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City Farms, Parks And Boston: Let’s Grow Up

Historic postcard of sheep grazing in Franklin Park, via Union Park Press – Dorchester Historical Society

Will urban food production ruin our economy, change our climate, and make our world a more miserable place to live?

By Meg Muckenhoupt
Union Park Press
June 21, 2011


It’s been days since Edward Glaeser published his urban farm-bashing piece in the Boston Globe, but I’m still annoyed. Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University and director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, managed to argue against farms in a way that could extend to urban parks, gardens, zoos, swimming pools, and most sidewalks. He also ignored some intriguing trends in making urban farming more efficient, a.k.a. the Vertical Farm.

But before I give you a view from the roof, let’s consider what’s happening on the ground. Glaeser chaired the Citizens’ Committee on Boston’s Future, a group gathered by the Boston City Council in 2010 to figure out “what Boston must do to compete to be the best city” in four quick and easy kind-of-public meetings: you can read Shirley Kressel’s sour assessment of the group, or just read the final report. You’ll find urban farms mentioned three times in 23 pages. Apparently, Glaeser is concerned that people might take them too seriously.

Read the complete article here.


1 CAROLYN { 06.27.11 at 5:00 pm }


if you are the edward glaeser who wrote the op-ed piece in the boston paper about the bad environmental effects of urban farming, i’d like to take issue with you on a few points. first of all, why is it that you guys always have to look at things through the lens of bigness? no one is suggesting that densely populated neighborhoods be thinned out (although people might be happier if they were less crowded) to make way for big farms in the city. but if i have a chicken and you have two and our neighbors each have a couple, on land that we already occupy, that will eliminate the need for massively polluting poultry confinement facilities, manure lagoons and a host of other horrors.

my grandmother kept a few chickens in her backyard. when store eggs became cheaper, she stopped keeping chickens. it’s not like her backyard went for another higher use. it merely became recreational instead of functional.

i grew corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, beans, carrots and peppers on the roof of my apt building in NYC. to the extent that i grew those things, i did not have to import them from far distances. i composted all my vegetable scraps (and my phosphorus rich cat’s feces) to keep my container soil fertile without the purchase of petroleum based inputs. if i hadn’t been growing vegetables on my roof, i would have been reading in my hammock (i did that as well). so my roof top was functional AND recreational as opposed to merely recreational. my growing vegetables there did not alter the population density of NYC. it merely took space that was not being used productively and used it.

as an added benefit, it kept the roof membrane cooler and absorbed a lot of rainfall which would have otherwise ended up in the street flooding the drains.

jesse jackson made a ridiculous comment in detroit awhile back. he said that while urban farming was a nice hobby, detroit really needed industry to turn it around. i submit that industry has come and gone in detroit, in search of cheaper labor from the global workforce. no one in detroit is clearing out high density apartment buildings to make way for massive farms. they are instead using productively the land that has been abandoned by industry and is lying there unused. they are also making work for themselves instead of waiting for industry to provide them with “jobs.”

the good reverend was pushing a battery factory. let’s think about that for a moment. if a battery factory is to be built in detroit, it is only because the federal and local governments have given such tax incentives to the battery manufacturer so as to make the area attractive to them, because they have gotten subsidies for the building of the plant and because the unemployment rate there is so high as to provide a pool of desperate labor.

how many years will it take before the battery plant is built? how many people will it employ? does everyone want to be a battery maker? and won’t the plant leave detroit as fast as you can say “made in china” if they get a better offer elsewhere?

the fact is detroit is littered with abandoned land, abandoned factories, abandoned houses- why not use that land immediately to provide both work and sustenance for the residents? is anyone pretending that detroit can be made to be completely self-sufficient? no, not in the least. but isn’t growing a bit of your own food better than waiting around for a battery plant to be built someday? better than waiting for the unemployment check or the foreclosure notice?

and if some of that land is farmed in a way that absorbs carbon from the atmosphere while cutting down on dependence of commodity food which is both grown and transported on a river of oil, isn’t that good?

reading your article, i have to wonder what dollar figure of support you get from big agra companies. obviously, these monopolies are scared of loosing some market share and seeing their stock prices ebb. they will do anything to keep people dependent on them. you shouldn’t help them

when you talk about the environmental downsides of urban farming, you are automatically assuming an inappropriate scale, moving central control from the countryside to the city. obviously, ANY practice, no matter how environmentally sound, will be harmful if practiced on the wrong scale. the problems with our food production all stem from bigness, from centralization, from globalization, from monoculture- from inappropriate scale.

we avoid all this by breaking up the monopolies of production. i produce a few more eggs than i need, you grow a few more tomatoes than you can use so we trade over the fence. no trucks or airplanes or cargo ships involved. of course, this takes the production, and therefore the profit, out of the hands of a few and redistributes it among the many. yikes! the dreaded socialism!!!!

what will that lead to? obviously, small scale farming must be stopped at any cost! this is, after all, America and Monsanto and Cargill must be free in a democratic society to make as much of a killing as they can, even at the cost of the planet’s health. that’s capitalism, after all

have a conscience. find better arguments.


carolyn kostopoulos

2 Laurie { 06.28.11 at 5:21 am }

He’s bought and paid for….don’t let this bother you. Urban Farming is a movement that cannot be stopped now!!