Urban Agriculture: Better Food and Food for Thought

Urban Agriculture: Better Food and Food for Thought
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Urban Agriculture: Better Food and Food for Thought *

City farmers and advocates for sustainable food systems champion urban agriculture as a source of better food.

We all strive to be savvy, socially responsible consumers, so it is a good idea to explore this claim in more detail.

How can urban agriculture offer better produce than industrial agriculture? Is time from farm to plate the only difference?

Urban Agriculture & Better Nutrition *

Time has a significant effect on the nutrient value of vegetables. This is an obvious fact, but most of us are so far removed from food production that we don’t think about how long our food has been in transit before it arrives at the grocery store.

The clock starts counting down nutrient value from the moment of harvest. Here is a little reminder from our early school days that explains why industrially produced fruits and veggies are inferior in terms of flavor and nutrition.

Chemical Reaction – Cellular Respiration – Don’t worry this is the simplified version!

Glucose + Oxygen ➞ Carbon Dioxide + Water + Energy

Why does this matter? *

Plants don’t stop breathing just because they have been harvested.

As long as there is sufficient oxygen, plants will use their stores of sugars in this reaction. Without photosynthesis (which, for the most part, does cease at harvest) to replenish the stores there are fewer nutrients available to us relative to time post-harvest.

There is also a corresponding reduction in percentages of minerals, vitamins and non-essential nutrients.

Certain crops have higher respiration rates than others and there are a number of factors that influence respiration, but in the simplest terms this is why truly fresh fruits and vegetables from a garden or a local farm taste so much better than produce from the grocery store.

Better Breeding *

For years industrial agriculture has been breeding nutrition out of our food.

I don’t believe this is a conspiracy. I think it is just a flaw in our approach.

We are seeking ways to provide for the basic needs of our growing global population and in order to produce enough food we have
been breeding crops for a specific set of characteristics, namely high yields, disease/herbicide/pest resistance, and appearance.

Unfortunately, these traits often have a negative correlation with nutrition and flavor.

Studies show that varieties selected for high yields (usually about double that of their unaltered counterparts) are subject to dilution.

There is more produce in total, but the nutritional value is reduced.

A study on broccoli crops found that proteins, amino acids and a variety of minerals decline in crops bred for higher yields. Because of the long journey most of our food has to take, the varieties that we buy in stores have been selected for their thick skins and the ability to maintain a favorable appearance after handling.


Urban Agriculture and Plant Breeding

Urban agriculture gives us the opportunity to modify our approach to plant breeding.

We all want high yields, but taking advantage of vertical growing space and technologies that help us to use resources more efficiently may be a better method than breeding for yield without considering quality.

If we can achieve a little breathing room and security in our food production, we can work toward selecting for traits based on a different set of criteria that includes nutrition and flavor.




  1. Hello,

    My name is Tasha and I am working with the FarmOn Foundation. We are a group dedicated to helping farmers from around the world. We celebrated Earth Day by creating the hash tag #farmvoices in order to give farmers a voice. We heard over 2000 stories from 23 different countries.

    Our new mission is not only to connect with farmers but also the urban consumers. We want to hear your story and find out what matters to you about your food. Where would you like it to come from? How would you like it grown? etc.

    We invite you to watch the video created from Earth Day http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0I2L0S5Yz4, and also to join in on the conversation. We are working towards closing the gap between the farmer and consumer, so any ideas on how we can work with you further would be greatly appreciated!

    Take care,


  2. Thank you again Lois for a great point about high mileage food aside from high costs. When people grow more food in their own backyards than their families need then the grocery stores will have a great variety of locally grown foods since everyone would grow different things. Then the local farmers could be making up the difference and we could have healthier better tasting food in our stores again.



  1. Vertical Farm Photos - Friday 6/21/2013 - Vertical Food Blog - [...] Wednesday: Urban Agriculture: Better Food & Food For Though [...]
  2. Urban Agriculture: Better Food & Food For Thought – Vertical Food Blog | Dr. B. A. Usman's Blog - [...] See on verticalfoodblog.com [...]

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