John Botti is a student at University of the Fraser Valley majoring in Planning Food and Agriculture Systems. John is researching Agriburbs/Agrihoods as a scalable and resilient development model with Dr. Lenore Newman and Dr. Rob Newell of the Food and Agriculture Institute.
The future of planning will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our society, both from a perspective of addressing chronic issues, crises, and injustices, as well as striving for more utopian planning constructs. In their epilogue on community planning in Canada and the future, Hodge et al. identify and delineate several continuing and emerging challenges. They identify six challenges that “are already insistent on being tackled: affordable housing and gentrification, diversity and inclusion, the climate crisis, sustainability, planning with Indigenous Peoples, and the Smart City.” (Hodge et al., p. 446) Remarkably, one of the major challenges that the planning authors failed to identify is the importance of food security for urban and suburban communities.
So, what is critical about our food? Regardless of who you are, where you live, and what your socio-economic status is, the common universality that binds us all together is that we all need food to survive. Sustainable and resilient food systems are essential to our near-term and longer-term survival. Yet planners (and authors who write about planning) often consider food security as an afterthought or take its planning for granted. After all, we live in Canada where we have a seeming abundance of resources including food. Yet, our food system lulls us into a false sense of food security with its underlying systemic fragility.
Our cities and suburbs, along with the planning and policies that create and support them, are far too dependent on centralized food systems with long supply chains. One of the lessons we have learned from the COVID pandemic is the inherent fragility of our supply chain systems and the risk embodied in that system once one or more critical elements fail. During the pandemic, there was a labor supply chain issue for harvesting produce due to seasonal worker shortage issues with pandemic related immigration restrictions. Likewise, the meat packing industry has become highly centralized and concentrated in North America over the past 50 years. In 2020, three meat-packing plants turned out 85% of Canada’s beef, and two of the big three had widespread COVID outbreaks and had to shut down. (Edmiston, 2020) Our preferential insistence on year-round avocados from Mexico and Chile and blueberries from Peru in February comes at a substantial ecological and systemic cost. Abundance, convenience, and year-round availability are provided at the expense of local, seasonal, decentralized, and lower-carbon emitting and shorter supply chain food systems. Besides a reduced carbon footprint and less food waste, local food production also stimulates local employment and economic growth. Decentralized systems are stronger and more resilient.
Ebenezer Howard and his Garden City model with agricultural greenbelts surrounding cities unfortunately did not evolve into practice exactly as he had planned leading to urban sprawl with a lack of integrated or near proximity agricultural producing land.
Howard’s Garden City Diagram
Source: Hodge et al., 2021, p. 63
We can and must do better for our food systems. We need a new integrated planning model that elevates the critical importance of food security within neighborhoods and communities – not as separate, distant, and dedicated areas for food production. The broad goals of sustainable development that Hodge et al. promote in their epilogue are economic growth and efficiency, environmental protection, and social justice and equity. (Hodge et al, 2021, p. 452) All three of these directives are directly intertwined with the issue of food security. Social justice and equity are especially pertinent to the lack of urban inner-city food security. “The migration of neighbourhood supermarkets to big-box ‘power-centres’ created ‘food deserts’ in many inner-city communities with negative impacts on the social determinants of health.” (Hodge et al., 2021, p. 343)
Agrihoods or agriburbs have the potential to fulfil Howard’s vision and become Garden City 2.0, a new model which directly integrates local food production into community planning. The Urban Land Institute published a report in 2018 (Agrihoods: Cultivating Best Practices) which demonstrates how agrihoods maximize health, sustainability, social equity, and economic potential. (Norris, 2018) A network of decentralized agrihoods would provide more strength and resilience to the food security system as a whole.
Garden City 2.0: The Features of an Agrihood
Source: Norris, 2018
Imagine if each neighborhood or community becomes a 20-minute neighbourhood for food and residents could have their own 80/20 food rule: 80% of their food would be produced within a 20 minute walk of where they live. There would be tremendous positive impacts on health, well-being, pollution, food waste, and community connectivity. This concept is not new, in fact it is very common in Europe. I have spent many summers in France where there are numerous farmers markets that line the city’s streets three times a week. I purchase 80% of my fresh food at the farmers market, including vegetables, fruits, fresh eggs, chicken, fish, meats, cheeses, honey, and charcuterie. Certain other food staples (the other 20%) are purchased at the supermarket. I eat much better and am happier shopping at the farmers market. I have a relationship with many of the farmers and the food they provide me.
Types of Agrihood Food Production Spaces
Source: Norris, 2018
As I reflect on my learning in this course, as well as my work on the Mission Waterfront Revitalization project, I see the opportunity to further advance the issues of sustainable development, climate change, and social justice. Within the Mission Waterfront planning project, we also identified opportunities for Indigenous communities to become more resilient in their food security. We have an opportunity to create more resilient and sustainable food systems which will not only preserve our food security and reduce our environmental footprints, but foster and develop our communal interactions, health, and well-being.
Edmiston, J. (2020, May 6). Three meat-packing plants turn out 85% of Canada’s beef. How did this happen? Financial Post. https://financialpost.com/commodities/agriculture/why-only-three-meat-packing-plants-process-the-vast-majority-of-canadas-beef
Hodge, G., Gordon, D., & Shaw, P. (2021). Planning Canadian communities (7th ed.). Nelson Education.
Lewis, C. (2009, August 8). Agriburbia. New Economy Urbanism blog. https://neweconomyurbanism.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/agriburbia/
Newman, L., Powell, L.J., Wittman, H. (2015, June). Landscapes of food production in agriburbia: Farmland protection and local food movements in British Columbia. Journal of Rural Studies, volume 39. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0743016715000261
Norris, M. (2018). Agrihoods: Cultivating best practices. Urban Land Institute. https://2os2f877tnl1dvtmc3wy0aq1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/Agrihoods-Final.pdf