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Public Health Implications of Urban Agriculture Author(s): Kate H. Brown and Andrew L. Jameton Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Public Health Policy, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2000), pp. 20-39 Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3343472 . Accessed: 08/11/2011 21:31 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

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PublicHealth Implications of UrbanAgriculture KATE H. BROWN and ANDREW

L. JAMETON

HE idea of urban agriculture may seem counterT

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intuitiveto generations who havegrownup in the

United States thinking of farming as an exclusively rural endeavor. However, millions of people worldide are dependent on crops and animals raised in cities. Faced with enormous urban population growth and economic and political changes that increasingly undermine local food distribution systems, many cities around the world have begun to foster a range of experiments in urban agriculture. A I996 United Nations report estimates that up to 8o% of families in some Asian cities are involved in agriculture. The report notes that similarly high rates of participation are also found in Moscow, and in such African cities as Dar es Salaam, Kinshasa, Kampala, and Maputo (i). Havana, Cuba has also seen a remarkableshift towards urban agriculture with the collapse of its major food supplier, the Soviet Union, and the tightening of the United States' embargo (z). Although not nearly on the scale of these international examples, there are numerous urban agriculturalendeavors in the United States, and increasingly health professionals, urban planners, environmental activists, community organizers, and policy makers are recognizing the value of urban agriculture for economic development, food security, and preservation of green space. A IggI report estimated that 33 % (696,ooo) of the z million farms in the United States are located within metropolitan areas. These farms produce 3 5 % of all crops and livestock sales (3). The United Nations document on urban agriculture reported that 25% of urban households in the United States are involved in gardening, including food gardens and landscaping (4). Although lawn care remains the most prevalent form of gardening

nationwide,in

1995

nearly 50 million gardeners,many of them in 20


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urban areas, grew vegetables.This numbermarksan increaseof io million from I992 (5). Urban agriculturein the United States produces an estimated$38 millionworth of food annually(6). In this articlewe examinetrendsin urbanagriculturein the United Stateswith a particularfocus on the public healthpotentialand pitfalls of urbanagriculture.We explorethe role of urbanagriculturefor nutritionalhealth and food security,personalwellness and community betterment,and environmentalhealth. And we suggest policy changesthat could favorablyadvancethe potentialof urbanagriculture for publichealth benefitsin these areas. URBAN

AGRICULTURE

"Urbanagriculture"refersto a wide range of agriculturalventures within city limits. Under this rubric in the United States fall such diverseeffortsas communitygardenswhere typicallya lot is divided among householdswho tend small plots of land for their own use; school gardenswhere gardeningon a school lot is incorporatedinto the curriculum;and intensiveentrepreneurial gardenswhere vegetables, herbs, flowers, and animalsare raisedfor wholesale and retail marketing.Becauseof existingregulationsin the UnitedStates,urban agricultureis mostly limited to gardening endeavors and related industries;rarelydoes it include raisingand processinglivestock or fish as is often the case internationally. Someurbanagriculturetakes place in the UnitedStateson a large, even industrial,scale, while other efforts consist of pocket gardens tucked into overlooked corners of the city. Urban agriculturealso encompasses backyard, windowsill, and rooftop gardens. Many urban gardensare located on land that has been vacant or unused becauseit is otherwiseunattractivefor urbandevelopment.The typical pattern of urban sprawl has created an abundanceof empty inner-citylots. Ironically,as new suburbanhousing and business developmentsovertakeruralfarmlandsat the city'speriphery,land in the inner-citybecomesavailablewhen failedinner-citybusinessesand decayinghomes are bulldozed.This is the case in the authors'home, Omaha, Nebraska, for example, where an inner-cityarea of five squaremilescontainsover 3,000 vacantlots while manyacresof outlying farmlandare lost annuallyto new housingand business. Land for urban gardens is often leased or even loaned free of chargeby a city governmentor an individualpropertyowner.Of the


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6,ozo community gardens reported in a I998 national survey, for example, only 5.3% are owned (I3I) or in a land trust (I87). This tenuous pattern of land tenancy has created problems for gardeners when their land is sold by its owners for other purposes (7). Despite an outpouring of popular concern (8), in I999 over ioo of the 700 community gardens in New York City were placed at risk of being sold for new housing or commercial development. Some of these gardens have been in operation for zo years. Only intensive community resistance and significant investments by land trusts and individuals have been able to save these gardens (9). LEGISLATIVE

