The Groovier Way to Grow

By Amy Cui (III) & Neil Jin (III), Contributing Writers

Every day, Boston Latin School students are welcomed by the large Freight Farm shipping container in the BLS schoolyard, but only a handful know about the vast potential that this urban farming container holds. In recent months, Boston’s newest elected mayor, Michelle Wu, has expressed interests in increasing climate awareness and justice by expanding urban agriculture. Combined with recent citywide actions, urban farming proves to be a solid solution for communities like Boston as a better alternative to commercial farming.

Urban farming shines in its economic sustainability compared to the current agriculture industry. Although the current model of globalized trade is beneficial in some circumstances, it also leaves people vulnerable to food shortages due to international episodes over which they have no control nor connection to. For example, USA Today finds that Russia and Ukraine export 30 percent of the world’s wheat supply, and it is predicted that in February that the war between them could increase food prices by 20 percent.

Urban farming decreases reliance on foreign countries and builds resilience against food shocks. Since urban agriculture is farming for the community, the prices of urban-farmed foods are often cheaper. Not only are transportation costs lower, but urban farms do not have the same profit-driven incentives as big commercial companies.

When it comes to our food source, most people think of acres of green fields with crops in the countryside. This picturesque image, however, is simply not accurate. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the commercial food industry emits 698 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, the equivalent of 151 million cars. A lot of these emissions accumulate from “food miles,” in which food has to travel hundreds of miles to end up on your plate.

Luckily, urban farming solves this problem. Because food is grown right where it is eaten, urban farming significantly reduces carbon emissions as there is no need for international or national transportation.

Climate change will also decrease the amount of arable land in the future, so it is crucial for large cities or communities, like Boston, to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change as much as possible.

It is, moreover, healthier for people to grow their own food. BLS band director Mr. Dennison Blackett, who has professional experience with urban farming, explains, “The benefit [of urban farming] is knowing the source […] and having an idea of what goes in the soil.” Large-scale farms often spray a lot of synthetic pesticides over their fields to kill insects and weeds. Urban farms, on the other hand, control pests and weeds more effectively as they are often located indoors. Overall, the reduced reliance on harmful and toxic substances prevents health damage to our bodies.

Some may argue that urban farming is too costly or too time-consuming, but increasing urban farming activity does not necessitate a complete conversion to full-scale urban farms. There are many options and even small changes that can be effective. For example, implementing hydroponic systems in homes and schools is an affordable option to growing plants like leafy greens in nutrient-rich water. Urban farming provides an opportunity for communities to grow closer and for current and future generations to learn more about pressing environmental issues.

Especially after a year of online school, resuming urban farming at BLS would be a great way to bring the school community back together. BLS civics teacher Ms. Catherine Arnold details that she “really liked the [community service] aspect of the Freight Farm” before it was forced to close due to the pandemic.

Now, with the relatively lower levels of COVID-19 cases, students and other members of the community should have the opportunity to participate in and educate themselves about urban farming. There are also social aspects involved when volunteering at the Freight Farm, providing students a deeper insight into the close connections between social justice and climate issues.

Ms. Arnold concludes, “If we are not teaching the future generations to think in terms of those complex interrelationships, we are not preparing them to face the world that we’re in. […] A farm can be a way that a school interacts with all of that.” As Ms. Arnold puts it, urban farming is “a groovy way” to increase our awareness about where and how our food is made and leave a positive green footprint.