"Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution" by Jennifer Cockrall-King

“Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution” by Jennifer Cockrall-King

A global movement to take back our food is growing. The future of farming is in our hands-and in our cities.

“Every minute in the United States, over an acre of agricultural land is lost to commercial and residential development.” 144

“The idea to write a book about urban agriculture-the practice of producing and distributing food right in cities-felt like it came looking for me as much as I went looking for it.

As a food writer with a serious passion for gardening, I had long been in the habit of stopping to talk with anyone watering a few pots of rosemary and basil, for instance, on the patio. (Several minutes later, we’d still be trading stories about what interesting edibles could be grown with the right amount of obsessive coddling.) But about five yeras ago, I started noticing more tomatoes and cucumber vines twisting around condo balcony railings where previously there had only been the usual flowerpot standards of geraniums and lobelia. Then a few maverick homeowners began ripping up their front lawns and replacing them with tidy rows of pole beans, peas, and carrots. Other urbanites were not so subtly defying city bylaws and keeping chickens and beehives in backyards. Finally, it was impossible to ignore how community gardens continued to mushroom in size and quantity, not just in my hometown, but in other cities I visited.” -Introduction, 9

“We weren’t gardening. We were growing food!” 151

Jennifer Cockrall-King is an award-winning food journalist whose work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Post, Canadian Geographic, Maclean’s, and other major publications. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta, and in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, where she founded and runs the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop.

Visit Jennifer online at http://www.foodgirl.ca and http://www.facebook.com/FoodanttheCity, and on Twitter @jennifer_ck.

“We wanted to highlight the fact that we weren’t doing this for fun. We’d rather not be doing this. The question of food is not a theoretical construct. It’s a matter of life and death.” 151


  • Introduction
  • The Facade of the Modern Grocery Store
  • Industrial Food
  • Industrial Eaters
  • A World in Food Crisis
  • The New Food Movement and the Rise of Urban Agriculture
  • Paris: The Roots of Modern Urban Agriculture
  • London: Capital Growth
  • Southern California and Los Angeles: A Tale of Two Forms
  • Vancouver: Canada‘s Left Coast
  • Toronto: Cabbagetown 2.0
  • Milwaukee: Growing a Social Revolution
  • Detroit: Praying for an Economic Revolution
  • Chicago: The Vertical Farm
  • Cuba: Urban Agriculture on a National Scale
  • Conclusion: Greening and Eating Our Cities
  • Acknowledgments
  • Glossary
  • Resources for Urban Agriculturalists
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

“The farm did not assign value to the land in terms of its economic ability to produce income, but rather it was valued in noneconomic terms for its social, cultural, and knowledge-keeping capital.” 152

Outside Resources

Physiology of Taste

“Pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap.”
-Business motto of Jack Cohen, who in 1919 founded Tesco, currently the United Kingdom’s largest supermarket chain


“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, seventeenth-century French gastronome and author of The Physiology of Taste, 1825


“You don’t have to go back to the land, you’re already there.”
-from personal interview with Ron Berezan, the Urban Farmer, 2009

Why Your World Is about to Get a Whole Lot Smaller


“Being an economist can ruin your appetite.”
-Jeff Rubin, Why Your World Is about to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, 2010


“We are all co-producers.”
-Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement (statement made in 2007)


Candide, ou l’Optimisme


“Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” [We must tend our garden.]
-Voltaire, Candide, ou l’Optimisme, 1759


“We’ve moved to cities and we think the economy is what gives us our life, that if the economy is strong we can afford garbage collection and sewage disposal and fresh food and water and electricity.”
Dr. David Suzuki, cofounder, David Sazuki Foundation, scientist, broadcaster, writer, Order of Canada


Hungry-City How Food Shapes Our Lives

“To truly change our food system, we need 50 million new people growing food in their local community.”
-Will Allen, urban farmer and CEO of Growing Power, Inc., 2011


“Cities, like people, are what they eat.”
-Carolyn Steel, Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives, 2009


“Use all of science for a more sustainable development that does not contaminate the environment. Pay the ecological debt and not the external debt. Fight hunger, not people.”
-Fidel Castro, United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 1992