SUPPORT

FOR URBAN

AGRICULTURE

The current interest in urban gardening in the United States echoes earlier trends, notably the Victory Garden movement during World War II. Victory Gardens were household vegetable gardens encouraged by government and citizens' groups as a way for civilians to support the war effort. Home-grown vegetables from Victory Gardens helped to stretch household budgets and reduce reliance on resources that could be otherwise used for the military. Some households sold their produce and donated the proceeds for war relief. Victory Gardens were more than a symbolic gesture toward domestic food security.In 1944, ZOmillion gardenersgrew 40% of the nation's fresh vegetables (io). Urban gardens again drew the attention of policy makers in the 1970S when large numbers of urbanites, pulled by the new ecology movement and pushed by inflationary food prices, once more turned to gardening. For some, gardens signaled a rebirth of concern for safeguarding the natural environment. Like their counterparts who settled in rural areas to experiment with "living off the land," many young urban gardeners saw their efforts as a means of raising consciousness about environmental stewardship. Others looked to urban gardens as a community organizing tool to combat poverty and provide a collective response to blighted city neighborhoods. Also, home-grown produce could offset the cost of purchasing food which, at that time, was highly inflated. This ground-swell of interest in gardening as a cost-effective strategy to combat inflation was reflected in a I975 subcommittee hearing of the House of Representatives.The legislation under discussion would have authorized the distribution of seeds and plants for use in


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home gardens. Testifying at the hearing, RepresentativeGeorge Brown from Californiacited the 45% increasein the price of food since I972 as a significant reason for the government to encourage some degree of self-sufficiency through home gardens (ii). Representative Charles Carney from Ohio also spoke in support for what he termed "inflation gardens" (i 2). Representative James Burke from Massachusetts stated that, The average gardener can produce $240 worth of food for no more than an outlay of $9. In the past year, home gardeners of the Washington DC metropolitan area produced over $I million worth of food that would not otherwise have existed. (I 3) Despite Congressman Burke's claim that government support in this form would not hurt agribusiness, the legislation lacked the backing of the Department of Agriculture and was defeated under the influence of a coalition of seed companies and others in agribusiness. In I977, however, legislative support for gardening was successful. Congress allocated $I.5 million for the Urban Gardening Program to promote community gardens in 6 cities across the country by providto $250,000 ing annual grants of $I50,000 through the Cooperative Extension Service. The program was expanded to $3.6 million for 23 cities by I993. Despite the program's popularity and success, direct funding for the Urban Gardening Program was discontinued eventually because of the loss of the program's champions in the House and its lack of support within the USDA and the Cooperative Extension Service (I4). Current funding for urban agriculture in the United States comes from a variety of government, business, and philanthropic sources. Funds still filter from USDA through the Cooperative Extension for some urban gardernprojects. Funding for urban gardening ventures is also sometimes available in grants and loans through Health and Human Services Community Development block grants. Other gardens are funded by entrepreneurs with bank loans and capital. Foundation and private donations largely support the nonprofit community agencies that are fostering gardening as a community development tool. In I997, the federal government funded the Community Food Security Act through the USDA. This legislation provides grants to nonprofit agencies for regional models to enhance food security in poor communities. Some of the groups supported


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throughthis programhave promotedurbangardeningas one componentof a community-wideresponseto hunger(i 5). FOOD

SECURITY

The problemof matchingfood suppliesto food needs,especiallyfor urbanpopulations,has long been a sourceof social, economic,and political concern. Archeologistsattributethe fall of some ancient urbancivilizationsto the simplelack of food. Malthus,a Protestant ministerand social theorist writing in the early days of Europe's industrialrevolution,cautionedhis contemporariesof such an eventuality.Hunger,he predicted,would alwaysbe a destabilizingfactor because,by his calculations,populationstendto grow exponentially, a ratethat easilyexceedsthe usuallinearrateof growthin food production. Arewe on the vergeof a Malthusiandisastertoday?Observingthat the numberof people living in cities is expectedto triple by zoz5, attendeesof the SecondUnitedNations Conferenceon HumanSettlement (HabitatII) asked, "Wherewill the megatonnageof food come from to feed some five billion urbanpeople?"(I6). Thereare good reasonsto doubt the long-termviabilityof the technological adaptationsin farming brought by the "GreenRevolution."The GreenRevolutionhas boughtagriculturalgainsby payinghighwater and fertilizercosts, which may be unsustainable.Even greaterproductivityis neededto meetthe nutritionalneedsof burgeoningcities, but the next generationof technologicalgainsin nutritionalproductivitywill be muchharderto devise.In addition,the sustainabilityof our safetynets createdto ensurefood securityis in jeopardy.These protectionscan be threatenedby war, financialcollapse,epidemics, and migration.Moreover,they are also vulnerableto social and economic policies reflectingideologies that mask social Darwinism behindthe languageof "self-reliance"and "trickle-down"economics (I7).

