Urban agriculture is the key to creating healthy cities and developing resilient urban food systems in times of uncertainty. However, the relevant empirical evidence is limited. This study quantifiably verified the association of access to local food through urban agriculture with subjective concerns about the well-being, physical activity, and food security of neighborhood communities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal was Tokyo (Japan), where small-scale local food systems are widespread in walkable neighborhoods.
We found that diversity in access to local food, from self-cultivation to direct sales to the consumer, was significantly associated with health and food safety variables. In particular, the use of agricultural plots was more strongly associated with subjective well-being than the use of urban parks, and was more strongly associated with the mitigation of food security problems than the use of food retailers. These findings provide solid evidence of the effectiveness of integrating urban agriculture into walkable neighborhoods. Urban agriculture refers to the cultivation, production, and processing of food and non-food products (e.g.
for decoration, materials) in the urban environment. Urban agriculture also includes animal husbandry, aquaculture, beekeeping, and horticulture. Synonyms for urban agriculture, excluding animal production, are urban farming and urban gardening. The latter refers to non-commercial horticultural activities.
Cultivation can be done indoors and can rely heavily on technology, but from a climate adaptation perspective, urban agriculture and gardening located in an urban outdoor environment are considered here. Cultivation and horticulture activities can be located in a variety of places, such as balconies, roofs, private patios, orchards, botanical gardens or public spaces. Community agriculture and gardening can occupy any type of empty place in cities (e.g. abandoned industrial land or abandoned block) or settling in public green spaces.
Urban agriculture and gardening can contribute positively to climate adaptation by improving the vegetation cover of cities. Planted and cultivated vegetation increases soil water infiltration capacity, which in turn leads to better adaptation in terms of better stormwater runoff management. As a result of the increase in water infiltration capacity, the water table will rise, which will improve drought resistance. By providing shade, increasing evapoperspiration, and transforming sunlight into plant material in photosynthesis processes instead of absorbing it, plants and trees have a cooling effect on their environment.
If managed unsustainably, urban agriculture and gardening can increase water consumption, the use of pesticides, or the cultivation of non-native species that can threaten local biodiversity. Therefore, farmers and gardeners must adopt practices that are climatically intelligent and respectful of biodiversity, taking into account local and regional biogeographic and climatic conditions. Municipal officials can also guide local actors and provide advice on environmentally friendly practices. When more drought-tolerant plants are used, water requirements for irrigation can be reduced.
This may involve the use of native crops, vegetables, and taxonomic groups that are drought tolerant or that face multiple urban stresses. By planting more saline vegetables and drought-tolerant vegetation, urban farming and urban gardening will be able to produce produce even during dry periods. A monitoring, reporting and evaluation scheme is recommended to track the results of the implementation of this option for adaptation to climate change. Individual citizens and civil society play a key role in urban agriculture because they maintain and manage agricultural plots and orchards. In addition, the private sector and small businesses (for example restaurants) can also be actively engaged in growing food and herbs or beekeeping on their private property.
Close collaboration between citizens and municipal authorities is a prerequisite for long-term urban farming. Local urban farmers often need support (e.g. education, knowledge exchange and guidance) from municipal authorities on the adoption of environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. The selection of new officially recognized areas for urban farming or the establishment of urban agriculture networks should improve the equitable distribution of the benefits of adaptation at the city scale. They should especially ensure that vulnerable groups (the elderly, children, migrants) and residents of neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status are able to engage in local urban farming.
The planning and implementation of urban farming networks must be done through deliberative participation with citizens and other key stakeholders. The city can support the socially just and equitable availability to practice urban farming by occupying and zoning areas for urban agriculture (for example community gardens) in different types of neighborhoods. The city may have programs to improve the participation of different socioeconomic groups - for example in Barcelona there is a participatory program aimed at citizens over 65 years old which supports sustainable agricultural practices such as organic farming. This requires collaboration and negotiations between planners, landowners, and local citizens which can be carried out through formal participation as part of city planning or zoning. Successfully establish a new informal urban agricultural area by residents or communities on sites that are not officially preserved or planned for such land use activity (for example abandoned industrial fields or public parks) close cooperation between citizens and municipal administrations is needed. Strong political support and public acceptance guarantee the success of grassroots initiatives by local communities as long as they are not driven by government actors - competing interests in land use as well as weak collaboration with key stakeholders especially with municipal authorities or landowners are fundamental limiting factors for implementation of urban farming initiatives - increase in land premiums as well as strong demand for landscaped plots can cause large increase in rental or sale premiums leading to exclusion of low socioeconomic groups from participating in urban farming activities. Urban farming provides several environmental benefits - they support conservation of rich topsoil improve local microclimate conditions promote recycling of urban waste as source of soil nutrients & organic matter & support biodiversity in cities attracting wide variety of fauna - cultivation activities strengthen direct interaction between man & nature & help reduce carbon footprint - they also provide social benefits such as improved mental health & wellbeing increased sense community & social cohesion & improved access to fresh produce & nutrition education.