Urban does not always mean pollution, and pollution does not always mean health hazards. However, risk analysis needs to be more systematically integrated into urban food policies. This is why a recently published methodological guide takes stock of 10 years of research on the topic and highlights a few key points that any urban policy maker should keep in mind when developing an urban agriculture or a gardening policy.
With urban agriculture becoming fashionable in developed countries, a small number of iconic examples, from New York to Berlin, are now widely shared at the international level. A paper published in Landscape and Urban Planning earlier this year by Autria-, UK- and Columbia-based scholars invites us to reflect upon the limits of such “ready-to-use” references when they are mobilised by policies or projects irrespective of the local contexts.
Why is it so difficult for farmers operating just outside the city of Chicago to sell to people living there? This was the question that led a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (United States) to explore urban food logistics. Their work, published in a report entitled Regional Food Freight: Lessons from the Chicago Region, unveils the historical trends that led to the consolidation of long distance supply chains at the expense of shorter ones, and the limits of the current food freight system. It calls for a more careful integration of food diversity into urban logistics.
Who forages and why? A team of researchers across a variety of Baltimore-based organisations carried out an exhaustive survey to identify what, why, and, for the first time, how much people foraged in the city. This study puts this activity on the radar of urban planners and raises questions regarding the health and sustainability risks and benefits of foraging.
With as high as 30% of global food being wasted, it is crucial to understand why households waste food. A recent literature reviews shows that, good news, no one is happy to waste food. If households know they should not waste food, then telling them not to do so will therefore not really have an impact. The secret rather lies in understanding, and acting upon, the interwoven set of factors that make people waste food even if they know they should not.
Is buying local is good for the economy? Two recent academic papers present a methodology to calculate the economic contribution of local food systems to a given economy. They urge to go further than existing, short-sighted analysis and properly assess who wins and who loses from local food policies. They also highlight that local food does not fit well with classical economic theory and that local food advocates should therefore not so much try to demonstrate an overall positive economic impact, but positive externalities.
Food justice is concerned with equity in all steps of the food system (from production to consumption). It is not easy for cities or regional governments to tackle food justice issues, as the margin of manoeuvre at the local level is limited. But they can still make a valuable contribution. Here is how.
A team of researchers from the Technical University of Denmark and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reviewed existing scientific evidence on the main forms of urban agriculture in northern climates. They found that given the great diversity of urban agriculture, scientific evidence about its environmental benefits remains patchy. It does, however, reveal that the method used to cultivate plants, the product and the location are the three components of the equation cities should take into account to develop environmentally sound urban agriculture policies.
Is it feasible to source all the food a city needs from its surroundings? The quick answer is no. And two recent academic papers demonstrate it while setting out a methodology that any urban region can use to assess its existing level of food self-sufficiency and the way this would evolve under different policy options.
Researchers from Saint-Etienne and Lyon Universities (in France) have developed a typology of the business models of these organizations that are working for a better access to good food for all. The typology presents four business models, each entailing specific challenges. This analysis is useful for the initiatives themselves, but also for the organizations that support them.