In the United States, hunger is well documented as a major public health problem. Nuanced discussions of the reliability of various measures of hunger fail to obscure the fact that many people, including millions of children, are hungry. Whether the study is measuring "food insufficiency" ("an inadequate amount of food intake due to lack of resources") (I8), "food insecurity" (the fear of not having


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enough to eat), or "hunger,"even loosely defined,the statisticsare

alarming(I9). Nationalsurveysin the I990S reporta rangefrom2.4 million to 5.5 million childrenunder i2 years old who are hungry each year (zo,zi). Researchbased in clinical settings confirmsthe validity of these findings.Some studies, such as one conductedin a hospital pediatric clinic in Minnesota, found even higher rates of hungeramong children.More than 6% of their patientswere found to be hungryand 32.7% of theirpatientswere at riskof hungerin the nearfuture(zz). In anotherhospital, iz2% of an adultpatientsample reportedthey lackedadequatefood, and I 3% had gone without eating an entireday becauseof lack of food (23). The publichealthconsequencesof hungerare obvious. Evenin the absenceof clinicalmalnutrition,hungeris associatedwith increasedincidenceand virulence of infectiousdiseases,school and work absences,fatigue, and problems with concentration(24). Increasingly,advocatesare recognizingthe potentialof urbangardeningas a significantlink in urbanfood securityin the UnitedStates. Many low-income and immigranturban gardenersalreadyrely on producefromtheirgardensto put food on theirtables (25). It is likely that manymorepeoplewould take up gardeningfor food if theywere supportedwith knowledge, tools, and space. A recent unpublished needs assessment at an Omaha Nebraska CooperativeExtension Nutrition EducationProgramindicatedthat two-thirds of the programparticipantssaid that they ran out of groceriesby the end of the month. Eightypercentof the participantsreportedthat they would like a gardenin their communitywhere they could grow fresh produce. The extent to which urban gardens can impact hunger depends necessarilyon the amount of produce grown. Garden yields vary accordingto the availabilityand conditionof land for gardening,the seed species,weatherconditions,the reliabilityof a water source,the length of the growing season, and the gardener'sskill. Even given these constraints,researchershave observedthat urbangardenscan produce significantyields from small plots of land. One researcher calculatedthat underaveragegrowingconditionsin a 1 3 -day growing season, a io by io meter plot can provide a household'syearly vegetable needs, including much of the household's nutritional requirementsfor vitamins A, C, and B complex and iron (z6).


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Althoughtypicallysmaller,householdgardensin urbansettingsin the United States can measurablysupplementdietaryintake (27) and reduceoverallhouseholdexpenditureson food (z8). Urbancommercialgardensin the United Statescharacteristically use intensivemethodsof agriculture,so theiryieldsare generallyI3 times more per acre than rural farms (29). Furthermore,the close proximity of urban farms to markets saves transportationcosts. Interestingly,however, urban commercialgardens do not always increasefood security,at leastdirectly,for impoverishedurbanneighborhoods.To maximizetheir financialmargins,urbancommercial growersusuallyraise specialtycrops and flowers,and manufacture value-addedproductsfor sale at top pricesto up-scalerestaurants, grocerystores,and farmers'markets.Witha readyand eagermarket for theirproducts,and given a good climateand businesssavvy,an urbanfarmerin the UnitedStatescan expectan incomeof $I,OOOto $io,ooo and morefroman acreof land (30). Since economic factors are undeniablythe single most powerful predictorsfor food security,successfulurbanentrepreneurgardens could be saidto benefitindirectlythe nutritionalhealthof a community by providingincome and employmentopportunitiesfor lowincomehouseholdsand therebycontributingto their abilityto purchasea healthydiet.Thisformof urbanagriculturehasthe advantage of being a relativelyaccessibleindustry,especiallyfor low-income Someonecan begina marketgardenon a small scale entrepreneurs. without a lot of capitalor technicalskill and expect some returnon his or her investment.As the i996 UnitedNations reporton Urban Agriculturestates, ... an enterprisingfarmercan, over time, improvethe inputs, increaseskillsand knowledge,enhancethe efficiencyof production and widen the scale of the activity-all with incremental investments.(3I) Severalyouth trainingprogramsin the UnitedStatesare designed to teachthe horticulturaland marketingskillsneededto take advantage of such opportunities.The most financiallysuccessfulof such programsto date is the "Foodfromthe Hood" projectin Los Angeles (3 z). There,highschoolstudentshaveraisedovera hundredthousand dollarsfor college scholarshipsthroughthe sale of their salad dressing.


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PolicyRecommendations These entrepreneurialyouth gardeningprogramsand the financial successof manyurbangrowerscould have an importantinfluenceon inner-cityeconomic developmentand thus, public health. However, in order for such opportunitiesto ensurelong-termeconomic alternativesto inner-citygrowers,they will need assistancesimilarto the financialsupportsavailableto ruralfarmers,such as crop insurance and loans, so their businessescan surviveagriculture'sperennialhazards of marketslumps and climate disasters.Additionalpublic and private funds needed to incubate economic opportunitiesderiving from urban entrepreneurialgardens,and related businessessuch as farmers'markets,nurseries,and compostingfacilities,are also prudent public health investments.Health policy-makerscan additionally addresspolicy changesthat increaseaccess to certifiedkitchens for safe food preparationand expeditemarketvendors'use of WIC vouchersand food stamps.Furthermore,food pantries,schools, and surpluscommodity programscan be encouragedto serve healthier food choices that includelocally-grownfresh foods. Publicand private fundingfor initiativeslike the USDAFood Securityprogramcan createthe opportunityfor even more comprehensiveresponsesthat link low-income consumersand local produce growers. New economic policies may be needed as part of such a comprehensive approach. For instance, the North Omaha Food Security Policy Councilis currentlyinvestigatingthe practiceby some nationalfood distributorsthat use purchasingincentivesand disincentivesto discouragelocal grocerystoresfrom buyingregionally-grownproduce. Publichealth professionalscan also foster increasedfood security in ways that are more consistent with their traditionalroles. For example,food safetyexpertscan provideeducationfor gardenersand consumersabout properhandling,preparation,and storageof fresh foods. They can work with entrepreneurialgrowers to ensure that existinghealthregulationsarerelevantto smallscaleoperations.And public health educatorscan assist consumerswith culturally-appropriate recipes and informationabout the health benefitsof garden freshfoods for decreasingthe risks of specificdiseases.


