The State of Urban Agriculture

In Rust Belt cities like Toledo, where populations are dwindling and vacant lots abound, urban farms are community-driven solutions that lend a progressive thinking to the renewal process. But the issue at the heart of urban farming is more basic: people are hungry. Urban farmers know this. “We (central city residents) are not getting the nutrients we need,” says Thomas Jackson, an urban farmer at the core of the urban farming issue in Toledo (see sidebar).

According to 2015 data from Feeding America and Mind the Meal Gap, 17.8 percent of Lucas County Residents experience food insecurity, just above the Ohio average, where one in six people experience food insecurity. These numbers square with USDA data from a 2013-2015 study, which ranked Ohio as the seventh most food insecure state in the nation. Ironically, Ohio is the 13th most agriculturally productive state per cash receipts by commodity, also according to the USDA. This means that in a hungry state, farmers export their food and residents eat imported food.

Poorer than poor

Scaling these issues to Toledo’s urban core, the needs and potential for urban agricultural interventions are clear. The number of concentrated poverty areas in Toledo (where 40 percent of a given census tract lives below the federal poverty level) are the third highest in the nation. Of the approximate 113,000 Toledo residents living in poverty, 35 percent live in extremely poor neighborhoods ( per 2016 Brookings Institution report, US Concentrated Poverty in the Wake of the Great Recession).

Being poor in a poor neighborhood is even worse. Along all major indexes of public health, education, and economic opportunity, poor residents of poor neighborhoods fare worse than poor residents living in non-impoverished areas. Distributed across race, the impact of concentrated poverty on people of color is even greater. Though whites account for 44 percent of America’s poor, only 18 percent live in extremely impoverished…

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