Chapter 3: Farming the Cities

State of the World 2007 - Our Urban Future
State of the World 2007 Home Page

Purchase the PDF for this State of the World 2007 chapter (below), or purchase the entire book.

-Brian Halweil and Danielle Nierenberg

Growing food and raising fish and livestock in cities is nothing new. In some ways, cities are responding to the same challenges that urban gardeners have faced for millennia. The hanging gardens in Babylon, for instance, were an example of urban agriculture, while residents of the first cities of ancient Iran, Syria, and Iraq produced vegetables in home gardens. This is partly because cities have traditionally sprung up on the best farmland: the same flat land that is good for farming is also easiest for constructing office buildings, condominiums, and factories . The masses of urban dwellers also create a perfect market for fresh fruits and vegetables.  

Despite all that farming can do for the city landscape and the urban soul, politicians, businesses, and planners continue to regard food as a rural issue that does not demand the same attention as housing, crime, or transportation. Policymakers would be wise to realize the nutritional, social, ecological, and economic benefits of reversing this mindset and putting programs in place to encourage cities to feed themselves. Fortunately, urban politicians, businesses, and planners are beginning to regard urban agriculture as a tool to help cities cope with a range of ecological, social, and nutritional challenges—from sprawl and malnutrition to swelling landfills and the threat of attacks on the food chain.   

Brian Halweil is a Senior Researcher and Danielle Nierenberg is a Research Associate at the Worldwatch Institute.