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BETTERMENT

In additionto its contributionto food securityandnutritionalhealth, urbanagriculturein the UnitedStateshas reportedlyhad otherpositive effects on individualhealth and overall communityimprovement.Horticulturaltherapistshavelong recognizedthe benefitsfrom physicalexercisein gardening.Gardeningactivitiesrangefrom fine motor involvementwhen cuttingflowerstems,for instance,to aerobic gross motor tasks such as turninga compostpile (33). Also, the psychologicaland social benefitsof gardenshave been well documented.In a I995 monographfromthe AmericanCommunityGardening Association (ACGA),David Malakoff notes that many of thesepublicationsareassembledin a bibliographyof over i,zoo articles availablethroughthe Plant-PeopleCouncil(34). The Plant-People Council is a coalition of horticulturalistsand the horticulture industryworkingto promoteawarenessof plant-humaninteractions. The articlesin the Council'sbibliographydocumentmultipleways that plants and gardeningcontributeto an improvedqualityof life and overall health. For example, recreationalgardeninghas been observedto be a way to relaxand releasestress.Malakoff'sliterature reviewcoversnumerousstudiesthat documenthow "simplylooking at a plantcan reducestress,fear,and anger,andlowerbloodpressure and muscletension"(35). As such,gardensand gardeninghavebeen incorporatedwith good effect in patientcare (36) and prisonenvironments(37). In the urban landscape,gardenscan create respite fromthe noise and commotionof city life. The stress-reducingbenefitsof gardensin cities can even affect passersby.This relationshipwas exploredin a studyin an impoverished neighborhoodin Atlanta,Georgia.Communitypsychologists studied the ecological relationshipbetween several aspects of the neighborhood'sphysicalenvironmentsuch as open dumps, parks, fenced yards, markedcross walks, trees, and gardenswith social problemssuch as fires, violent deaths, mental illness, and juvenile delinquency.The mere presence of vegetable gardens featured significantlyin this researchas a positivecommunityinfluence(38). Otherstudieshavedocumentedthe potentialof inner-citygardensfor reducingcrime.Malakoff'sACGAmonographreviewstwo unpublished reports, one from Philadelphia(39) and another from San


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Francisco(40), that observedmarkedreductionsin burglaries,thefts, and illicit drugdealingin neighborhoodswith gardenprojects. Urban agriculturehas also created opportunitiesfor leadership developmentand communityorganizingand thus has contributedto communities'"socialcapital."The politicaleffortto developand sustain urbangardensand other "greening"activitiesrequirescomplicated knowledge and skills to navigate governmentoffices, access public resources,persuade funders, and deal with complex social relationships.When low-incomeneighborhoodsand marketgardeners become involved in transformingtheir urban landscapes and claimingfor themselvesa sense of place and pride,urbanagriculture has becomea forcefulempowermentstrategyfor communityparticipationand socialchange(4I). The ACGAmonographrefersto a student'sunpublishedthesis in this regardthat observedhow, The pathways to power . . . can be relativelymodest. Simply attendinga communitymeetingon a gardenproject,for example, can introduceresidentsto non-profitand governmentofficials they might neverhave known about-and vice versa. (4z) PolicyRecommendations The public health advantagesfrom communityenhancement,stressreduction,and beneficialphysicalactivitymake a good case for community-basedpoliciesthat encouragethe sustainabilityof urbangardens through far-sightedurban planning. For instance, secure land tenure is needed for communityand entrepreneurgardenersin the urbancontext. Zoning policiesand laws regardingland use, tenancy, and ownershipimpactthe viabilityof urbangardensand may need local adjustmentto fit hitherto unanticipatedrequirementsfor gardens. Similarly,water rightsand fees, as well as the regulateduse of non-potable"gray"water may need modification. Futurepublichealth advantagesfrom urbangardenscould be further enhancedif gardenswere incorporatedalong with parks and wildlife corridorsin a city's overall plan for "greenspace." Many cities are embarkingon more or less ambitiousplans for such varied uses, and some even includelimitingsuburbanexpansion.It is conceivable that urban plannerswith a concern for food securityand other public health issues will soon include suburbanagriculturein


