Presentations and publications from my research into urban agriculture
Good ideas often go nowhere because their benefits are not backed up with scientific studies and data. This can be the case with sustainable urban agriculture…most people would agree that it is a good idea, but when it comes to quantifying the actual benefits, there is little data. From my humble backyard, I have collected lots of data, which I am writing up for publication when appropriate. I have completed some research goals and presented findings from those efforts in the form of presentations and publications. These are listed below for your benefit and use (please credit me, though). Where available, I have links to more information.
Zahina-Ramos, John. 2015. Just One Backyard: One Man’s Search for Food Sustainability. 280 pgs. Click here for more information.
This book discusses ancient and modern agricultural systems, and introduces the results from Dr. Zahina-Ramos’ 5-year urban residential food garden research. The environmental, ecological and economic benefits of this food garden was carefully measured and documented. The results show just how beneficial urban agriculture can be and is the first study of its kind.
Zahina-Ramos, John. 2013. Attitudes and perspectives about backyard food gardening: A case study in south Florida. Ph.D. dissertation, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida.
Click here to access this document electronically
Abstract: As cities grew throughout the past century, the availability of locally grown food declined, mostly because urban expansion occurred at the expense of adjacent agricultural land. As a result, city dwellers turned to commercial food market systems that import food from distant production areas. Private greenspace, which is one of the largest land cover types in cities, offers the potential for substantial agricultural production. Because urban food production on private land, such as backyards, requires the willing participation of landowners, resident’s feelings about and experience with food growing are important to understand. The demographic groups that were most likely to food garden were those in long-term relationships, higher income brackets, those with college education and residents over 50 years old. Incentives and programs focused on producing more from existing gardens may be most appropriate for people in these demographic groups, while other groups will most require basic food growing information. Study participants highly valued intangible benefits of food gardening (e.g., relaxation, feelings of happiness and satisfaction), often more than the provision of food. Most barriers and problems with backyard food growing, such as a lack of space and the need for gardening information, were similar for those who food garden and those who do not. Results from this study indicate that traditional agricultural incentives and perspectives must be rethought if they are to be applied in urban settings. By creating incentives and initiatives that reflect the needs and challenges faced by urban growers, urban agriculture will become an integrated part of the community, improving food quantity and quality while enriching residents’ lives.
Zahina-Ramos, J.G. 2012. Quantifying urban food sustainability: A case study in south Florida. Annual conference of the Southeastern District of the Association of American Geographers, Nov. 8-12, 2012, Asheville, NC. My paper and presentation won a spot as a finalist in the Ph.D. Student Competition.
Abstract: Sustainable cities require economic conditions in which they import fewer commodities and rely more on local production. Since food is one of the largest imports into cities, local food production can play a key role in urban sustainability. A methodology to quantify urban food sustainability is described, using the potential role of backyard food gardening as an example. The methodology can be applied across a range of scales (neighborhood-level to metropolitan-level), can be conducted with widely-available data sets and offers an objective way to measure the current and potential levels of sustainability that could be achieved through urban agricultural initiatives. Output from this analysis would be valuable for community leaders and planners who seek to expand the practice of urban agriculture by quantifying not only potential food production amounts, but in understanding how much of the resident’s food needs can be met locally. This methodology also provides a way to measure benefits from existing programs by comparing with and without project scenarios.
Zahina-Ramos, J.G. 2012. The importance of local natural habitat to urban agriculture. ACES/Ecosystem Markets conference, Dec. 10-14, 2012, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
Abstract: Urban sustainability initiatives recognize the importance of local and urban agriculture in meeting the food needs of residents and mitigating the negative effects of food deserts. Community gardens, which can be found on public or private greenspace, are perhaps the most visible form of urban agriculture. However, backyard food gardening holds the greatest potential for producing large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables within cities. Food plant pollination and pest control are concerns with most forms of agriculture. Because of the high density of people living in the city setting, the use of potentially toxic agricultural pesticides is undesirable. Adequate numbers of insect pollinators are essential for successful fruit and vegetable production.
