Greening the Rust Belt

As the economy struggles to rebound and the foreclosure crisis takes its toll on American cities, vacant land and abandoned buildings continue to abound. For America’s once-great manufacturing cities, the impact has been even greater as metropolitan areas throughout the Midwest struggle to find an identity in a post-industrial world. In the article “Can cities become self-reliant in food?” Sharanbir Grewal and Parwinder Grewal suggest that urban agriculture may provide a solution to both of these woes.

The authors argue that by promoting urban agriculture cities can develop a “local-self reliance” with substantial economic and social benefits.Based on their findings, the authors conclude that “post-industrial North American cities [have] the capacity to substantially increase self-reliance in food.”Grewal and Grewal conducted a study of Cleveland, once a prominent manufacturing center whose economy has struggled in recent years. The study calculates Cleveland’s potential level of “local self-reliance” based on estimated yields of various farm-raised foods and area of land available for gardening.

Their results show that, with proper implementation of urban farming techniques, Cleveland could reach overall self-reliance levels of up to 17.7% by weight and 7.3% by expenditure for vegetables, fruits, poultry, eggs, and honey.

Grewal and Grewal argue that local food production and, subsequently, local self-reliance could have tremendous benefits for cities with depressed economies. Where unemployment levels are high, urban agriculture provides jobs. Where business is floundering, local food production can act as a self-starting industry, bringing economic activity – and revenue – back into the city.

Along with the economic benefits of greater self-reliance, the authors observe that urban agriculture has a beneficial impact on the environment and the health of citizens. Foods not only travel shorter distances from producer to consumer, but healthy foods also become more readily available.

These arguments are not without shortcomings. The authors admit that full implementation of urban agriculture would require significant early investment, which may not be feasible in cities desperately searching for new revenue sources.

The study also accounts for the use of most, if not all, available vacant land, along with home and rooftop gardens, to produce the estimated food quantities. As struggling cities continue to fight back from the recession, such a dedication of resources may not be palatable to city governments and the public.

While Grewal and Grewal acknowledge that the full extent of their proposals may not be feasible, the virtues of urban gardening and increased local self-reliance, they contend, might be achieved on a smaller scale. For cities hoping to reinvigorate and reinvent themselves post-recession, urban agriculture may be a start.

msitkowski@uchicago.edu'
Mike Sitkowski
Mike Sitkowski is a senior editor for The Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. He is interested in urban policy and trade and economic policy.

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