The Promise of Urban Agriculture: New Growing Green Report - Conservation Law Foundation

The Promise of Urban Agriculture: New Growing Green Report

Jo Anne Shatkin

Urban agriculture holds great promise for Boston.

This post was coauthored by Melissa Hoffer & Jo Anne Shatkin.

We are excited to share with you the news that today CLF and CLF Ventures released a report that, for the first time, details the economic development potential for urban agriculture in Greater Boston, assesses its environmental and health co-benefits, and examines current market and policy barriers to expanded food production in Greater Boston. The report‘s findings confirm that urban agriculture can play an important role in creating a more livable, carbon resilient, healthier, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable city—if we put smart policies in place and encourage market development for Boston grown foods.

Download a free copy of the report here.

The City of Boston has taken important steps over the past two years to advance urban agriculture, and new businesses are taking root, including City Growers, a Mattapan-based farming business that is featured in this report. There is a palpable sense of excitement about the potential of this new urban vision for agriculture for communities; possibilities abound. But CLF and CLF Ventures believe it is more than possible— it is a necessity, and an urgent one at that as we face the challenges of climate change, an obesity epidemic, lack of availability of healthy foods in many communities, and a fragile economy.

The report found that converting as few as 50 acres of vacant or underutilized land around Boston into agricultural production would spur job creation, improve access to healthy, local, fresh food, and reduce environmental harms. Key findings of the report include:

  • Land is available. 50 acres – an area the size of Boston Common – is a small portion of the vacant or underutilized land available in Boston.
  • Urban farms would stimulate the economy by creating jobs. 50 acres of urban agriculture in Boston will likely generate at least 130 direct farming jobs and may generate over 200 jobs depending on actual business characteristics and revenue.
  • Healthy, local and affordable food. 50 acres in agricultural production would provide enough fresh produce to feed over 3,600 people over a six-month retail season. If the produce is used to prepare healthy school lunches in Boston Public Schools, 50 acres could provide more than one serving of fresh produce for each lunch served to a student eligible for free or reduced school lunch over a six month period. If 800 acres of potentially available City-owned land were put into agricultural production, the food needs of approximately 10 percent of Boston’s total population could be fully satisfied during a six-month retail season.
  • Significant environmental impacts. Urban agriculture in Boston will result in a net reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 50 acres of properly managed soils would sequester about 114 tons of cabon dioxide (CO2) per year and may result in an additional CO2 reduction of up to 4,700 tons per year.
  • Community adaptation. No less than 6,000 new temperature records were set during the recent March 2012 heat wave, and more than 40,000 have been set for the year-to-date. Meanwhile, the July 2011-June 2012 period was the warmest 12-month period of any 12-months on record for the contiguous U.S., with the first half of 2012 being the hottest ever recorded. The International Energy Agency’s recent projection of a 10.8 degree F temperature increase over pre-industrial levels by the end of this century underscores the fact that a more decentralized food system will be necessary to enable our communities to better adapt to changing climate conditions, including the impacts of more frequent severe weather. Urban agriculture is a part of this solution.

As Jo Anne said in the press release announcing Growing Green, it’s clear that even 50 acres of sustainable agriculture on available land would be an economic stimulus and environmental resource for Boston. While we focused on a 50 acre test scenario, these conclusions are scalable across New England. Imagine how vibrant New England would be like with a robust and sustainable regional food system.

In addition to the potential benefits, the report also considers the policy and market barriers to fully realizing the potential of urban agriculture, examining the ways in which promoting urban agriculture will require city and state involvement and key needs for such involvement. Such barriers include the need for policies that provide affordable access to land, one of the key market barriers for both new and experienced farmers; strategies to reduce the risks associated with the Commonwealth’s hazardous material cleanup law; improved access to high quality compost; and better financing options to overcoming prohibitive capital and operating costs, amongst other findings.

Our ongoing work seeks to link urban agriculture to the larger regional food system, and focuses on how to overcome some of the barriers we have identified.

Boston is ideally positioned to play a lead role in coordinating with the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, other New England states, and cities around the region to build a vision for a New England regional food system and make it happen. Boston is emerging as a national leader in urban agriculture innovation, and can be a voice for the benefits of urban agriculture and as one of the region’s largest consumers, help to build the market for regionally grown food.

Download a free copy of the report here.
Find an infographic detailing the report here:
To read more about CLF’s Farm & Food Initiative, click here:




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