Following the rise of the agricultural sector in the industrialized countries of the world, community gardening and local farming practices have been challenged as outdated means of subsistence and economic pursuit. However, science has time and again discouraged against the use of mass agricultural practices, and promoted the restoration of traditional community gardening as measures for growing healthier, organic fruits and vegetables within the comforts of one’s own backyard. Through a comparison of the two methods of agricultural production, one can see the unnoticed costs and impacts of industrial agriculture, as well as the hidden benefits of local community gardening practices.
Industrial Agriculture: a Monster in Disguise
Since the mid-20th century and the rise of advanced agricultural production techniques in the developed world, mass production of food has been applauded for its efficiency in providing bountiful harvests of crops year after year, and its ability to support the eating habits of the ever-growing American population. However, what is rarely considered are the hidden externalities included in this technique whose method is so often considered as “cheap and effective” by the western world. Here, we delve deeper into the disguise of the effects of agricultural industrialization, and the unsettling conclusion that this practice may no longer be reasonable, nor sustainable.
According to an article by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “At the core of industrial food production is monoculture—the practice of growing single crops intensively on a very large scale.” Monoculture farming is stated to rely “heavily on chemical inputs such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides”, so that the same genetically identical crop can be grown continuously year after year in one specific area of land. This type of monocultural practice is a main factor in reducing the biodiversity of crops in the agricultural sector, thus perpetuating a state of vulnerability in the mass production of crops. When specific crops grown in monocultures (such as corn, canola, cotton, etc.) experience a change in external conditions such as a sudden onset of drought or other extreme weather change, the year’s harvest becomes dangerously vulnerable to failure due to its lack of biodiversity (and therefore lack of protection against pathogens and pests, including invasive plant species). Although this outcome has been avoided throughout the years by extensive uses of fertilizers and pesticides, the agricultural business has noticed the increasing resistance against these chemicals by the targeted pests and pathogens, thereby rendering this protective measure useless. This growing issue, if not solved immediately, will inevitably lead to enormous crop failures in the largest agricultural sectors of the world, perhaps leading to a global famine and struggle impacting all those who have previously relied on mass-produced crops.
Another problem worth noting is the impact industrial agriculture has on the environment. Research shows that “Intensive monoculture depletes soil and leaves it vulnerable to erosion. [Also], chemical fertilizer runoff and CAFO wastes add to global warming emissions and create oxygen-deprived "dead zones" at the mouths of major waterways” The “water pollution from fertilizer runoff contaminates downstream drinking water supplies, requiring costly cleanup measures with an annual price tag of nearly $2 billion.”
Finally, the overwhelming control of the agricultural sector by mass producers results in the loss of smaller, local farms, on which many families depend to make their living. As large, agricultural corporations have the capital and infrastructure to mass-produce crops for cheap, they are able to cut crop prices down so drastically, that medium-sized rural farm owners simply cannot beat. These rural families often have no choice but to sell their land for the industrial purposes of large corporations, and are left to find a different means of earning their livings. These smaller, developing economies in the rural areas of the world may soon be buried and forgotten by the overpowering presence of industrial agriculture, slowly extinguishing a farming tradition that has been around since the very beginning of civilization.
The Benefits of Community Gardening
Community gardening and traditional farming practices that use small scale cultivation and harvesting methods rather than large scale mechanical labour, have been effective in sustaining the global community for as long as there have been civilizations. As it will be made evident here, there are many benefits of community gardening that provide healthy results in all aspects of its production, and therefore promote a brighter, and cleaner future.
One of the largest benefits of choosing community gardening over industrial agriculture practices are the reversal effects that it has on climate change. For example, a statistical analysis of carbon footprints show that, “Food in the United States travels an average of 1300 miles from farm to fork, changes hands half a dozen times, and consumes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food.” By contrast, crops grown in the comforts of one’s own backyard almost completely eliminates both the costs as well as the greenhouse emissions that are associated with the mass transportation of industrialized agriculture. Also, the actions of many local gardening practices contribute to “filter[ing] rainwater and help[ing] to keep lakes, rivers, and groundwater clean…” as well as “reduc[ing] soil erosion and runoff which lessens flooding and saves the city money.”
Another benefit that a community garden brings is its well-known ability to help in curing those suffering from mental illnesses, through creating a happier and calmer environment, where the hustle and bustle of the city is drowned out by the serene sounds of nature. Not only does this encourage an active lifestyle, but it also creates social cohesion between community members, acting as a glue that binds different families together, creating a sense of oneness through mutual interests. Barriers between different social and cultural groups are broken down, allowing an environment where strangers are able to meet and support one another without judgement or competition .
Community gardens also create a safer environment through its abundance of vegetation and nature, as shown by the following statistics: “Scientific studies show that crime decreases in neighborhoods as the amount of green space increases, and that vegetation has been seen to alleviate mental fatigue, one of the precursors to violent behavior.” Also, “community gardening is recognized by many police departments as an effective community crime prevention strategy. In Philadelphia, burglaries and thefts in one precinct dropped by 90 percent after police helped residents clean up vacant lots and plant gardens.”
Finally, community gardens naturally support smaller agricultural businesses and rural farm owners by supporting their local economy through selling and purchasing agricultural products within their own communities, rather than relying on the mass production of food from large, industrialized agricultural corporations. The positive externalities imposed by community gardening not only saves money for the families that choose to grow their own crops while buying other products locally, but also reduces the costs imposed on all taxpayers through reducing environmental damage, providing employment (through supporting local farms as well as through community gardening programs), and through the investment of a healthy lifestyle achieved by growing and consuming clean and toxin-free products .
Through these detailed evaluations of the negative impacts of the industrialized agricultural businesses and the benefits of local community gardening programs, it is clear to see the holes that “efficiency” cannot seem to fill, and the solutions that can be brought about by communities coming together as they support the practice of gardening for a brighter future.
If you are more interested in learning more about community gardening and how they can be implemented, please visit your city’s municipal website, or visit, https://www.goodneighbour.co.nz/about-1/our-vision/
1. Stillerman, Karen Perry. Industrial agriculture. Union of Concerned Scientists, 13 Jan. 2017. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.
2. Stillerman, Karen Perry. Hidden costs of industrial agriculture. Union of Concerned Scientists, 13 Jan. 2017. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.
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4. Bremer, A., Jenkins, K. & Kanter, D. (2003). Community Gardens in Milwaukee: Procedures for their longterm stability & their import to the city.– Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin, Department of Urban Planning. Web. 17. Jan. 2017http://www.lamar.edu/sustainability/_files/documents/Multiple%20Benefits_2012.pdf
5. Kuo, F. & Sullivan, W. (2001a).Aggression and violence in the inner city: Impacts of environment via mental fatigue. Environment & Behavior, 33(4), 543-571. http://www.lamar.edu/sustainability/_files/documents/Multiple%20Benefits_2012.pdf
6. Englander, D. (2001). New York’s community gardens – A resource at risk. Retrieved October 31, 2006, from http://tpl.org. http://www.lamar.edu/sustainability/_files/documents/Multiple%20Benefits_2012.pdf