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College of Engineering and Applied Science


A case study of urban agriculture

A life cycle assessment of vegetable production

NSF IGERT PhD Fellow Steve Fisher is researching a sector of urban infrastructure – the food system. His dissertation uses life cycle assessment to answer key sustainability questions to potentially guide future policy decisions regarding urban vegetable production, and planning and spending of infrastructure. The popularity of urban gardening is largely a result of community development, self-gratification, social justice, and food aesthetics, nutrition, and safety. But little is known about the embodied energy and emissions comparison between vegetables grown under scales and origins. Steve is comparing a basket of the top 4 (by caloric value) fresh vegetables consumed by the average American grown conventionally (large scale commercial) with those grown in settings similar to urban backyards (small scale). His post-doctoral interest is in establishing a suite of metrics that characterize urban vegetable gardening, through a vetted process of 1) modeling the urban vegetable gardening system; 2) identifying the players and stakeholders of the system; 3) screening important issues and aspects of these players and stakeholders; 4) develop metrics or indicators for these issues; and 5) qualitatively and quantitatively measure these metrics to guide decision makers and policy makers.

In 2009, he presented the poster “The Potential of Urban Ecosystem Services Performed at Brownfield Sites as Alternatives to Commercial / Residential Real Estate” at the Conference for Sustainability IGERTs 2 (C4SI2). In 2010, Steve presented “The Sustainability of Urban Agriculture Presented Spatially on an Urban and Regional Scale” at the Representing Reality conference, University of Buffalo. Also in 2010, he was co-author on “Sustainability Assessment of Alternate Urban Food Production Regime” at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting. In 2011, Steve presented “Life Cycle Assessment Supporting Policy Regarding Urban Agriculture” at the International Society for Industrial Ecology international conference.


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