A strange article was published

Food from urban agriculture has carbon footprint six times larger than conventional produce, study shows.

I received an article in English about the carbon footprint of urban agriculture and community gardens. The basic thesis of the study is that vegetables grown in urban gardens have six times the average CO2 load of outdoor, large-scale production.

The argument is that the materials used in the construction of gardens (raised beds, walkways, fencing, water systems), the CO2 generated in their production, all add to the CO2 load of the crops, and thus represent a greater environmental burden compared to large-scale industrial agriculture. It has been calculated that the carbon load is six times greater. Of course, the article goes on to look at phenomena such as asparagus transported by plane and the environmental impact of vegetables grown in greenhouses, and finds that urban gardens are better off with a smaller ecological footprint.

One of the main findings of the study:

„On average, food produced through urban agriculture emitted 0.42 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per serving, six times higher than the 0.07 kg CO2e per serving of conventionally grown produce.”

The other very clever sentence is:

“Most of the climate impacts at urban farms are driven by the materials used to construct them—the infrastructure,” Goldstein said. “These farms typically only operate for a few years or a decade, so the greenhouse gases used to produce those materials are not used effectively. Conventional agriculture, on the other hand, is very efficient and hard to compete with.”

Now, let’s add some practical observations:

Urban gardens and community gardens must be built. There is no such thing as open field cultivation in the city, apart from private gardens. Raised beds should be used in urban gardens because the soil is unsuitable for growing crops. Other built elements of community gardens are: fencing, water systems, walkways, tool storage, sandboxes for children, etc. These also need to be built, and of course have a carbon footprint. Urban parks also need to be built, they also have a carbon footprint, so if we go further along the argument, parks should also be demolished, perhaps concreted over, because building and maintaining parks also has an environmental impact.

Another important aspect is that gardens should look good, be safe and easy to maintain. Garden design is essential, and good quality workmanship is perhaps even more important. Urban gardens are essentially civic urban green spaces, and aesthetic appearance and usability are essential. Most community gardens use a lot of recycled materials in their construction, such as demolished bricks, paving slabs, pallets. All of these had to be manufactured once, which has a carbon footprint, transported to site, which has a carbon footprint, and the garden had to be built, which also has a carbon footprint. Recycling, on the other hand, does not create new emissions, at most during transport. Community gardens are essentially energy-efficient facilities.

The large-scale cultivation mentioned in the article means monocultures, optimised cultivation methods and, above all, huge sizes. And urban agriculture is all about small scale, with no endless arable land and instead individual beds. The article makes the mistake of not including in the CO2 value the CO2 burden of manufacturing and operating agricultural machinery. If we add to this the CO2 burden of the long journey from field to plate, transport, refrigeration and processing, the benefits of large-scale production are immediately not so great. Urban agriculture is all about variety and high biodiversity. In 2023, the Böszi Community Garden had 47 species of plants grown by gardeners, and that’s not counting the variety of species. For example, there were at least 10-12 varieties of tomatoes in the garden. In the supermarket, you can buy one or at most two types of tomatoes, the quality and nutrition of which are far below those of your own garden.

Blog post: Numbers in the Community Gardens

The list of arguments against the study could go on for a long time, but it is unnecessary. The really disturbing thing is that this research talks about negligible amounts of carbon dioxide, when on a global scale it is nothing. To show that urban gardens cost a few molecules of CO2 more than outdoor production, while megatonnes of methane are released from permafrost and deep-sea methane ice, while global transport, aviation, shipping, heating buildings, industry, our very existence, is a burden on the planet, is pathetic. They are taking one negligibly small element and projecting it onto the big picture. Why? Yet again, research that would have been better not done, not moved the world forward at all, a complete end in itself, with worthless results. Or, it all has a distinctly foul smell to it, namely an anti self-sufficiency, anti self-determination attitude. Don’t grow your own food, don’t strive for self-sufficiency, don’t please yourself, instead buy large-scale crops because it’s better and more environmentally conscious than small-scale urban agriculture. Bad taste, a very damaging way of thinking.

I watch the farmers’ protests in Europe, from Germany to the Netherlands to France, and I see something terribly wrong. The misunderstood “eco-consciousness”, this “How dare you?!” mentality, the totally misguided planet-saving, the unprofessional activist attitude, will eventually lead to either nothing to eat or it will be incredibly expensive. I’m telling you now that the hunger riots will mean far more CO2 emissions than the carbon production of community gardens.

Finally, what is missing from the research is how much excess carbon dioxide emissions, such as CO2 exhaled by the authors, were involved in the production of this great research! Now that is waste and pollution!