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During the COVID-19 plandemic, more people turned to gardening to grow their own food because, let’s face it, there wasn’t anything else we were allowed to do, and food shortages were on the horizon. The last thing anyone wanted to do was stand in line for a cucumber as long as they stood in line for toilet paper—or get rationed on the number of carrots they could add to a juice.

Even after the world opened up, the trend continued as food prices surged, and people got tired of subpar produce shipped in from other countries sprayed with cancer-causing pesticides or coated in waxy mystery substances.

By some estimates, as many as 20 to 30% of the global urban population now engages in some form of urban agriculture—the practice of farming within the confines of a city—as people have developed ways to grow food in just about any environment. This has prompted calls for studies into the environmental impact of gardening as Bill Gates buys up farmland faster than people switch out socks and the elite push for a world void of real meat and organic farming

In a January international study published in Nature Cities, researchers led by the University of Michigan sought to look at how the environmental footprint of urban agriculture compares with conventional agriculture because policymakers, citizens, and scientists “must ensure” that urban farming is “beneficial for people and the planet.”

The study found that fruits and vegetables grown in urban farms and gardens have a carbon footprint that is, on average, six times greater than conventionally grown produce.

A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event, or product. Despite what we’ve been led to believe, carbon dioxide is an essential nutrient for land-based plants, agriculture, forests, and plant growth, so right from the start, we probably know that at least some of the paper’s findings will be questionable at best.

In the study, researchers recruited 73 urban agriculture sites from the U.S., U.K., Poland, Germany, and France and grouped urban agriculture sites into three categories: individual or family gardens, community gardens, and larger commercial urban farms.

For each site, researchers calculated the “climate-altering” greenhouse gas emissions associated with materials and activities over the lifetime of the farm and compared the emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents per food serving with foods raised by conventional methods.

Researchers found that fruit was 8.6 times more eco-friendly when grown conventionally than in a city, whereas vegetables were 5.8 times better for the environment when “left to the professionals.”

The exception was tomatoes grown in open-air urban plots and air-freighted crops like asparagus. According to UC Davis, the U.S. actually imports two-thirds of its fruit and one-third of its vegetables.

The study also found that the “carbon intensity” of urban farming differed by country. Poland had the lowest carbon impact because gardens were primarily individual gardens, whereas the U.K. had the highest because it had more collective or community gardens. Yet, researchers said the “average vegetable at the local grocer” outperformed the average vegetable in all categories from all countries.

Jake Hawes, a Ph.D. student at Michigan and co-author of the study, said the most significant contributor to carbon emissions on urban agriculture sites was the infrastructure used to grow the food, such as raised beds and garden sheds, due to the carbon used in their construction. This doesn’t seem far-fetched. However, the carbon used to transport produce to the United States from Mexico, Peru, or South Africa seems incomparable.

According to Science Daily, this study suggests conventional farming is better because single crops can be grown with the “help” of pesticides and fertilizers, which yield larger harvests and reduced carbon footprints. Yet, the study’s authors didn’t consider the impact of the cancers pesticides cause on the environment or the hazards of pesticides themselves. It is well-established science that pesticides can leach into groundwater, where they make their way into humans and animals and cause a host of health issues.

In 2019 alone, 4.19 million metric tons of pesticides globally were used to produce food, with 408,000 tons attributed to the United States.

“UA [Urban agriculture] is expected to continue proliferating globally. Our findings suggest that steps must be taken to ensure that UA supports and does not undermine urban decarbonization efforts,” the authors wrote.

If there are any takeaways from this study, it’s not that conventionally grown produce is superior for the environment; it’s that reusing materials and extending the life of the materials you do use, along with properly composting, can make a garden more “eco-friendly” regardless.

Additionally, in a survey conducted for the study, urban farmers and gardeners “overwhelmingly reported” improved mental health, diets, and social networks compared with those who practiced conventional farming. These positive effects alone make growing your own food an advantageous endeavor.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in a garden—and the seeds that might disappear in the name of climate change to prioritize conventional crops mass-produced and sprayed with pesticides.

Megan Redshaw

Megan Redshaw

Megan is an attorney and journalist with additional expertise in natural health. She has a flare for breaking down complex and controversial topics into easy-to-synthesize and entertaining pieces that empower others to make informed decisions.

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

3 Comments

  • Luna says:

    Absolutely not. It is a ridicules notion and Governments cant yet make money off People growing for themselves where they get a choice to use chemicals or not. They worry about Humans feeding themselves healthy food rather then the poison food that they want us eating and making money off us.

  • Sharon says:

    It is people who put off carbons and plants that put off oxygen. It’s a fair trade. Most people are now choosing to grow their own garden cause their government cannot be trusted. I know if I couldn’t grow a garden, I would never eat another vegetable. You have driven out companies from the state so people can’t work and can’t afford the supermarket. The supermarket is all anyone has outside of growing their own food and cooking for themselves. The elitists are trying to keep the “garden of Eden” for themselves.

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