Welcome to our NSF IRES Website on Food Sustainability!

The research goals of this project are to compare urban and conventional agriculture with respect to their environmental benefits (handprint) and impacts (footprint). We hypothesize that the handprint of urban agriculture may be higher than its footprint, making it a highly beneficial approach for growing food!

More info on our project is below. Please also visit the links on the right margin.

An increasing percentage of people are moving into cities, getting farther away from places where crops are traditionally cultivated. If we could farm in the cities, food transportation distances and associated environmental impact would be reduced; the freshness of the food and self-reliance and resilience of cities would increase. With an increasing number of backyard and community gardens, our society is already gradually transitioning to producing food within the city. But can urban agriculture be more efficient and environmentally friendly than conventional farming? Are environmental impacts always greater than environmental benefits in agriculture? How can we use existing environmental impact and environmental benefit modeling approaches to estimate net and absolute sustainability of agriculture. In this project, we will answer these types of questions in a collaborative effort from University of Toledo (UT), University of Utah (UU), and Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). Current local food movement will further strengthen and be guided by scientific understanding if our results show that urban agriculture has net environmental benefits.

This project aims to have impact in both research and global engagement. Students from all three institutions will train and collaborate virtually for two semesters prior to UT and UU students traveling to UAB for two months. Students will use videoconferencing, wiki, blogs, and online discussion forums to improve their entrepreneurship and research skills and cultural competencies. Students and principal investigators will model tomato production in rooftop greenhouses and community gardens in three cities: Toledo, Salt Lake City, and Barcelona. Life cycle assessment will be used to estimate environmental impacts. Ecosystem services models will be used to estimate environmental benefits. The impacts and benefits will be added to estimate ?absolute environmental sustainability? for agricultural systems. Multiple scales will be analyzed as we compare results at individual versus city wide implementation to derive conclusions for facility managers, utility managers, design engineers, and urban planners. Project methods and results will help our society in designing more sustainable food-energy-water (FEW) systems.


From urban-agriculture centered communities, to prolific and sustainable food production in urban centers urban agriculture has many forms a strong ability to help people become closer to their food.

On a site visit to the future Terakee Farm, a West Weber, UT based urban agriculture community.

University of Toledo Students are on Site Visit to Community Garden