Thursday, January 13, 2011

Experience of urban farming

Ilgvars is a spacial planning student from Riga and has kindly made a guest post about allotment gardening in Riga. No advice on lettuce and radish this time, but - even better - discussion about the social and economic benefits from urban agriculture. Ilgvars is running his own blog about urban issues.

During the last decade the popularity of urban farming has increased. Not only in cities in developing countries like Cairo, Mumbai, Havana, but also in cities like New York and Detroit.

In developing countries urban farming is practised for income-earning or food producing but in developed countries urban farming may be undertaken for the physical and/or psychological relaxation it provides, rather than for food production. Because urban farming promotes energy-saving local food production, urban and peri-urban farming are generally seen as sustainable practices. Local production of food also allows savings in transportation costs, storage, and in product loss, what results in food cost reduction.

Social benefits that have emerged from urban farming practices are; better health and nutrition, increased income, employment, food security within the household, and community social life. Some researchers indicate that unemployed populations in large cities and suburban towns would decrease if put to work by local food movements.

I won’t question or deny the benefits of urban farming. I will briefly compare the situation in Latvia. To my opinion urban farming is nothing new in Latvia. For 50 years Latvia was part of USSR. This was time when urban farming took a serious role in each citizen’s life. So called community gardens took place in every city and surrounding area. These community gardens were made and supported by biggest factories and enterprises and provided recreational activities and extra food for their workers. The problem is that most of these areas are partly abandoned and are considered as degraded. Municipalities don’t know what to do with them. Remove or not, because these community gardens take a serious role in lives of old and poor people. Many of them are located in precious land like Lucavsala, Torņakalns in Riga and surrounding municipalities in Riga region. In many of these areas building of living houses has occurred during last years what makes the situation even more complicated. So what to do with this heritage?

Community gardens at Skanstes Street. Photo by Flickr user Kaspars Funts.

Another issue is that, because of the history how the community gardens were made, it is not prestigious to take part in it. That’s why when somebody mentions urban farming as a new practice people in Latvia are very sceptical. We might say that we have bad experience! Although ''the new economic situation'' and the experience of New York and Detroit has shattered this opinion a little.

Also we have a lot of vacant urban areas in cities where urban farming might take place. The question is - are people ready for reanimation of urban farming in Latvia? And if we look at example of Riga - is it reasonable to turn vacant urban places into agricultural land while surrounding agricultural land in Riga region is turned into suburbs?

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