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their planning as well. Many people who move to the suburbs do so in search of green spaces. As development continues, however, these spaces are almost invariably enclosed by malls, parking spaces, highways, and similar impervious surfaces. The resulting welter of signs, traffic, and shops has created some of the ugliest architecturalareas imaginable. If green spaces and opportunities for small farming were required in suburban planning programs, some of these problems could be avoided and more food security and economic opportunity could be provided for suburban and urban populations alike. Another area for public health policy consideration pertains to security. Urban gardeners may well contribute to public health through violence prevention in and around their gardens. However, it would be helpful to have more a systematic understanding of and support for the social and economic influences that create and sustain safe gardens. Local police, citizen patrols, and concerned neighbors all seem helpful in protecting gardeners from harm and gardens from theft and vandalism. In some cities, fencing is required. The expenditure of public funds to mobilize these strategic safety measures and to study their effect should be encouraged as a wise investment in overall public health through community-building. Especially if food problems were to become severe in even harder economic times, greater security measures may need to be observed in urban gardens. Ample research and commentary document urban agriculture's overall positive physical and psychological health effects. More research, however, is needed to understand the prevalence of potentially harmful impacts on health, particularly for those who are involved in market gardens, where the stress from depending on agriculture for a livelihood, the physical strain of hard, repetitive labor, and the risks of injury from farm machinery and of toxic exposures to agriculturalinputs would likely compare to the experience of their rural counterparts. Health department professionals and others can assist with targeted prevention education and campaigns focused on safe handling of tools, machinery, and agriculturalchemicals. ENVIRONMENTAL

HEALTH

Urban agriculturepresents benefits and challenges for environmental health, impacting gardeners, their neighbors, and, in the case of commercial growers, their distributors and customers. One area of concern is the danger of toxic contamination from agriculturalproducts


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such as chemicalfertilizersand pesticides,includingherbicides,insecticides,and fungicides.Not only arethe growersthemselvesat riskof health problemsfrom exposureto these chemicals,others unrelated to the agriculturalendeavor can be affected, especially in densely populatedareas. Carriedby the wind, spraysof these chemicalscan easily overshoot a garden's boundaries and contaminate the surroundingneighborhood.Similarly,run-off from rain and a garden's irrigationsystemcan carrythese chemicalsinto storm drainsto contaminatethe city'ssewagesystemor polluteriversand the watertable (43). Interestingly,the premiummarketfor produce raisedwithout chemicalshas created a significantincentivefor urban commercial growers to decreasetheir use of harmfulpesticides and fertilizers. Many communitygardensrestrictthe use of these chemicalsas well. However, home use remains largely unregulated, and pesticides appliedto lawns may driftto nearbygardens. Soil and water pollution from nearby industry and highways can also pose serious health risks for urban agriculture.Airborne lead, other heavymetals,and toxic organicindustrialwastes can settle on gardensoil, plant leavesand fruits.Whennot properlywashed before they are eaten, fresh crops thus expose consumersto these pollutants.By requiringlead-freeautomobilegasoline,federalpolicy has decreasedthe rate of new lead contaminationof our urbansoils in the United States. However, the soil in gardens located on or downstream/downwindfrom former industrialsites and highways may still harbora build-upof hazardousmanufacturingresiduesand automobile exhaust. Plants actually take up these contaminants into their leaves and fruitswhere, in quantity,they can becomedangerous to consumers.Children,pregnantwomen, and adults with compromisedmetabolicsystemsmay be especiallyvulnerablein this regard(44). This tendency for plants to incorporateheavy metals and other contaminantscan, however,also be a relativelystraightforwardremedy for cleaning up polluted soils. Called "phytoremediation"(a plant-specificform of the larger classification,"bio-remediation"), this processhas successfullyextractedlead, chromium,and otherpollutantsfrom soils and water (45). Accordingto some reports,plants can even be used economicallyto mine useful mineralssuch as gold (46). Some toxic materialsare renderedharmlessby plants, but others are simplytakenup into the plantswhich themselvesthen need to


