Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Urban agriculture: The potential and challenges of producing food in cities

18.09.2013
In many cities around the world, patrons of high-end restaurants want quality food that is flavorful and fresh. To satisfy their guests, chefs are looking closer and closer to home – to locally grown produce from neighboring farms or even from their own, restaurant-owned gardens.

"You can't find fresher food anywhere," says Sam Wortman, assistant professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Chefs are literally picking produce the same day they're cooking it in the restaurants."

As the concept of local food and urban gardening gains popularity, urban agriculture, with its benefits and obstacles, is coming to many cities. The issues surrounding food production in urban areas are outlined in a paper recently published by Wortman and Sarah Taylor Lovell in the September-October issue of Journal of Environmental Quality.

The benefits of urban agriculture are many. Urban gardens are often built on previously unused lots, increasing the beauty and value of the neighborhood. They provide recreation opportunities and a social network for the gardeners involved. Urban food production also means that healthy, fresh produce is readily available to city dwellers.

In light of the benefits, urban gardens are popping up across the nation. But the challenges that organizers and growers face must be understood and addressed if urban gardens are to become widespread and even profitable. Several obstacles face planners and growers including soil contaminants, water availability, and changes in climate and atmospheric conditions.

Several contaminants can be found in urban soils, and lead is the most prevalent. While there is concern about plants taking up lead from soils, research suggests that they actually take up very little. "Even in roots, there is still a relatively small amount of lead compared to, for example, what we're exposed to from drinking water," says Wortman.

Direct ingestion of soil containing lead is a bigger threat than plant uptake. Soils can be directly ingested when children play in and eat soil, soil adheres to crops after they're harvested, or soil particles blow in the air. Practices such as washing food well before eating and covering soils with mulch can help decrease these risks.

Finding reliable and safe water sources can be difficult for urban farmers. Technologies such as drip irrigation that precisely deliver water where and when it's needed can help conserve water. Reusing rainwater and wastewater can provide additional water, but those sources must be monitored for contaminants, and perhaps treated.

Changes in atmospheric and climate conditions in cities compared to rural areas can also be obstacles for urban growers. For example, temperatures and vapor pressure deficits (the difference between saturated and actual vapor pressure at a specific temperature) are often higher in cities. Extreme temperatures during the day and higher nighttime temperatures can inhibit photosynthesis in plants and decrease yields. Likewise, when vapor pressure deficits are higher, plants have to use more water creating moisture stress and reducing photosynthesis.

To better understand the effects of varying climates and atmospheric states on food production, Wortman and his colleagues have a project underway. They are looking at six sites on a gradient from downtown Chicago to 40 miles west of the city. The sites all have the same, ideal soil conditions allowing the researchers to take soil factors out of the equation.

"We are trying to isolate the effects of the atmosphere," explains Wortman. "We are monitoring concentrations of carbon dioxide, ozone, temperature, humidity, wind, and other factors across all of the sites."

The study is still ongoing, but Wortman says the preliminary results are exciting. They are finding that crop yields are highly variable at the different sites with some crops growing better closer to the city center and others producing higher yields in more rural areas. The effects of atmospheric conditions on crops appear to be important.

Wortman and his colleagues have a two-fold goal for the project. First, they want to identify crops that grow well in any given urban environment. It may then be possible to develop new crops that are adapted to urban gardens and customized for the area.

Also, urban conditions with higher temperatures, ozone, and carbon dioxide are similar to the changes expected elsewhere with climate change. Urban gardens, then, provide a natural laboratory for studying how these climatic and atmospheric changes will affect plants and crop yields in the future.

"We're looking at it from a very practical perspective of providing recommendations for urban farmers, but it also has an angle of how these different crops respond to altered environments," says Wortman.

Looking ahead, Wortman and his colleagues hope to further the development of urban agriculture by optimizing the ways in which crops and soils are managed in urban areas. Finding more efficient ways to produce food in cities will help control costs. Research to increase both the productivity and profitability of urban farming is necessary if fresh produce is to be available not just in high-end restaurants but to anyone looking for local food options.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.2134/jeq2013.01.0031.

The Journal of Environmental Quality is a peer-reviewed, international journal of environmental quality in natural and agricultural ecosystems published six times a year by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). The Journal of Environmental Quality covers various aspects of anthropogenic impacts on the environment, including terrestrial, atmospheric, and aquatic systems.

Sam Wortman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.agronomy.org/

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Raiding the rape field
23.05.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht New technique reveals details of forest fire recovery
17.05.2018 | DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>