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Food production and resource use of urban farms and gardens: a five-country study

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Full Publication Date
February 1, 2023

There is a lack of data on resources used and food produced at urban farms. This hampers attempts to quantify the environmental impacts of urban agriculture or craft policies for sustainable food production in cities. To address this gap, we used a citizen science approach to collect data from 72 urban agriculture sites, representing three types of spaces (urban farms, collective gardens, individual gardens), in five countries (France, Germany, Poland, United Kingdom, and United States). We answered three key questions about urban agriculture with this unprecedented dataset: (1) What are its land, water, nutrient, and energy demands? (2) How productive is it relative to conventional agriculture and across types of farms? and (3) What are its contributions to local biodiversity? We found that participant farms used dozens of inputs, most of which were organic (e.g., manure for fertilizers). Farms required on average 71.6 L of irrigation water, 5.5 L of compost, and 0.53 m2 of land per kilogram of harvested food. Irrigation was lower in individual gardens and higher in sites using drip irrigation. While extremely variable, yields at well-managed urban farms can exceed those of conventional counterparts. Although farm type did not predict yield, our cluster analysis demonstrated that individually managed leisure gardens had lower yields than other farms and gardens. Farms in our sample contributed significantly to local biodiversity, with an average of 20 different crops per farm not including ornamental plants. Aside from clarifying important trends in resource use at urban farms using a robust and open dataset, this study also raises numerous questions about how crop selection and growing practices influence the environmental impacts of growing food in cities. We conclude with a research agenda to tackle these and other pressing questions on resource use at urban farms.

Erica Dorr
Agnes Fargue-Lelievre
Runrid Fox- Kamper
Kathrin Specht
Konstancja Fedenczak
Silvio Caputo
Nevin Cohen
Lidia Ponizy
Vicotria Schoen
Tomasz Gorecki
Liliane Jean-Soro
Baptiste Grard
Research Areas
Food Systems and Consumer Products
Food & Agriculture

Urban agriculture · Urban farm · Community garden · Allotment garden · Individual garden · Sustainability · Resource use · Food-energy-water nexus · Resource efficiency · Yield

Publication Type
Journal Article
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Full Citation

Dorr, Erica, Jason K. Hawes, Benjamin Goldstein, Agnes Fargue-Lelievre, Runrid Fox-Kamper, Kathrin Specht, Konstancja Fedenczak, Silvio Caputo, Nevin Cohen, Lidia Pnizy, Victorie Schoen, Tomasz Gorecki, Joshua P. Newell ,Liliane Jean-Soro, and Baptiste Grard. (2023).  Food production and resource use of urban farms and gardens: a five-country study. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 43 (18). CSS 23-03.