Uneven access to healthy and nutritious food is a global phenomenon – witness: many North Americans’ struggle with obesity while many Africans’ starve. Food often comprises the largest component of a city’s ecological footprint (COV 2011), and agriculture contributes 10-12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (FAO 2009). Recent studies indicate that the type of food (e.g. meat) and the way it is processed (e.g. organic) have a greater environmental impact than the overall distance food travels (i.e. food miles) and the total amount consumed (Webber and Mathews 2008).
The IEFS calls for nutritious food that is accessible and affordable to all residents and is grown, manufactured and distributed by processes which maintain the healthy function of ecosystems and do not exacerbate climate change. Food consumed is primarily grown within the local bioregion.
Ecocities enable access to healthy and nutritious food through zoning of land dedicated to agricultural production both within the city and at its periphery. This could include greenbelts and areas adjacent to natural parks, formation of contiguous open space and green corridors, community gardens, home-based agriculture, street-side gardens, etc. Community-based programs such as fruit-tree harvest and crop-sharing initiatives further enable people to access the bounty of urban agriculture. Food hubs and farmers markets can provide the means for food producers to access local markets directly. More broadly based agriculture activity, including farms and orchards that surround the city can enable access to bio-regionally based food supplies as well. Building rooftops and terraces can also be used for local food production, including raising small animals such as chickens and rabbits. Ground-oriented buildings and sheds, including court-yards, and even below-grade structures such as cisterns can be used for local farming including aquaculture (Todd and Todd 1994).
Although density can produce a more efficient pattern of living through, for example, access by proximity to services, it also concentrates demand. In the case of food, access to retail venues is increased, but careful design is required to ensure that access to the means of food production is not eliminated. Where demand for food by an urban population exceeds the capacity of the local bioregion, the importance of policies that shape demand for organic and fairly traded foods become increasingly important. The success of organic food retailers demonstrates that many people in Western society are willing to pay a premium for ethically and organically produced food. Still many others find these types of products too expensive to purchase on a daily basis.
Some cities are beginning to map food access and finding that parts of the city are virtual nutrition deserts. Understanding the population’s nutritional needs and planning for access to healthy and nutritious food is an important strategy that can help communities move toward achieving this important IEFS principle.
COV (City of Vancouver). 2011. Talk Green Lighter Footprint , part of the Greenest City initiative (http://talkgreenvancouver.ca/goals/lighter-footprint)
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). 2009. Low Greenhouse Gas Agriculture: Mitigation and Adaptation Potential of Sustainable Farming Systems (ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ai781e/ai781e00.pdf )
Todd, Nancy Jack and John Todd. 1994. From Eco-Cities to Living Machines: Principles of Ecological Design. Berkeley Cal: North Atlantic Books.
Webber, Christopher and H. Scott Mathews. 2008. “Food-miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States,” Environment, Science, and Technology, Vol. 42, Issue 10, pp. 3508-3513.
British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative