Return to Soil Sustainability
Your City, Your Food
Will Allen, pioneering urban farmer and founder of Growing Power, Inc., believes that access to healthy food is the key to sustaining a healthy urban community.
“If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community,” said Allen. “I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system."
Over the last century, advances in agricultural technology have radically changed our relationship with food. Farms became exponentially larger and more productive, dropping the price and increasing the availability of agricultural products. A smaller percentage of people could grow enough food to feed the rest of the population. Most Americans no longer needed to know how to grow their own food, and many moved to cities.
However, the infrastructure of our modern food system does not serve everyone equally, and in some urban communities it has eroded away. Communities need to have the economic resources to establish and maintain markets and eateries with diverse food options, and in economically depressed neighborhoods it can be extremely difficult to find safe, healthy food. Markets selling fresh fruit and vegetables are far away and difficult to access via public transport. Local residents, many of whom have limited mobility, are left with processed food from corner stores as their only option for groceries.
Now some urban residents are following leaders like Will Allen and trying to grow food in their own communities. But growing food in a city presents unique challenges. How can residents find space with healthy soil, safe water, and adequate sunlight? How will they know the location is safe and accessible to the community? Who might they consult to find these answers?
This QUEST classroom activity guides students through the process of finding a location for a community garden. Using the map and community expert cards provided, students will come to understand the physical and social factors required to create a successful urban agricultural space.
This activity is intended to encourage students to consider the issues involved in growing food in an urban environment and prompt discussion about urban food production in their own community. There is no clear best choice in this activity; each location has benefits and drawbacks.
- Provide students with the map and community expert cards. Students may work individually or in small groups of up to five students.
- Students research each of three potential locations for a community garden. Their goal is to choose the location that will have the most positive effects for the community.
- Students first “consult” experts by looking at the five community expert cards. Each card contains a description of the expert’s role in the community and information about each of the four potential garden locations based on his or her expertise.
- Ask students to carefully consider the differences between each garden location. If students are working individually, they can take notes about each location. If they are working in groups, they can debate their choices, each student taking the role of one of the experts.
- Students must explain and justify their choices, either in writing or through discussion, using facts found in the activity.
- If you couldn’t get food at the grocery store, where would you find it?
- What resources are needed for food production? How can those resources be accessed in a city?
Focus Questions during Activity
- What pertinent information can you infer from the map?
- What does each community expert say about each location?
- Compare and contrast the advice from each community expert.
- What kinds of factors (physical, economic, political) do these experts take into consideration?
- Is one factor (such as soil condition or access to water) more important than the others? Why?
- What are important factors to consider that were not mentioned by the experts?
- How is the neighborhood depicted on the map similar to or different from your own neighborhood?
- Would a community garden be viable in your community? What hurdles might you encounter?
- Who would you consult to start a garden in your own community?
- Where would you start a garden in your community? What would each of the experts think of your chosen location?
Community Expert Cards
Links to Learn More
- Community Gardens and Public Health , Designing Healthy CommunitiesSee the effects of community gardens on the health and well-being of Australian city dwellers.
- The Agricultural Revolution of the 20th Century , Iowa State University PressRead an in-depth chronicle of the advancements in agriculture and society in the 20th century.
- Urban Farming Tips, Urbanfarming.orgLearn how to start growing food in your community.
- Soil Test , Kansas City Community GardensLearn how to ensure that your soil is ready to produce food.
Next Generation Science Standards
- Performance Expectation: Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.HS-LS2-7
- Disciplinary Core Idea: Group behavior has evolved because membership can increase the chances of survival for individuals and their genetic relatives. LS2.D Social Interactions and Group Behavior
- Crosscutting Concept:Scale, proportion, and quantity: Using the concept of orders of magnitude allows one to understand how a model at one scale relates to a model at another scale.
- Science and Engineering Practices:Engaging in argument from evidence: Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning behind currently accepted explanations or solutions to determine the merits of arguments.