First Lady Michelle Obama and children from several local elementary schools in the White House Organic Farm (credit: Chuck Kennedy / White House)When one thinks of agriculture and creating more sustainable food systems, Washington D.C does not necessarily come to mind. However, the urban agriculture movement has taken root here and is now blossoming into a network of urban farms across metropolitan D.C., helping to combat climate change and create a more sustainable city.

From farm, to plate, to landfill, the production and transportation of food results in the release of harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere. GHGs include carbon dioxide (CO2) and are the drivers of climate change.

In 2012, food-related GHG emissions accounted for 21 percent of total U.S. emissions. This does not even include emissions related to food preparation at home, such as driving to the store, refrigeration, cooking, and other food-related activities that result in greenhouse gas emissions. Small-scale, urban agriculture can reduce transportation- and production-related emissions. Additionally, small-scale agriculture diversifies the U.S. food supply. As a recent drought in California, one of the United States' top food-producing regions has demonstrated, a diversified food supply may become increasingly important as we adjust to the uncertainties presented by climate change.

Approximately 80 percent of Americans live in cities and the potential positive impacts of urban farming are huge. Not only does urban agriculture reduce food-related GHG emissions, it also provides nutritious, low-cost fruits, vegetables, and herbs in many urban areas that have little access to affordable, nutritious produce. These local projects can have tremendous benefits for low-income communities that often pay anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of their income on food. Researchers from the CFSC Urban Agriculture Committee have found that every $1 investment in a community garden nets $6 worth of produce, a phenomenal return on investment. Here are just a few examples of successful agricultural projects within the metro D.C. area that are reducing GHG emissions, providing accessible produce, building communities, and improving health.

  • City Blossoms is a non-profit organization that encourages children and young people to create and manage green spaces. The organization started nine years ago as a volunteer project, but is now a fully-functioning, year-round organization that teaches children how to care for the environment; express themselves artistically; and grow healthy, organic food.
  • While some organizations and community farms are aimed at teaching children, others target low-income community members, in order to help them meet their nutritional needs. Since 2007, the Common Good City Farm has been providing training in a variety of areas—from food production to environmental sustainability—in order to help low-income D.C. residents gain access to healthy food with their community garden projects and workshops.
  • The Neighborhood Farm Initiative is a D.C.-based non-profit that was created to transform underutilized city spaces into functional gardens for Metropolitan D.C. residents. The community garden plots are used not only to grow fresh vegetables for the community, but also used to educate residents on gardening techniques.
  • And of course, one cannot forget one of the most famous gardens in D.C.—the White House Organic (WHO) Farm. The WhoFarm was created in 2010 in response to a nation-wide petition drive and is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign.