Urban farming is practiced by 800 million people globally, benefiting low-income residents by providing easy access to food and competitive low prices. It provides employment for poor men and women, generating one job for every 100 square meters in farming production. Urban agriculture can address the issue of food security by positively contributing to food availability to residents particularly in cases of food shortages (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2017). With the world’s population ever growing, sustaining the food demand has become essential. As such, employing an effective method to increase agriculture productivity by determining suitable urban farm sites for low-income areas is key. A study by Maxwell, 1995 on urban agriculture and food security analysis, displayed a significant relationship between urban farming and food security improvement along with increased nutrition status for children in low-income areas . As such, the challenge is ensuring that low income areas have a sufficient, continuous access to food.
While the development and conversion of vacant lands to agricultural use (urban farming) is beneficial to aid with meeting the food demand, agriculture can have serious negative implications to the environment. Vacant lands such as brown fields have serious risks associated with them including leftover chemical residues posing a hazard to human health and safety (The Government of Ontario, 2017). They are often costly for communities to be redeveloped and they must meet the health, safety, and environmental standards by law of Ontario (The Government of Ontario, 2017). Negative impacts to hydrologically sensitive areas (ie. wetlands and water bodies) are also of concern. Agricultural surface runoff is the largest contributor to this, influencing the ecological integrity of nearby aquatic and biological species (Eppink et al., 2003). Farmers have contributed to this via phosphorus pollution due to agricultural runoff. This has led to serious cases of eutrophication within water bodies impacting fish and surrounding aquatic species (Mcdowell et al., 2001). It has been examined that topics involving biological, societal and economic controls are necessary to determine appropriate vacant lands for urban agriculture use. Some of these variables include soil type, slope, proximity to hydrologically sensitive areas (water bodies and wetlands), and proximity to low- income areas. An identifiable gap within the field of urban agriculture is needed for further research on the relationship of environmental and human behaviour on urban agriculture development and food insecurity (Kirkpatrick & Tarasuk, 2003; Eppink et al., 2003). As such, this study will attempt to address this knowledge gap. Observed research gaps displayed a lack of information relating specifically to hydrologically sensitive areas in the context of food security for vacant lands (Foley et al., 2005). Instead, the majority of the literature examined food security and the relationship it had with low-income residents and the impact to quality of life (Schmidhuber & Tubiello, 2007). Furthermore, there is limited research regarding the interconnected relationship of hydrologically sensitive areas to brown fields and the long term adverse effects with regards to the introduction to urban farming.
A variety of the issues presented thus far have a spatial context that underpins them. Additionally, GIS has widely been applied to land use suitability analysis and continues to be relevant to this application. There have been various succesful attempts to determine land suitability for urban agriculture using GIS (Akinci et al., 2013; Macchiarolo et al.,2014; La Rosa et al.,2014; Thapa et al. 2008). GIS has allowed for the improved assessment and spatial mapping of the relative hydrological sensitivity within select geographic areas (Rogers, Hiner, 2016 p.45; Agnew et al., 2006). Poverty which is closely linked to food insecurity also tends to have a spatial context, areas of low-income tend to be far more food insecure than areas of higher income (Tarashuk, Mitchell, Dachner, 2016). The benefit of using GIS to address this social problem is that it can be used as a tool to prioritize low-income areas, that will benefit the most from urban agriculture. Moreover, GIS allows these independent factors; income, hydrography and agricultural feasibility, to be analysed cohesively for a specific region.
Purpose of Research
The purpose of our study is to develop a GIS based multi-criteria evaluation model for identifying suitable sites for urban agriculture on vacant lands within urban areas of the Hamilton Census Metropolitan Area (CMA).
1-To identify factors limiting and or influencing the effectiveness of siting urban agriculture in brownfields and vacant lands
2-To develop a GIS-based model to create a suitability map of potential sites for urban agriculture
3-To apply the model to determine optimal vacant brownfield locations within urban areas of Hamilton Ontario for urban agriculture
4-To evaluate the strengths and limitations of the GIS-based urban agriculture siting model