June 13, 2022 -- The FEW-meter project draws to a close - sort of.
The international FEW-meter project is slowly drawing to a close - but there's a whole lot of work still to do with the fabulous dataset that the project generated. Three years after I arrived at Michigan, the FEW-meter dataset has become the center of my dissertation - and the folks I've worked with on that project have taught me so much about research and life. So on the occasion of the final report going public, it seems like a good time to revisit - what is the FEW-meter project and why does it matter for my work?
The FEW-meter is an international collaboration of universities and non-profit organizations in the US, UK, Germany, Poland, and France. The project was funded as part of a Food-Energy-Water nexus program co-sponsored by the US National Science Foundation and research councils across Europe. Put simply, the goal of the project was to figure out what went into and what came out of urban farms and gardens. While there have been hundreds of case studies around the world, no research to-date had holistically assessed the food, energy, water, and social impacts of urban agriculture across contexts. I joined the project about a year and a half in, as data collection was just wrapping up for the first year. Most of our work has ended up being based on that first year (2019), since the subsequent data collection season (April-November 2020) was disrupted for... obvious reasons.
So what did we collect? Basically, we tried to assess all of the materials inputs and outputs of the farms and gardens, as well as the social and health impacts for the folks involved. To do this, we worked with farmers and gardeners on about 80 different case study sites to track their water and inputs use as well as their harvests - this was the citizen science part of the project. Researchers also collected data on the infrastructure present on each case study site, as well as conducting two different surveys of farmers, gardeners, and land managers. Put together, this allowed us to understand what we call the Food-Energy-Water-People nexus that captures urban agriculture's impacts on cities, citizens, and sustainability (Caputo et al., 2020).
There are all sorts of research opportunities enabled by a dataset of this size, and we have already published on the social impacts and the cost-benefit of one farm. We're also working to prepare an analysis of the water, nutrient, and food inputs and outputs in the case studies, which should be submitted this summer. Among other things, we're learning that urban gardening seems to really break most clearly into two categories - individually-managed gardens and collective farms or gardens (community or commercial). Most other distinctions seem to break down at one point or another.
Among the future directions for FEW-meter is my dissertation. I am extending the FEW-meter work in two important ways. First, I am working with Ben Goldstein at McGill to lead a life cycle assessment of the food produced on our farms and gardens. This will be by far the largest urban agriculture LCA to-date, and it will serve to help answer the question of if these sort of low-input, substrate-based facilities can help to lower cities' carbon footprint. Second, I am conducting a scaling assessment of urban agriculture in each of the five countries, focusing on the potential role of urban ag in New York City, London, Paris, Nantes, Dortmund, and Gorzow Wlkp (Poland). To execute this, I am leaning on urban metabolism literature, integrating spatial assessment and theory from geography with methods and flows tracking from industrial ecology. Lots more to come on both these projects, as they'll form the core of my dissertation.
In the meantime, check out the FEW-meter final report, which summarizes some of the major implications of our work!
You can also learn more about the FEW-meter project in the framework paper (Caputo et al., 2020), which I co-authored last year.
Other information and more publications from the project are discussed on the Urban Agriculture page of this site.
Caputo, S., Schoen, V., Specht, K., Grard, B., Blythe, C., Cohen, N., Fox-Kämper, R., Hawes, J., Newell, J., & Poniży, L. (2020). Applying the Food-Energy-Water Nexus approach to urban agriculture: From FEW to FEWP (Food-Energy-Water-People). Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 126934. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2020.126934