A new University of Michigan study revealed urban gardens are worse for the environment than conventional agriculture. 

“Despite strong evidence of social and nutritional benefits from UA [urban agriculture], environmental claims are not well supported, particularly how the environmental footprint of UA compares to the conventional agriculture it could supplant,” the study concluded

The study’s findings found fruits and veggies grown using UA practices have six times the carbon footprint compared to produce cultivated through comparable industrial farming practices.

Researchers said food grown in urban settings emitted “0.42 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per serving” compared to “0.07 kg CO2e per serving of conventionally grown produce.” They concluded UA is low-yield and, oddly, more carbon-intensive because more fertilizer, water, and infrastructure is required to produce a serving of vegetables or fruits in a smaller space, compared to high-yield industrial farms. 

The UM study examined 73 sites across five nations comparing carbon emissions between conventional and urban agriculture operations, focusing on urban farms, communal gardens, and small land plots.The study, however, conceded city-grown crops like tomatoes defy the odds, explaining:

However, some UA crops (for example, tomatoes) and sites (for example, 25% of individually managed gardens) outperform conventional agriculture. These exceptions suggest that UA practitioners can reduce their climate impacts by cultivating crops that are typically greenhouse-grown or air- , maintaining UA sites for many years, and leveraging circularity (waste as inputs).”

This study, however, should be taken with a grain of salt. Studies like this are often published to compel regulators to force environmental behaviors on the public. IWF readers will recall a highly-questionable but well-circulated study about gas stoves and its effects on childhood asthma, published by the anti-gas outfit Rocky Mountain Institute that was initially used as a pretext to ban these household appliances by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A month later, the Department of Energy released its Energy Conservation Standards for Consumer Conventional Cooking Products that would have prohibited 50% of gas stove models from coming to market. The finalized rule, which dropped last month, targeted fewer models. As IWF Policy Coordinator, Makenna McCoy, recently noted at our website:

“The finalized standards now only bans 3% of gas stoves on the market compared to 50% under the initial proposed rule. The rule also only applies to new stoves being sold. Despite this, however, it still sets a bad precedent for executive overreach and faulty authority that has and will affect other household appliance rules.”

There are many inherent benefits to agriculture practices–regardless of being urban or conventional in nature. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lauds UA for reducing transportation costs, lessening stormwater runoff, and improving air quality. Other benefits include promoting food security and bolstering green spaces.

Growing your own food, regardless of scalability, is seen as a net-benefit to the environment, since you know where your food comes from and see the fruits of your labor. Climate activists shouldn’t guilt Americans for utilizing their surroundings—rural, suburban, or urban—and living a conservation-minded lifestyle.