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be disposed carefully. An alternative to phytoremediation is to remove the soil from a contaminated site and replace it with clean fill. With the help of state and federal funds, one innovative commercial tomato grower in Buffalo, New York, has taken over an industrial "brown field," or contaminated industrial site, and simply substituted a hydroponic growing medium. His tomatoes grow safely in sealed boxes without ever touching the soil. Composting organic materials can serve as another form of bioremediation for contaminated urban soils. Bacteria and other microorganisms involved in the composting process can break down many chemical contaminants. And, when raised to sufficiently high temperatures,composting can sterilize infectious bacteria as well. Adding organic material such as compost to soil also diminishes the likelihood that contaminants will be taken up by plants (47). Composting, when properly done, can further contribute to public health by enriching garden soils and thereby reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. The biological activity of microscopic creatures in the soil also reduces the need for pesticides. In addition, urban composting systems have been demonstrated to be an excellent recycling strategy for significantly reducing a city's solid waste stream. Composting, whether a large municipal operation or a backyard compost pile, requiresregular aeration and the right balance of materials;otherwise, it will stink and attractrodents and flies. Furthermore, not all urban compost is safe for use in gardens, especially vegetable gardens. For instance, whether and how composted sludge containing urban sewage is used in agricultureis the topic of currentpolicy debate because of the dangers of bacterial and chemical contamination (48). Even small-scale organic urban gardeners need to be careful of their sources of biomass for composting, since many urban householders use chemically active pesticides and fertilizers on their lawns. On balance, however, even given the environmental concerns associated with urban agriculture, there remains much positive to be said for its benefits to urban environmental health. The transformation of an unsightly and dangerous lot into an environmentally healthy and beautiful garden can reap enormous benefits for an inner-city community. Gardens increase a city's biodiversity with plant variety and by attracting beneficial soil microorganisms, insects, birds, reptiles, and animals. Urban green spaces can also play a role in species preservation for birds and butterfliesby providing food, resting spaces, and


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protectionalong migratoryflightpaths. Furthermore,urbanagriculture can reducesoil erosion and groundwater contaminationwhen appropriatesafeguardsand practicesare used. And plants not only absorb soil contaminantsthrough their root systems,they also can reduceair pollution by absorbingpollutantsthroughtheir foliage. PolicyRecommendations Urbangardeningraisesour publicawarenessof the needto safeguard our environment,and especiallyour urban soils, from futurepollution, erosion, and neglect.Rarelydo urbandwellersthink about soil as a valuable resource;in fact we rarelythink about it at all. The groundunderfootis largelytaken for granted,as a surfacefor transportation,recreation,or when bare, a futurebuildingsite. And yet, soil can be the foundationof eithera publichealthhazardor an asset for urbancommunities.When it has been allowed to becomea dangerousdepositoryof heavymetalsand chemicaltoxins, soil threatens our health. On the other hand, when soil is nurtured,it can become a safe harborfor thrivingplants that create nourishment,aesthetic pleasureand healthfulenvironments. In orderto protectthe healthof urbansoils, and thus our own wellbeing, we need to strengthenregulatorypolicies that monitor and enforce environmentalsafety laws pertainingto fuel additives and industrial emission drift and runoff. Furthermore,there must be scrupulouscontrol of the use of sewage sludgecontainingindustrial residueand bacteriawhich cannot be properlydegradedto the extent that they are renderedharmless.Publichealth professionalsneed to be involved in writing and revising regulationspertainingto these significant environmental protections.

Publichealth input is also neededto improveregulationof home use and disposalof the vast arrayof chemicalherbicides,pesticides, and fertilizersused in urbangardening.In this regard,healthdepartmentscan be instrumentalin decreasing"downstream"pollutionby contributingto consumereducation campaignsand ensuringmore accessible public facilities for residentsto dispose of harmful substances. Public health perspectives can also be persuasive in "upstream"initiativesinvolvingthe limitationand even banningof a number of chemical compounds that are currentlysold over the counter in hardwareand gardeningsupply stores. Existing federal and state laws requirelabelingthat is actuallyquiteclearfor the con-


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sumerwho is apt to read and complywith the stateddirectivesfor use. However,consumersareknownto makebasicmistakesin application,for instanceusingexcessiveconcentrationsor usingthe prodIt may then spreadbeyondthe targetedareaon uct inappropriately. a windy day or just beforea rainfall.It is not uncommonfor consumers to misinterpreta product'sintended purpose entirely,for exampleusingan insecticideas a weedkilleror viceversa,usinga herbicideto controlinsects,and thus neitheraccomplishingthe desired effectnor protectingbiodiversity. Althoughlittlemay be done at the policylevelto regulatemistakes that occurin the privacyof a home or communitygarden,muchcan be done to limitthe potencyof the chemicalsbeingusedin thesecontexts. For instance,in the area of productpackaging,this form of environmentalpollutioncan be managedmoreeffectivelyby requiring manufacturersto sell only pre-dilutedconcentrations.Limiting pesticidesand herbicidesthat kill the availabilityof broad-spectrum beneficialcreaturesalong with the noxious ones would also reduce unnecessaryenvironmentalrisk. In addition to rethinkingproduct packaging,publichealthprofessionalscanworktowardlimitinghorticulturaluses of chemicalsalreadybannedin otherhouseholdproducts. A case in point are phosphateswhich are bannedfrom laundry detergentbut are readilyavailablein many pre-packagedchemical fertilizers.When used in excess of plants' ability to absorb them, phosphatescan causehavoc if washedinto the groundwater(49). It may also be usefulto re-investigatethe potentialin some inner city contexts for raising small animals, such as rabbits, for food. Althoughraisinganimalsposes more healthhazardsthan vegetable production,and many cities severelyrestrictanimal husbandry,a carefulapproachto cleanand safe methodsof raisinganimalscould contributeto the varietyand proteincontentof urbandiets. Human vegetariandiets providenutritionmore efficientlyin terms of land area and inputsthan meat productiongenerally.But small amounts of meatcan be usefulin supplementingand stabilizingdiets.Animal husbandrycan be absorbingand educationalfor youth gardeners. Andanimalscan convertotherwiseinediblegrassand kitchenwastes to usable food and bank proteinagainsthard times. Furthermore, animalwaste, when compostedproperly,can be recycledto increase soil fertility. In order to realize the potential advantagesand minimizethe