Food plant pollination is often viewed as a rural agricultural issue, but the importance of insect pollinators to urban agriculture has received little consideration. In order to support a growing community of urban food growers, a robust insect population that includes pollinators, pest predators and pest parasites is required. Natural and recreated habitats within developed areas are typically viewed as having aesthetic, hydrologic and wildlife value. However, they may also support a number of organisms that are important to urban agricultural production. Vacant lots, waste areas and wildflower gardens may also provide habitat for the production and dispersion of beneficial food plant pollinators in cities. Results from a backyard food production case study in South Florida will be used to demonstrate the importance of and interdependence between pollinator habitat and urban food production.
Zahina-Ramos, J.G. 2013. Backyard food gardening and urban food sustainability: A case study in south Florida. Annual conference of the Florida Association of American Geographers, Feb. 8-10, 2013, Tallahassee, FL. My paper and presentation won Best Graduate Paper Presentation in the Student Competition.
Abstract: Sustainable cities require economic conditions in which they import fewer commodities and rely more on local production. Since food is one of the largest imports into cities, local food production can play a key role in urban sustainability. The benefits from backyard food gardens to a household and community are significant, including greater control over food choice, resource conservation and greater retention of money within the community. A methodology to quantify urban food production benefits is described using results from a case study conducted in south Florida. This methodology can be applied across a range of scales (neighborhood-level to metropolitan-level) and offers an objective way to measure the current and potential levels of sustainability that could be achieved through urban agricultural initiatives. Output from this analysis would be valuable for community leaders and planners who seek to expand the practice of urban agriculture by quantifying not only potential food production amounts, but in understanding how much of the resident’s food needs can be met locally. This methodology also provides a way to measure benefits from existing programs by comparing with and without project scenarios.
Zahina-Ramos, J.G. 2013. Quantifying urban food sustainability in south Florida. Annual conference of the West Lakes Division of the American Association of Geographers, October 17-19, 2013, Eau Claire, WI.
Abstract: As the population and extent of urban centers continues to grow, city residents become more distanced from the agriculture necessary to meet their food needs. Urban agriculture offers a way to meet local food demands without many of the environmental costs associated with more distant, large-scale agricultural products. As such, urban agriculture can play an important role in urban sustainability.
Private greenspace, which is one of the largest land cover types in cities, offers the potential for substantial food production. However, the productivity of urban agriculture and availability of suitable food growing space must be defined if the potential benefit is to be quantified. This study examined the potential food production quantities from urban greenspace in metropolitan Palm Beach County, Florida to determine how closely the residents’ food demands could be met. The amount of suitable food growing area was quantified through aerial photo analysis using a random sampling of quarter sections within township-range blocks. Results from a local urban backyard food garden study were used to infer the production potential of the suitable food growing area. Finally, using 2010 census data, the population’s food demand was calculated and compared with the potential food production within the urban area.
Results from this study indicated that the available greenspace within Palm Beach County’s metropolitan area was capable of producing enough food to meet the food needs of its residents. This finding suggests that the south Florida metropolitan area could meet residents’ food demands without imports from other regions, which has significant implications for urban food security and sustainability. This study also demonstrated a methodology to quantify urban food sustainability, which can be applied to other urban centers where sufficient data are available.
Zahina-Ramos, J.G. 2013. Quantifying urban food sustainability: a case study in south Florida. Annual conference of the American Association of Geographers, April 12, 2014, Tampa, FL.
Food gardening and practices: Yesterday, today and tomorrow. Guest lecturer to Florida Atlantic University’sFoods: Culture & Environment (GEO 6938), September 25 (lecture) and November 13, 2012 (garden tour).
Urban food sustainability: From theory to practice. Presentation to the Florida Atlantic University’s Geosciences Colloquium Series, January 18, 2013.
Urban backyard gardening and food sustainability. Garden tour and presentation to Transitions Startup Palm Beach, January 20, 2013.
Urban food sustainability. Guest lecturer to Florida Atlantic University’s Sustainable Cities class (URP 4403), January 23, 2013.
Urban backyard gardening and food sustainability. Garden tour and presentation to Miami Permaculture class, February 16, 2013.
Urban food sustainability: From theory to practice. Guest lecturer to Florida Atlantic University’s Environment & Society classes (EVR 2017), February 25, 2013 and March 25, 2013.