Urban planning and food (6) Madrid, potatoes and the Retiro Park


The Retiro park, in central Madrid, as substituted by farmland in the region, at the same scale

After seeing what happens in several cities, a look at Madrid. Data from the Regional Statistical Institute shows that for five crops relevant to the average urban diet (wheat, corn, potatoes and olives), cultivation surfaces have diminished considerably, but for olive trees. Output has also shrinked in several cases, but following more erratic patterns (agriculture being an economic activity, farmers plant according to their benefit expectations). Productions by hectare usually have risen.


Production in metric tons by hectare in the Madrid region for selected crops

Overall, over an hectare (2,5 acres), the average for the last 25 years shows that you can grow:

  • 2,24 metric tons of wheat or
  • 9,75 metric tons of corn or
  • 25,08 metric tons of potatoes
  • 2,56 metric tons of grapes or
  • 0,5 metric tons of olives

The Retiro Park in central Madrid  is slightly over 100 hectares, a figure that I will use to simplify. If the Retiro was to be entirely used for cultivation (this is just a mind game, by no means a proposition…), each of the 1.075.000 inhabitants of central Madrid (area covered by the Proyecto Madrid Centro) could eat, for each harvest:

  • 208 grams of wheat or
  • 907 grams of corn or
  • 2,33 kg of potatoes or
  • 230 grams of grapes or
  • 46 grams of olives

Even if some experiences have shown that urban agriculture can be more productive than current agriculture methods, it is also true that the qualities of the Retiro soils for agriculture should be assessed…

Rephrasing the argument, for each sq meter (some 10 sq ft) of urban farms, and according to these figures, in Madrid you would get:

  • 224 grams of wheat or
  • 975 grams of corn or
  • 2,5 kg of potatoes or
  • 256 grams of grapes or
  • 50 grams of olives

This doesn’t mean that urban agriculture has no sense in Madrid, but that its real production capacity must well assessed, and that it is important to understand that its benefits are not only in food production, encompassing also social and environmental aspects.

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