Edible forests and urban farms have the potential to solve many problems at once

What if you could grow fresh produce where it’s needed most, cost-effectively reduce heat stroke deaths, and create green spaces for our communities? Reduce flooding, climate change. What if we could also contribute to mitigating the unemployment rate? These questions and more are covered in a report on urban farming possibilities that the Stanford-based Natural Capital Project (NatCap) will present to a subcommittee of the San Antonio City Council this week. centered.

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Talia Trepte & Rob Jordan

Edible forests are systems of perennial crops (mainly fruits and nuts) planted in layers to mimic mature ecosystems from canopy to soil.

This report examined two forms of urban agriculture: food forests and urban farms. Edible forests are systems of perennial crops (mainly fruits and nuts) planted in layers to mimic mature ecosystems with plants of varying heights. They are intended to provide food, shade and shelter for pollinators and other wildlife, and to ensure water in the landscape. While urban farms typically grow and sell annual mixed vegetable crops, food forests are primarily perennial orchard crops and are open-access public spaces where people can pick food for free. tend to be

Produced in collaboration with NatCap, the San Antonio Food Policy Council, and three departments of the City of San Antonio (Innovation, MetroHealth, and Sustainability), this report focuses on urban farms and food forests, as well as urban production. The amount of food that can be made is estimated. Additional benefits include city cooling, carbon storage, flood storage and green space. Anne Gerry, Chief Strategy Officer and Principal Scientist at NatCap, explained: “Using our model, we took every public natural area in San Antonio and reimagined it, from vacant and underutilized land to farms and food forests. I calculated.”

Specifically, the research team found that if all of San Antonio’s underutilized public lands were converted to food forests (as the upper limit of what is possible), more than 192 million pounds of food would be produced annually, or 9 discovered that it could provide $95 million worth of food. 314,000 households annually. Edible forests also provide $3.5 million in urban cooling services per year (potentially saving up to 600 lives per year), reduce flooding, increase carbon sequestration, and significantly increase access to green space. It will be. If all of San Antonio’s underutilized public lands were converted to urban farms, it could provide 926 million pounds of food worth $1.17 billion, enough to feed 1.27 million families. have a nature. Without careful management, farms can increase nutrient contamination to neighboring areas through manure runoff, which adversely affects water quality and aquatic life, to a lesser extent than many alternative development scenarios such as buildings and parking lots. No, but may reduce access to green space.

NatCap used San Antonio as a pilot and was funded by NASA’s Environmental Equity and Justice Program to allow city planners without technical expertise to use NatCap’s InVEST model to test a variety of We are developing an online tool that allows researchers to explore how different development scenarios change the distribution of nature’s benefits to different sectors. group of people.

Improving equity by connecting food supply and demand

Residents of San Antonio’s low-income neighborhoods face a wide range of problems, including increased risk of health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease due to lack of access to healthy foods. These areas can be up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding areas, and her two local counties have the highest flash flood hazards in Texas. The City of San Antonio recognizes that urban farming can alleviate all of these challenges to some extent, and, including the findings in this report, seeks to expand urban farming.

Volunteers plant crops at Garcia Street Urban Farm in San Antonio, Texas. (Image credit: Garcia Street Urban Farm)

“In many parts of America, both urban and rural, people have to travel long distances to go to the supermarket,” said Jess Silver, ecosystem services analyst at NatCap. I can’t get both food,” he said. “Part of the purpose of this analysis is to really try to understand some of the food-related inequalities across cities, the potential production of urban agriculture and the It was about thinking about the needs of the community in which we are located.”

This report therefore focuses on urban agriculture in areas where fresh food is not readily available. Using information from the US Census on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamp utilization, the model identified several districts with the highest demand for local food production. Therefore, it could be a good place to target investments in urban agriculture. maximum impact. These areas also suffer disproportionately from heat, so edible forests also provide a great advantage in coolness.

Extending Local Success

Tree planting at the Tamoks Taroum Community Food Forest. (Image credit: Mitch Hagney)

Mitch Hagney, who runs a local produce business in San Antonio and serves on the San Antonio City Food Policy Council Board of Directors, was pivotal in establishing the Tamox Talom Community Food Forest, the city’s first food forest. played a role. (Partnerships with the San Antonio Food Policy Council, the City’s Office of Innovation, and the Bexar County Parks and Recreation Department). Hagney has worked closely with the NatCap team this past year.

“It is our hope that the results of this report will galvanize action to expand urban agriculture in San Antonio. We are helping to increase access, use vacant land as potential long-term leases for urban farms, and include food forests in the land management practices of parks and public works agencies,” said Hagney. . “I hope that this example of how urban farming can thrive in this city can be applied across the United States so that all cities can plan for greener and more equitable urban farming.”

The report recommends that the city of San Antonio aim to mix urban farms and food forests, carefully consider where to place them to support food-insecure neighborhoods, and create alternative public green spaces. It recommends addressing potential downsides of urban farms by providing and reducing nutrient runoff. By limiting the use of compost. The NatCap team hopes to continue working with San Antonio to further support the expansion of urban farms and food forests. Learn more about NatCap’s city-focused projects here.

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