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health problemsassociatedwith raisinganimalsinside city bounds, public health professionalsmust be involvedin revisingand enforcing relevantsafeguards.As with our otherrecommendationsfor public health input on environmentallysustainableurban agriculture, effectivepolicy impactwill requireovercomingthe traditionalstatutory and organizationalsegmentationof the field of environmental health. Health issues involved with urban gardens cut across the jurisdictionsof many public agencies,includinglocal, state, and federal offices for environmentalquality and protection, agriculture, parksand recreation,fish and game,city planningand zoning,police, and publichealth.For publicagenciesto agreeto collaborateamong themselvesand to work with non-profitenvironmentand gardening advocacygroups and the privatesector will be importantfirst steps towards achievingcomprehensiveresponsesthat foster the promise of urbangardensto enhanceenvironmentalhealth. CONCLUSION

Likemany otherpublichealthproblems,those identifiedin this paper can bestbe remediedthroughfundamentalchangesin society,including . the eliminationof povertyby income redistribution,qualityeducation, and full, meaningfulemployment; *the control of environmentalpollution by stringentregulationof polluters, massive remediationprograms, and viable recycling and re-usepolicies; . the alleviationof hungerby ensuringavailabilityof and accessto affordable,sufficient,and healthyfoods; . the preservationof "greenspace" throughenforcementof environmentallysustainablecity planning, economic policies, and incentivesthat curtailsprawland encouragebiodiversity. However,short of these examplesof basic restructuring,or on the way there, we have detaileda numberof significantpolicy changes that public health professionals,working with governments,businesses, neighborhoods, and individuals, can use to advance the significantpotentialof urbangardeningfor publichealth.Developing and sustaininggardensas part of initiativesfor urbanfood security, environmentalstewardship,employmentopportunities,community organization,and enhanced quality of life will necessarilyrequire


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comprehensiveand multifacetedsupportandplanning,butthe result of suchactivitywill reapsignificantrewards. As we look aheadto the publichealthneedsof the z Ist century,the foundationsof human health will need to come to terms with its dependencyon the limitedcapacityof the globalenvironmentto supportintensivehumanactivity(5o). Thismeansthathealthycitieswill haveto minimizetheirenvironmentalimpactandreducetheirdependency on energy-intensivetransportationof distantsourcesof food and otherproducts.In orderto live closerto naturewithouteroding wild spaces,many millionsof urbandwellerswill need to integrate greenspaces,and perhapsanimalhusbandry,into the geographyof cities. Jobs will have to become more green and depend less on extractionand intensiveindustrialactivity.Urban gardeningintegratesthese three importantelementsof successfulpublic health in the zist century:food securitythroughlocal sources,urbangreening, and environmentallyefficient employment.Although the public health achievementsof I900 dependedon large industrialprojects, such as massivewater and sewersystems,the publichealthachievements of zooo will depend on our ability to coordinatecomplex, materiallymodest networksof humanactivityin supportof simple and healthyways of life, an essentialcomponentand key symbolof which is gardening. REFERENCES I. Smit,J., Ratta,A., and Nasr,J. UrbanAgriculture.Food,Jobsand SustainableCities. New York:United Nations DevelopmentProgramme Publicationseriesfor HabitatII VolumeOne, I996. z. Murphy,C. CultivatingHavanaUrbanAgricultureandFoodSecurityin the Yearsof Crisis.Oakland,CA: Institutefor Food and Development Policy.Food First,I999. Adaptationto Urbanization: 3. Heimlich,R., andBarnard,C. Agricultural FarmTypesin the UnitedStatesMetropolitanArea. Washington,DC: USDA,EconomicResearchService,I993. 4. Smitet al., op. cit. 5. Pokorny,K. "BabyBoomersFertilizea GrowingInterestin Gardening," The Oregonian(newspaper),July zz, I995: Di. A Strategyfor 6. Sommers,P. and Smit,J. PromotingUrbanAgriculture: Plannersin North America,Europeand Asia. Cities FeedingPeople


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Report Series #9. Ottawa, Ontario: International Development Research Centre (IDRC), I994. (www.idrc.ca/cfp) 7. Monroe-Santos, S. National Community Gardening Survey. Philadelphia: The American Community Gardening Association, June I998. 8. Nemore, C. "Rooted in the Community: Community Gardens in New York City. A Report to the New York State Senate," City Farmer. Vancouver, British Columbia: Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture, April I4, i998. (www.cityfarmerorg/NYComgardens.html) 9. Barry, Dan. "Sudden Deal Saves Gardens Set for Auction." New York Times,May I3, I999: Bi and B6. io. Bissett, T. L. "Community Gardening in America," Brooklyn Botanical Garden Record 35 (I976): 4. ii. Hearing before the Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing and Consumer Relations of the Committee on Agriculture. House of Representatives. 94th Congress on H.R. z8o (December ii, I975): 8. iz. Ibid.: io.

i3. Ibid.: 3. I4. Malakoff, D. "Final Harvest," Community Greening Review (I994): 4-Iz. I 5.

