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CHAPTER 7 Agroecology of Urban Farming erin silva and anne pfeiffer Urban farming and the associated marketing and food distribution framework create unique agroecosystems. Agroecosystems can be defined as ecological systems modified by human beings to produce food, fiber, or other agricultural products. The study of agroecology provides one lens through which to evaluate urban-agriculture production—or, as per the definition above, the urban agroecosystem. Agroecology uses ecological theory to study, design, manage, and evaluate agricultural systems, considering interactions of biophysical, technical, and socioeconomic components of farming systems (Altieri 2014). The focus of this chapter will be to discuss the current status of urban-agriculture production in the United States using an agroecological framework. In order to create a boundary as to the type of farm included in this analysis , the evaluation will be limited to operations that are located within or closely proximate to a metropolitan area and produce food on a commercial or community scale with the intention that the products be consumed in the same geographic area. Urban growers overcome many challenges with innovative solutions specific to their location and the goals of their particular project. Our examination of urban agriculture through the lens of the 108 production agroecological model presents each agroecological principle as it relates to urban agriculture, followed by a discussion of the relevant challenges and resulting innovations. principles Gordon Conway outlined a framework with which to evaluate the performance of agroecosystems in his paper “Agroecosystem Analysis” (Conway 1985). He proposed that agroecosystems be described by four properties—productivity, stability, sustainability, and equitability. These properties describe the dynamic functions of an agroecosystem and its associated agronomic, social, and economic components. Factors and processes affecting the specific nature of these properties in a given agroecosystem—for example, crops produced, availability of resources, skill of labor pools—are described in the context of their individual and interrelated characteristics. The factors and processes may have overlapping influences on the primary system properties, exhibiting both synergistic and antagonistic relationships to such properties. Dependingonthenatureoftheinfluencesonaparticularagroecosystem,the precise metrics used to characterize each of these properties will vary. For many agroecosystems, productivity is measured through the quantification of the food, fuel, or fiber produced for human use by farming practices. Productivity can thus be influenced by fertility management approaches, the selection of crop varieties, the quantity and quality of the land base, and other agronomic factors. The sustainability of an agroecosystem evaluates the ability of that system to maintain a specified level of production throughout a longer-term outlook; thus, an evaluation of sustainability includes an analysis of the forces that could cause major production disturbances. Conversely, an evaluation of the stability of an agroecosystem takes into account the ability of that system to consistently produce a product in the face of small disturbing forces arising from the physical, biological, social, and economic environment. The equitability of an agroecosystem is the ability of the system to share agricultural production fairly among the impacted population; it evaluates the evenness of product distribution throughout the agroecosystem among the human beneficiaries. Through this framework, one can identify the important factors and processes that affect the primary system properties. Agroecology of Urban Farming 109 Productivity The productivity of an agroecosystem can be described by several metrics. Most commonly, the productivity of an agricultural system has been measured by yield as the amount of food that a system can produce per unit of land. Alternatively, productivity could be determined by other calculations, such as the potential yield of a system per unit of energy or per unit of labor. Although not a standard metric in most traditional agricultural analyses, productivity could also include measurements of secondary benefits, such as job training, skills building, or the creation of other external benefits. The determination of the most appropriate metrics to use in a given system is particularly important in the urban-agriculture context, where many urban farms strive to accomplish (often with success) alternative community and social goals beyond the production of food. The evaluation of a system’s productivity based on social factors is an example of the interrelatedness of agroecosystem principles and argues for the need for a systems-based evaluation of urban agriculture. In an agroecological context, the characteristics of the agronomic system can significantly influence potential yields. These characteristics include soil fertility and quality, availability and skill of labor, and seasonal disease and pest pressure. Many of these factors that influence productivity also influence system properties, highlighting the interrelated nature of factors included...


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