Traditional farming methods are productive, but are they sustainable? Urban agriculture could be the future of sustainable farming as it can turn previously unproductive landscapes into productive gardens and habitats for animals in an otherwise uninhabitable environment. Empty lots, rooftops, side yards adjacent to buildings and even window sills are all examples of transformable landscapes. Urban Agriculture is a dynamic concept that makes up a variety of systems, ranging from subsistence production at the household level to fully commercialized agriculture. A growing number of cities and countries are recognizing the importance of urban agriculture and are developing new policies related to the practice.
A specific example of urban farming has recently gained some attention. Window Farming, a trend developing mostly in New York City (but spreading world-wide) takes a “Do-it-Yourself” approach to urban farming. Britta Riley, 33, developed the idea of vertical, hydroponic platforms for growing food indoors. The window farms use a pumping system that periodically sends a liquid nutrient solution up to the top which then trickles down through the plants root systems that are suspended in clay pellets – that is, no soil is involved. She allowed this idea to be publicly tested through online social platforms where 18,000 people now contribute to innovative new design ideas for the system. This has allowed window farming to evolve as an open-source project, growing off of ideas from specialists around the world.
Another practice of urban farming is similar in concept, but a bit more commercialized. Instead of farmers spreading out across acres and acres of land, this type of farming suggests the future growth of crops such as lettuce and strawberries will be a bit more vertical. The concept behind vertical farming is that it will require less land and less water, while also providing year-round light and climate control. It is believed that this method of farming can produce a yield up to 350 times greater than traditional agriculture while using only 1 percent of the water. A pioneer in the vertical farming world, Ed Harwood, developed Aero Farms Systems which goes further than hydroponics, using 70 percent less water (hydroponics uses approximately 70 percent less water than traditional farming). Harwood was able to develop an ideal, soilless medium for the growth of his crops using an artificial fabric he created himself out of fibres from recycled plastic water bottles (something he later patented). Aero Farms takes abandoned buildings in the greater NYC area, some abandoned factories, warehouses, etc., cleans them out and fills them with grow towers. These towers contain L.E.D. light systems in order to allow the plants to photosynthesize. He eventually shifted from selling the grow towers versus selling the crops and was able to prosper while providing parts of NYC with sustainable and locally grown produce.
Looking to the future, it is hard to ignore the fact that the world is going to be (or already is) overpopulated. Why can’t plants live on multiple levels, just as human beings do? Socially, urban agriculture can help bring families and communities together by working toward a common goal, giving direct links to food production, creating better living environments, giving people more independent empowerment over their food production, combating hunger, and educating people who have been increasingly removed from food production, to participate in and realize the importance of it in our society. Economically, urban agriculture has the potential to create jobs and income from otherwise unproductive space, be inclusive of people from all incomes and financial background, promote growth in the local economy, and make use of valuable resources that would otherwise go to waste in a city (such as compost from food scraps). Environmentally, urban agriculture is beneficial in cleaning up local air and rain water, preventing erosion and topsoil removal, decreasing the local carbon footprint, lessening the use of water in farming, and in some cases recycling materials that would otherwise go to waste such as plastic bottles.
Policy goals associated with urban agriculture consist of poverty alleviation, food security, environmental and waste management, local economic development, social and community development, and community adaptation to climate change. With the cooperation from local governments in urban areas across the globe, this form of agriculture could be vital to pushing towards sustainable development in the future.
Do you think there is hope in urban agriculture? What sort of problems might be associated with this type of agriculture and how do we overcome them? What is policy’s relation with urban agriculture and how can we shape policy to favor it? Would any of you be willing to grow your own food in the future?