Cook, C. and Rodgers, J. "Community Food Security: Growing Back to the Earth," Earth Island Journal (Fall I997): 30-3I. i6. Schurmann, F "Can Cities Feed Themselves? Worldwide Turn to Urban Gardening Signals Hope," Jinn Magazine. San Francisco: Pacific News Service (PNS), June 3, i996. (www.pacificnews.org/jinn) I7. Hingtgen, S. "The Depoliticizing of Hunger," Journal of Public Health PolicyI5 (I994): 389-9z. i 8. Alaimo, K. "Food Insufficiency Exists in the US: Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey NHANES III," AJPH 88 (i998): 420. I9. Sidel, V. "Annotation: The Public Health Impact of Hunger," AJPH 87 (I997):

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and Community Well-being," in Relf, D., ed. The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-beingand Social Development: A National Symposium. Portland, OR: Timber Press, I992: 55-65. Sommers, P., and Smit, J., op. cit. Blair, D., et al., "A Dietary, Social, and Economic Evaluation of the Philadelphia Urban Gardening Project," The Journal of Nutrition Education2-3 (I99I): I6I-67. Patel, I. C. "Socio-Economic Impact of Community Gardening in an Urban Setting," in Relf, D., ed. The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-beingand Social Development: A National Symposium. Portland, OR: Timber Press, I992: 84-87. Heimlich, R., and Barnard, C. AgriculturalAdaption to Urbanization: Farm Types in United States Metropolitan Areas. Washington, DC: U.S.D.A. Economic Research Service, I993. Bycznski, L. Successful Systems for Market Gardening. Extension and Education Materials for Sustainable Agriculture, Volume Io. Lincoln, NE: Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, I999. Smit et al., op. cit., p. I 72. O'Neill, M. "Students Turn Greens Into Gold," New York Times, June I5, I994: CI & C8.

33. Mattson, R. H. "Prescribing Health Benefits Through Horticultural Activities, in Relf, op. cit.: i6i-68. 34. Malakoff, D. What Good is Community Greening?Philadelphia:American Community Gardening Association Monograph, June I995. 35. Relf, D. The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-being and Social Development. A National Symposium. Portland, OR: Timber Press, I99I.

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4I. Lewis, C. A. "Effects of Plants and Gardening in Creating Interpersonal and Community Well-being," in Relf, op. cit.: 5 5 42. Malakoff, op. cit.: 8. 43. Note: Pollution from the pesticides and fertilizers used in urban lawn care has drawn increasing call for restrictions, bans, and the use of less harmful alternatives;see for instance: Latimer,J. G., et al. "Reducingthe Pollution Potential of Pesticides and Fertilizers in the Environmental


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ticultureTechnology6 (I996): 222-32. 44. Smit et al., op. cit., p. zoo. 45. Brooks, R., ed. Plants That Hyperaccumulate Heavy Metals: Their Role in Phytoremediation, Microbiology, Archeology, Mineral Exploration, and Phytomining. New York: CAB International, I998. 46. Antia, M. "Rooting for Gold," AAAS Science News Service, October 8, I998. (www.academicpress.com/inscight/ioo8 I99 8/grapha.htm) 47. Lepp, N. W. "Effect of Heavy Metal Pollution on Plants," Effects of Trace Metals on Plant Function, Volume I. London, England: Applied Science Publishers, i98i. 48. Rockefeller, A. "Civilization and Sludge: Notes on the History of the Management of Human Excreta," Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 9 (I990):

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49. Makower, J. "The Sod Truth About Lawns," Co-op America Quarterly 48 (summer)(iggg): 9. 5o. Daily, G., ed. Nature's Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems. Washington, DC: Island Press, I997.

ABSTRACT The article presents the case for stronger public policies in support of urban gardening as a means to improve public health. It considers several beneficial aspects of gardening, such as food security, economic development, exercise, psychological and community well-being, and environmental stewardship. It also considers some of the public health problems associated with urban agriculture and suggests policies to ameliorate them. In the balance, urban gardening has potential as an important element of urban public health.

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Public Health Implications for Urban Agriculture, Brown & Jameton, 2000  

publication from Journal of Public Health Policy

Public Health Implications for Urban Agriculture, Brown & Jameton, 2000  

publication from Journal of Public Health Policy

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