In this interactive game from WGBH, players learn about sustainable practices by growing crops, protecting them against unforeseen problems, and determining how best to conserve resources.
City Farm is a computer-based interactive game with several goals. One is to understand what is meant by sustainable farming practices, such as conserving water, improving soil health, and avoiding the use of toxic chemicals). Another goal is to help students understand a plant's life cycle from seed to sprout to flower to fruit. Because the game imposes problems on the gardens (e.g., drought), students increase their awareness of the impact of climatic factors such as temperature and rainfall and limiting factors such as nutrients and water. The game also highlights humanity's dependence on plants, the interactions between organisms such as crops, insects, birds, disease-causing microorganisms, and weeds, and our place in the food chain. Finally, the game also shows an urban garden as a complex, dynamic system, with inputs, outputs, and interacting parts and processes (e.g., the gardener, soil, crops, nutrients, water, insects, weather, and community.)
This game can be played in about 10 minutes or so, but benefits from replay. Teachers may consider having students repeat the game after discussing initial outcomes. Because it is a game, City Farm is ideal for after-school settings or as a homework assignment.
Playing City Farm
As in real-life farming, a student playing City Farm has to be on top of a myriad of details in order to succeed. And sometimes, natural events beyond one’s control can still undermine even the best planning. Nevertheless, the idea in City Farm is to have students weigh the risks, options, and variables and develop a plan that can meet the game’s objectives by the end of the fifth season. But should a student get frustrated or discouraged along the way, it is useful to know some strategies that are more likely to succeed. Here are some ideas to suggest to help a student who is struggling to meet the targets:
Everyone knows that foods like vegetables, grains, meat, and fruits are grown or raised on farms. Most of us, however, get our food from a grocery store rather than from a garden or farm. If a refrigerator or supermarket is our main experience of food, then it is easy to think that food is always plentiful and instantly available. Urban gardening—in backyard gardens, small-scale community gardens, and larger-scale urban farms—undercuts this common misconception, helping people realize that food takes time, care, and resources to produce.
About 15 percent of the world's food is grown in urban areas. Around the world, and increasingly in the United States, you can find people raising vegetables and livestock in backyards, along roadsides, in vacant lots, and on rooftops and balconies. Urban farming offers the obvious benefit of providing fresh produce, eggs, and meat to people in cities. In fact, urban farms and gardens are one way that communities in some cities cope with a problem known as "food deserts."
A food desert is an area that has few grocery stores, and where the food choices are limited and often inferior (e.g., junk, highly processed, or "fast" foods). Food access can affect health. For example, people living in food deserts suffer cardiovascular disease at nearly twice the rate of people who have access to well-stocked food stores. In Chicago, about 13 percent of its 3 million residents live in areas considered to be food deserts. To supply its residents with fresh food, the city is actively promoting urban gardening and has helped convert vacant lots, parklands, and rooftops to gardens and urban farms.
Local food production offers numerous other benefits, too. For example, locally grown food requires little or no shipping, which greatly reduces its carbon footprint. The Food Climate Research Network has determined that transportation (i.e., fossil fuels burnt by ships, trucks, and planes) accounts for roughly 12 percent of the carbon emissions generated in the overall food-production chain (i.e., growing, packaging, shipping, and marketing).
Urban farms and gardens also transform vacant lots into urban oases. Abandoned lots get cleaned up. Soil is improved. Cool pockets of lush vegetation counterbalance areas dominated by concrete, brick, and asphalt. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And the community gains park-like gathering places. This social dimension is significant. Urban gardens often function as outdoor community centers and forums for discussing local issues. Many studies show community gardens to be a galvanizing force, giving a community a new sense of identity and fostering a spirit of goodwill. The neighbor-to-neighbor conversations build connections and can spark action on issues of common concern. At another level, urban gardeners often connect with other urban gardeners, creating a support network. This network can help them strategize solutions to problems, learn about sustainable practices and helpful innovations, and develop joint purchasing and marketing strategies.
Finally, plants are sometimes described as "windows" into the natural world. They can teach us about climate, what living things require, the interactions between organisms, and our own connections to the natural world. For example, being intimately connected to food production helps people understand their place in the food chain. It underscores how our survival is directly tied to natural resources, such as sunlight, soil quality, and water. Gardening also promotes a sense of stewardship, with people protecting local resources, adopting sustainable practices, and finding ways to improve the land.
At first glance, urban gardening seems to be about nutrition and food production. But urban gardening offers a multitude of additional benefits. It also contributes to people’s economic, environmental, political, social, spiritual, family, and community lives.
© 2014 PBS & WGBH Educational Foundation. All rights reserved.