In the midst of all the bad food news: the obesity epidemic, use of hormones and toxic chemicals in the food industry, food deserts, to name a few; reports of flourishing urban gardens are always encouraging. But are they really a long term solution to the problems in our food system? It can be argued that their small size prevents them from spurring economic growth in the community in a meaningful way and they can do little to solve the problem of global hunger.
As in most issues related to the food world, it is essential not to take an extreme view. Urban gardens are an important step toward revitalizing devastated urban areas like Detroit or New Orleans and in small ways their scale can be ramped up to spread the benefits in the community but they are not a magic wand which we can wave and fix the food system.
In this piece the author argues that it would be more efficient to have a Wal-Mart instead as that would create more jobs and bring economic growth to the area. Before we knock the idea, check out a Wal-Mart store. In my neighborhood, the store stocks wild caught fish, organic produce, milk and eggs and has organic options to regular cereals, granola bars and other basics on the shelves, all at an affordable price.
We cannot all grow our own food and small farms cannot feed everyone. We have also learned our lessons from the consistent growth of huge industrialized farms and the subsequent breakdown of the food system. Can we try for a middle path where local, nutritious produce is available at prices consumers can actually afford?