Carbon Farming and Climate Change Education on Urban Farms

Commentary / 1st Quarter 2020

Carbon Farming and Climate Change Education on Urban Farms

by Alana Siegner

At an urban farm in the San Francisco Bay Area on a Wednesday morning, a diverse group of people gathers in anticipation of the weekly free farm stand. Customers line up to select from a variety of fresh farm herbs and vegetables, as well as organic food items donated from local groceries and bread bakeries. Multiple languages coincide and music plays from an outdoor speaker as greetings and food are exchanged.

“Urban farms can be havens of peace, health and community, but they require heavy involvement and advocacy from those communities for the long term in order to be successful,” East Bay urban farmer.

Oxford Tract harvest (photo courtesy of Coleman Rainey)
Artichokes growing in soil amended with biochar co-compost (Photo courtesy of Alana Siegner)

In cities across the United States and the world, urban farms are cropping up as local food alternatives to the globalised food supply chain. They also represent sites of resistance to a corporate-dominated global food system that does not offer equitable, affordable, sustainable and culturally acceptable food to all people.

While urban farms have existed for much of human history as a vital food resource for urbanites, the modern trend of urban farm establishment has grown particularly since the 2010s. The intertwining motivations for modern urban farms are extensive, encompassing a ‘grow your own’ ethos; efforts to expand food access, sovereignty and justice; greening the city movements; cultural preservation; and efforts to improve health, nutrition and well-being of urban residents.

Researchers excited about food access opportunities often seek to quantify vacant land and rooftop area requirements for cities to meet their entire fruit and vegetable demand. Research from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future finds that the average American city could meet its entire fresh produce demand by dedicating just 10 per cent of its city limit area to urban farming.

In addition to healthy food provision, urban farms offer a wealth of social, educational and ecological benefits to cities.

Urban farms can be “havens of peace, health and community”, according to one farmer in San Francisco’s East Bay region. They can also be important urban resources for climate change mitigation and education.


Carbon farming, a name for a variety of agricultural methods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or capture and hold carbon in vegetation and soils, is gaining attention and interest as the international climate science community recognises the imperative for carbon removal as well as emissions reduction in order to avert the most disastrous consequences of climate change. Also referred to as regenerative or climate beneficial agriculture,

carbon farming is the most cost-effective method available today for removing atmospheric carbon dioxide, offering a win-win-win strategy.


The Oxford Tract sits adjacent to university research facilities and greenhouses on one side, and the student-run organic garden (SOGA) on the other. Currently, it is the site of a demonstration biointensive no-till farming and research project, “implementing a suite of regenerative agricultural practices used by small urban and rural farmers across the state,” according to graduate student researcher Coleman Rainey.


The UC Gill Tract Community Farm, positioned next to the University Village apartments for U.C. Berkeley student families, is a hub of agroecological farming, food justice and food access. The Gill Tract is a site of resistance to corporate-backed development projects threatening many urban farming sites, including their current site.

The UN recently advocated the use of biochar in agricultural operations to mitigate climate change.


Given the impressive array of carbon farming practices taking place on urban farms, it is a logical next step to develop educational activities in partnership with farms, schools and other community educational centres, disseminating this information out into urban communities. So, gather your neighbours, get outside, start a small community or home garden plot, and experience the pleasure of harvesting your own tomatoes. Let’s store some carbon back into the ground beneath your city.


Clinton, N. et al. A Global Geospatial Ecosystem Services Estimate of Urban Agriculture. Earth’s Future. 10 January 2018.

Grewal, S. S., & Grewal, P. S. (2012). Can cities become self-reliant in food? Cities, 29(1), 1–11.

Marris, E. “How to Stop Freaking Out and Tackle Climate Change.” New York Times Opinion. 10 January, 2020.

Wynes, S. and Nicholas, K. The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Resource Letters. 12 July 2017.

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