Q&A: Incorporating Resilient Food Systems into Cities

Food systems and cities are closely linked, and this intersection plays an important role in how cities can plan and build resilience against shocks and stresses. Equitable food systems can mean a more equitable and cohesive community. Innovative food systems can help a city take advantage of its distinct advantages and expertise – and give way to new ideas and innovative approaches.

Urban farms have the potential to help cities become more resilient, happier, and healthier in general. In the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, around 40% of citizens are involved in the city’s urban agriculture, and urban farms have helped reduce overall child mortality and childhood malnourishment. Urban farms bring the community together and can also increase local employment.

Our member city Rotterdam (The Netherlands) is taking a notable – and unusual – approach to tackling this challenge. The city’s Resilience Strategy includes a plan for a floating urban farm that will house 60 dairy cows that produce milk, cheese, cream, butter and yogurt – all in Rotterdam’s harbor. The sustainable farm takes advantage of the Netherlands’ agricultural and maritime expertise, but also presents other benefits – the farm will be an educational platform and community space, where students can learn about their food systems. While the farm alone cannot completely transform how Rotterdam feeds itself, the project can show what’s possible and invites citizens to consider how food is produced.

In Boston (United States), the city’s now Chief Resilience Officer, Atyia Martin, helped produce an ICIC study on the resilience of the city’s food system in the context of disaster, while in her role as Director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Office of Public Health Preparedness. The Rockefeller Foundation is funding ICIC to do a broader study of 5 additional U.S. cities, including 100RC member cities Los Angeles, New York, and New Orleans.

In many expanding cities, communities are challenged by rising food demand and increasing uncertainty in food security. In 2014, food banks in the city of Atlanta (U.S.) piloted ideas such as mobile farm trucks, wellness education, and incentives for convenience stores to stock fresh foods, in order to address gaps in transit and income inequality. A resilient food system requires a holistic, systematic approach from food sources and production to distribution.