Whether it be in community gardens, in windowsills or on rooftops - more and more people are growing food in cities. We’re not just talking community gardens and allotments, but the rise of large-scale urban agriculture. Is this the future?
As the trend grows, innovative ideas have become more creative. The concept of vertical farming, for instance, proposes the growing of food in urban tower blocks. The need for soil would be further eliminated by growing plants hydroponically (in liquid) or aeroponically (in the air), hence creating a closed irrigation system that would drastically reduce the need for any external resources.
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In developing countries, the urban farming trend has emerged as a result of various pressures, including water and food shortages. Governments and private sponsors have been supporting such farming projects across countries such as Colombia, Cuba and Egypt.
Various social benefits can be reaped from urban farming, including job creations neighbourhood regeneration and a general improvement in food quality.
Meanwhile the developed world has embraced urban farming as a counterbalance to mass production and general agricultural excesses like pesticides and transport, all of which come at high environmental as well as health costs. In regions like North America, the trend has found solid footing with many rooftop farms found in metropolitan hubs like New York City. The Brooklyn Grange, for instance, produces almost 23,000 kg of organic produce a year, whilst the world’s largest urban farm recently opened in Chicago. Meanwhile, the UK has also been heavily investing in such innovative structures: a prime example being Farm Urban in Liverpool, which uses leftover land to create a symbiotic hydroponic irrigation system that nourishes both plants and fish. A zoo in Devon, for instance, has created a hydroponic garden that provides food for its animals. Not only does this controlled irrigation system reduce transport costs, but only takes up 1000 square feet in the greenhouse - a twentieth of the space of a field. Other industrialised countries like Japan have been making use of old factory sites and re-invigorated them to become vertical farms: a former Sony plant, for instance, now produces 10,000 heads of lettuce a day.
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While urban farming is undoubtedly on the up, it is still uncertain whether this alternative form of agriculture will be able to provide sustainable food supplies or incomes to those growing the food. A recent study in the British Food Journal showed that roughly two-thirds of self-identified urban farmers operating in the US were struggling to make a living from farming by itself. Making a profit seems to play a secondary role, with most urban farmers citing community development and increased food security as their priorities. These monetary limitations may be a good thing, allowing urban farmers to cater to community needs and target social issues through their innovation. By regenerating local spaces, the quality of life for many city-dwellers can be improved by such local initiatives.
Although the future of urban farming is uncertain in terms of mass production that could be comparable to traditional agriculture, the benefits of such localised initiatives holds a lot of promise, allowing for a more community-driven environment and an improved food consciousness that can only be beneficial to us.