Freeways and Farms – How Urban Farming Flourishes Despite Roadway Pollution

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MTI research finds nearby roadways have little to no impact on urban farming experiences
August 31, 2020

SAN JOSÉ, CA – September 1, 2020 – Freeways, roads, surface streets and other public throughways represent vital arteries for travel around cities, but despite complex road networks, fresh, locally-grown food often remains inaccessible near cities. To inspire city planners to consider the benefits of creative space-allocation in growing cities, Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) researchers conducted a case study that explored the relationship between urban roadways and two urban farms in the San Jose Metropolitan area. This study, Freeways and Farms: Veggielution and Taylor Farms Urban Street Study, focused on how nearby roadways impact the experiences of urban farm users.


Urban agricultural sites provide a host of services nationwide. These include food production, energy savings, and nitrogen sequestration, thus contributing $33 billion to the economy each year. Locally, urban gardeners are motivated by community and wellness, indicating that their participation results in local food provision, opportunities for social interaction, civic engagement, and learning opportunities.

“The act of learning about agriculture with the intent of teaching others how to grow their own food—to help others to be able to care for themselves and enjoy the benefits of healthy food options without having to commute too far—fulfills [a] desire to use energy and efforts for the benefit of others,” explains principal investigator Dr. Joshua Baur after reviewing the volunteers’ responses.

With urban populations in the Bay Area booming to what the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) predicts will be 9 million by 2040, the need to make affordable and healthy food options available to urban inhabitants is paramount. This case study employed qualitative research methods by interviewing staff and volunteers at the two farms. The study ultimately demonstrates the viability of urban farms despite nearby roadways that might impact volunteer farmers’ experiences.

Additional findings from participant interviews are as follows:

  • Respondents expressed little or no concern or dissatisfaction resulting from a disparity between actual and expected experiences at the farm sites (i.e. nearby roadway noise and odors were found to have little to no impact);
  • Respondents repeatedly expressed their motivation for participation as the need to 1) do something meaningful, 2) connect to others, and 3) connect to nature.

Cities and surrounding regions in Santa Clara would struggle without the network of public roadways that facilitate the movement of goods and people daily, and yet, urban farming has been and continues to be a contributor to city resident’s health and well-being. Urban development limits space for food production and other ecosystem services, and creative allocations of space for uses other than development are becoming increasingly important.

Urban farms can serve as resources for healthy food options and contribute to local ecosystem services with direct benefits for city dwellers, such as providing space for outdoor leisure activities in otherwise heavily urbanized locations. Because these farms bring fresh food to urban communities, individuals do not have to endure long commutes to retrieve healthy food. The farms also mean the produce itself does not have to travel as far, thereby reducing the greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation. Overall urban open spaces, especially those that are not ideally suited to other commercial or residential uses (e.g., small patches of land abutting a freeway) could be developed for agricultural uses that provide more than just produce for a community.


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. MTI was founded in 1991 and is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

Dr. Joshua Baur is an MTI Research Associate and assistant professor and Recreation Degree coordinator at San Jose State University. Ashley Estrada is an MTI research assistant and graduate student completing her master’s degree in Applied Anthropology at San Jose State University.

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Irma Garcia,
MTI Communications and Operations Manager
O: 408-924-7560

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