“The facade of urbanism is something that we’re all going to have to engage with at some point. This is an unsustainable environment any way you slice it.” 152

Thought-Provoking Questions

  • Would we be sourcing most of our food from urban gardens in the forseeable future? 167
  • Would we have commercial urban farming enterprises in cities all over North America? 167
  • What did he think of the spate of “future scenarios” of urban farms on rooftops or glass-and-steel thirty-story vertical farms? 167
  • Do a wave of new policies really amount to change in itself? 167
  • What would it be like if borders were to close and cut off all food imports? 283
  • What if that global food chain that supplies our supermarkets and restaurants broke down or those supplies simply went elsewhere? 283
  • What would happen if there suddenly was no fuel to pump into the state-of-the-art combines, tractors, seeders, and sprayers? 283
  • What would happen if a sudden food shock hit an industrial, fossil fuel-dependent, globally interconnected food system of an entire nation? 283
  • What will you be eating when the revolution comes? 283
  • Why the overnight interest in urban food gardens, urban chickens, and urban beekeeping? 307
  • What else was happening in cities that were taking back control of their food supplies and systems? 307
  • Where will these sparks of the food revolution take us? 307
  • Will our cities look like variations of one of the Cuban cities I saw in 2007? 307
  • Will we build forty-story vertical farms to feed our growing urban populations? 307
  • Is there enough critical mass and commitment to continue this urban food revolution, or will large cities spiral down to become extreme food deserts? 307
  • What was your overall reaction to the book after having read it?
  • Has the book inspired you to make any changes?
  • Has this book changed your thoughts on anything?
  • What did you find most intriguing in this book?
  • Do you think your community should have a community garden?
  • How could you implement a community garden in your community?
  • How would you successfully sustain a community garden in your community?
  • Did you experience any culinary education in your schooling?
  • Do you support the increase of culinary education in schools?
  • How would culinary education and campus gardens benefit the students?
  • Do you think culinary education and campus gardens could benefit the community as a whole?
  • How would culinary education and campus gardens affect students’ future health and nutrition?
  • Do you think culinary education and campus gardens would have an impact on childhood obesity?
  • What do you think urban agriculture entails? 210
  • Do you think urban agriculture makes a bigger impact on the people within a community or the food within the community?
  • Do you think urban agriculture is affecting the food market today?
  • Do you think that urban agriculture will ever be the sole supplier of our food?
  • If the city was trying to build a waste compost near your neighborhood, how would you react?
  • Would you be willing to pay more for locally-sustained food?
  • How can we make an impact on the urban agriculture movement?

“One of the many ironies of our human population explosion is that we are paving over the land that feeds us.” 157


“All over the world I’ve watched urban dwellers begin to figure out that they can start growing food, too. It’s one of the loveliest trends on earth, and Jennifer Cockrall-King does a fine job of capturing its tremendous growth.”
-Bill McKibben, Author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“Today’s industrial food systems are unsustainable and harmful to communities all over the world. This insightful book delves deeply into the problems and solutions that will come to define food in the years ahead.”
-Chef Michael Smith, Author and Food Network (Canada) host

“It seems that all the slick, trendy publications, sites, and bloggers have recently discovered the idea of urban agriculture. As Cockrall-King points out, this is not a new movement at all. Quietly, many communities have encouraged growing food in the city as a way both to produce delicious, unprocessed food and to help foster an environmental awareness and ethos. This book is full of great examples and resources for city dwellers. After reading it, you’ll want to round up your neighbors and start planting!”
-John Ash, James Beard Award-winning author and chef

“At a time when most of us strive to reconnect with the source of our food, Cockrall-King delves straight to the root of our food systems, bringing to light the potential of small-scale urban agriculture to feed the masses. She makes a global issue seem manageable by citing actions of self-sufficiency-from community gardens to backyard bees, our collective steps toward sustainability are transforming our relationship with the food on our plates.”
-Julie Van Rosendaal, Cookbook author, TV host, and blogger at http://www.dinnerwithjulie.com

“Cockrall-King makes a compelling and inspiring case that small-scale, urban farming may be the key to fixing our broken industrialized food system.”
-Barry Estabrook, Author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

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