeoff calculus. In fact, it can just make some things look falsely feasible when they aren’t really sustainable. Needing fewer people (except of course they never really want *less* human labor, but that’s a digression for another time) doesn’t erase the input and maintenance issues.  Where does the organic material come from?  What do you do when it’s not the political flavor of the month and the grants run out?  Is it really likely there will be an infinite supply of overeducated, mostly white young people to administer and intern for these programs?  And so on and so forth.

The real truth is that having better tech means BETTER OPTIMIZED FARMING OUTSIDE THE CITY. It’s still local if it goes four miles to the city, after all. We can have clean, green cityscapes and also much better food produced near, just not in, the cities. Why waste the tech on urban daydreams when it could be used for improving and optimizing small farm production just outside the cities? Vast quantities of time, money and labor are being diverted to this ideological foofery instead of actually getting people into functioning small and medium farm production.   This is a case in point, misrepresenting history to further the dumb urban farming agenda.

In Detroit right now, piles of money are raining from the government and non-profit sky for delusional implementations of urban agriculture, and it’s still an unpleasant commentary on what people with money to burn think Detroit and its black people are really worth, which is not much more than stoop labor. Only with 20% less dignity.

Urban farming is not a solution to any of the problems facing sustainable production of healthy, nourishing plants and animals.  At best, it is a nice way for a community to make use out of an old parking lot or what have you.  At best.  In general, though, it is a way to actively undermine or prevent small to medium local-regional food production operations from blossoming.  This is too bad, as it is a fine hobby.  It’s just stupid and evil as policy.

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5 thoughts on “Why Urban Farming is Stupid and Evil

  1. Let me first say I can definitely appreciate the argument and really the difficulties of making well-informed decisions about where to invest the limited resources we have, both monetary and human resources. Resources are inevitably limited and it’s hard for most people to know in what way their resources would best be utilized. Now, sustainable farming aside (I am not a farmer and would never pretend to be able to make an argument for or against urban agriculture based on my knowledge of growing food), but it cannot be said that urban/community gardening is just “a way to make use out of an old parking lot”. If you read much of the social science and public health literature on neighborhoods, you will find that urban gardens can have positive effects for communities on many levels. Green spaces reduce stress levels and depression; wholistic community action increases collective efficacy and reduces community violence; and so forth. (I’m not putting in references, but I can suggest some papers if you’re interested.) There is a whole slew of benefits that a community garden could bring. One of which includes teaching children and communities, which previously did not have access to fresh vegetables, how to prepare these veggies which in turn can lead to their integration into daily meals and the reduction childhood obesity levels. As I said, I don’t know a whole lot about the sustainability of urban gardens, but I do know that they can be beneficial – so much more than just a hobby. Just something to consider.

  2. Hi I think your view is interesting and you raise many good points urban farming can never replace actual serious dedicated agricultural areas. On the other hand urban farming serves as an education to a lot of ppl children and adults who would otherwise not have a clue where food comes from. And I don’t see the harm of private citizens getting together to grow urban gardens,a little extra food and appreciation for what it takes to grow seem benificial to me. I’m a life time city dweller btw.

  3. It is incredibly dumb. Not to mention urban farms are so much more costly for the tiny spaces they farm, because they have to import soil and use beds that don’t contact with the existing ground, as it is most likely contaminated with lead or arsenic or god knows what else. Most urban farms are popping up in former industrial areas! Brilliant! Making them even more costly is that urban real estate is phenomenally expensive.

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