Urban agriculture as multifunctional green space
Urban agriculture (UA) is expanding in many cities throughout the US as an alternative to address food insecurity, economic instability, and urban disinvestment. While the primary function is the production of food, these unique habitats have been promoted as multifunctional green spaces that provide a wide range of ecosystem services, helping to elevate their status and to justify their existence on land with competing uses. Much research on urban agriculture to date, however, has focused on annual vegetable production systems that often represent critical tradeoffs relative to other types of green space. In particular, the production of annual crops has in some cases precluded or limited the potential for perennial habitats that include trees and shrubs, due to concerns about shading and competition for other resources.
In order for urban agriculture to be better integrated into the green infrastructure of the city and to contribute to a wide range of ecosystem services, new designs that incorporate perennial vegetation including woody plants are needed. Our research group is exploring multifunctional woody polyculture (MWP) systems that produce fruits and nuts, as a low-input alternative or a complement to annual production. In addition to their production values, these systems could offer extended benefits similar to urban forestry such as microclimate control, carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat. Once established, MWP require little effort to maintain, while their showy flowers and fruit contribute to the visual quality of the space. Interesting new opportunities to integrate MWP into existing and planned future green infrastructure include plantings in parks, greenways, buffer zones, and institutional campuses.