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Food Security: Transplanting Rural to Urban

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"The world's food supply hangs by a slender thread of biodiversity. Ninety percent is provided by slightly more than a hundred plant species out of a quarter-million known to exist. Twenty species carry most of the load, of which only three--wheat, maize, and rice--stand between humanity and starvation." -- E.O. Wilson, The Future of Life.

In the first month of this new year, more than 7 billion people exist in the world, consuming and producing goods and services in perpetuity.

In 36 years, the global human populace is estimated to reach more than 9 billion. Accompanying the population expansion, macro demographic trends point to a continuation of accelerated urbanization; approximately 70 percent of the population worldwide will be concentrated in citified centres--an unprecedented occurrence in human history.

This future world requires a 70 percent increase in global food production, with annual cereal crop production increase of 3 billion tonnes and annual meat production increase of 200 million tonnes.

Will the systems that sustain us to date, have the scalability to support this future world?

Today, we are experiencing a declining pattern in the global rate of growth in yields of major cereal crops--wheat, maize, rice, inclusive. This trend has been observed over the last 50 years, dropping from 3.2 percent per year in 1960 to 1.5 percent in 2000.

Of what is produced, the plant food is derived from essentially 4 crop species, which supply approximately 50 percent of all plant-based calories in the human diet. Of meat production, approximately 12 animal species supply 90 percent of all animal protein in the human diet.

Furthermore, the purveyors of the current systems have seen environmental degradation ranging from soil nutrient depletion and erosion to loss of forest biodiversity, desertification and depletion of freshwater reserves. The UN has reported that, "an increasing number of countries are reaching alarming levels of water scarcity and 1.4 billion people live in areas with sinking ground water levels."

Are the systems that sustain us, sustainable?

To fully address food security, perhaps it is time to look beyond the industrialized model of mass production, mass distribution, and mass consumption. Innovative agricultural R&D appears to be cropping up in likely, and unlikely, places.

In the much cited, near-post apocalyptic conditions of Detroit, Michigan, locals speak of a green revolution. Micro-farming and community gardens are taking root in numbers. The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) is among the driving forces in the area, focused on "creating model urban agricultural projects that seek to build community self-reliance and to change consciousness about food". DBCFSN operates the largest urban farm in Detroit, D-Town Farm, which employs organic farming practices and incorporates active bee farming into the city's ecology.

Much like DBCFSN, Black Creek Community Farm in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood of Toronto as well as Warren's Wall, a vertical fruit and vegetable garden at the Ray-Cam Cooperative Centre along the East Hastings stretch of Vancouver, aim to address household food security through hunger and malnutrition reduction in poverty dense urban areas. Both sites are cultivated, managed and harvested by residents of their respective locales.

Further embedding food production into the urban landscape, Lufa Farms has retrofitted a Montreal building rooftop with a fully operational greenhouse. Crops are watered via captured rain and recirculated irrigation to conserve fresh water sources. Additionally the city's own carbon intensive atmosphere serves as a supportive factor in crop production as well as creating a low energy bearing rooftop farm, as the greenhouse requires less heat since inner-city temperatures are often higher at the core than at the periphery. According to Lufa Farms, their 31,000 square foot greenhouse feeds approximately 2,000 people.

So what do these grassroots urban-agricultural initiatives indicate?

Food security is an eco-socio-economic issue that strikes at the fundamental human processes we have devised for our own longevity. These examples demonstrate alternative methods of addressing the global issue, locally. All projects mentioned re-inform mass-scale, factory farming approaches typically utilized in rural settings for small-scale conditions and constraints of urban living. It takes the established means of production and deconstructs the supply chain mechanics of the food economy, turning individual consumers into autonomous producers. It also highlights the viability of such enterprises as a localized venture and a culture of rolling-up one's sleeves to achieve a common good. As the predicted demographic shift to citified life manifests, this will be key in re-engineering the use of resources, structures and spaces that are currently in place, and those that have yet to be constructed.