Urban Agriculture in a Changing Climate

October 31st was a more frightening halloween then usual. Nature released an article proclaiming that one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. Two reports published by  the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a partnership of 15 research centres around the world concluded that:

reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint is central to limiting climate change. And to help to ensure food security, farmers across the globe will probably have to switch to cultivating more climate-hardy crops and farming practices.

Urban Agriculture is widely considered to mitigate climate change in urban centers and slowly, policy changes are beginning to reflect such recognition across the globe. But what happens when climate change goes postal on urban agriculture? New York has been considered a global leader in Urban agriculture especially in the realm of rooftop farming. Hurricane Sandy’s  sweeping path through Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and the Tri-state area wreaked havoc on all levels of infrastructure, but how did urban agriculture projects fare?

Rooftop farms – though exposed to  increased wind speeds, fared much better then their ground counterparts. Green roof design typically manages storm runoff to alleviate any flooding and provides structurally sound shelter. Because rooftop farms are are often operated or leased on rental property, the concept of  mobility is worked into the initial design. Container gardens are easily transported to a protected location, away from the largest Atlantic hurricane on record.

They are also way up high. Manhattans Battery Farm sustained major flooding from the contaminated storm surge. Soil salinization and contamination are huge problems that may jeopardize future growing seasons.  Red Hook’s Added Value Farm, a longstanding community farm that provides a community-supported agriculture (CSA) box and youth workshops, was  also flooded by two feet of contaminated water. Brooklyn Grange suffered the destruction of it’s entire bee hive project, a significant loss for the farm.

Considering the resilience of urban agriculture to extreme weather events is an important step to figuring out a sustainable food strategy. While climate change doesn’t necessarily cause these single extreme events, all weather events are affected by climate change due to the warmer and moister environment.  Senior climatologist Kevin E. Trenberth puts it well when he says

steroids in a baseball player’s system do not cause home runs all by themselves but do make home runs more likely.

So clearly, its time for cities to grow up!


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