Urban agriculture promises to turn city dwellers into hobby or even professional farmers by introducing the concept that food and vegetables can be grown in urban areas. This is a happy development for those of us who live in big cities but still crave elements of a more rural lifestyle or simply want to grow our own herbs!
Growing plants and even raising animals within and around cities, otherwise known as urban agriculture, is becoming increasingly popular so much that is it is now becoming an integral part of the urban system.
What is urban agriculture and what benefits does it come with?
Urban farming is a form of agriculture that is integrated into the urban economic and ecological system as it provides fresh food, employment opportunities, another use for urban waste, while it also helps “green” a city by creating green space and strengthening its resilience to climate change.
Urban agriculture also covers a wide range of activities, from the cultivation of different types of crops such as grains, vegetables, mushrooms and fruits, and rearing animals such as poultry and fish, to the cultivation of non-food products such as aromatic and medicinal herbs or ornamental plants.
Very frequently, the plots of land particularly in peri-urban settings combine the management of crops with that of trees which produce fruit or are used are fuel wood.
The benefits of urban agriculture are multiple but what seems to make urban agriculture so attractive to so many different people is its versatility, the innovative use of space, the personal satisfaction of seeing beautiful green spots in an otherwise grey urban environment, the community spirit often involved for these projects to take-off, as well as the gratification of having created something from scratch.
Among the reasons why people support urban agriculture and are keen to convert spaces to make room for growing are direct benefits to our health through nutrition and stress relief by being surrounded by greenery, help in restoration of impoverished urban centers as well as improved air quality.
There is a further social dimension in that studies report a decrease in crime rates in areas where urban farming is practiced whereas cultivating a relationship with the land helps develop a certain respect towards the earth.
10 Urban farming facts that will inspire you
Here are 10 interesting facts about urban agriculture that will convince you to pick up the nearest spade and start sowing:
#1 Urban farms supply food to about 700 million city dwellers — this is one-quarter of the world’s urban population.
#2 Hunger is still an issue even in developed countries, for example in Europe, there are 30 million undernourished people. Urban agriculture provides an inexpensive source of nutritious food with a lot of urban agriculture plots managed by communities.
#3 Urban agriculture usually yields a more diverse set of crops as urban gardeners often tend to cultivate less common crops and plants, promoting in this way agricultural diversity.
#4 Garden plots can be up to 15 times more productive than rural holdings. An area of just one square meter can provide 20 kg of food each year.
#5 Producers can cut out the middleman, as most food produce from urban agriculture is consumed either by the producer or sold at local food markets by the producer. This means that producers can get a better deal compared to traditional food system structures.
#6 Food grown in our back yard means less transport and refrigeration costs and emissions which is good news for the environment but should also make food grown in urban farms more competitive in many cases.
#7 It creates less food waste as food from urban farm reaches the consumer faster and therefore lasts longer after having been purchased.
#8 Urban agriculture is also usually organic which means the produce is more nutritious compared to products grown in large-scale farms which use pesticides.
#10 Urban agriculture is not just about planting – it can involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry and horticulture!
Many great projects are taking place across the globe from the beehives in New York terraces and the vertical urban farms in London to India’s city gardens in Mumbai. The limitations of growing in an urban environment have led to the clever utilization of what space is available, for example growing on terraces and balconies, or forward-looking innovation techniques such as hydroponic (soil-less) gardening.
Once you read some of the examples of urban agriculture listed below, you might just be tempted to follow suit!
Examples of successful urban agriculture projects
Parisian mushrooms (Paris, France)
If you thought urban agriculture was a new trend, you are in for a surprise. In France, a mushroom variety called the “champignon de Paris”, a variety used to be grown in the catacombs of Paris from 1670 until the early 1960s, when producers moved away from its cultivation due to cheaper imported alternatives.
Almost half a century later, Angel Moioli is reviving what used to be the business of his grandfather at his organic mushroom farm, located in the area of Montesson, just a short Métro ride from the city’s financial center .
Sharing backyards (throughout Canada, U.S., New Zealand)
In urban environments, people are lucky if they own even just a bit of land to use as a garden. More often than not, even if citizens want to cultivate something they don’t have access to the land needed to do so.
The initiative of Sharing Backyards offers a solution as it pairs up people who lack a yard but want to grow their own food with those that have one but are not using it.
The platform’s technology which matches people up is available for free and so the initiative has now rolled out throughout Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. What is more, Sharing Backyards offers support and information-sharing to help people start and maintain a community garden .
Sky greens (Singapore)
Singapore grows around seven percent of its own vegetables, a rather low percentage even for a small country. The idea behind Sky Greens was therefore to find an efficient way of growing local food.
In fact, when it was first launched Sky Greens was the world’s first low-carbon hydraulic water-driven urban vertical farm that required both less energy consumption and land compared to traditional agriculture.
Based within a greenhouse, Sky Greens has a three story-high vertical system for cultivating food which means that it can produce five to ten times more food per unit area compared to conventional farms.
What is more, cause of the low carbon technology of its operation, lettuces and cabbages can be grown throughout the year using less energy and water .
Urban roots (Glasgow, UK)
Community projects are also a way to get urban agriculture going in different cities. In the case of Glasgow, a highly industrialized city in the past, Urban roots is made up of three community gardens where a wide range of produce such as salads, peas, beans, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, kale, broccoli and cabbage.
This is particularly important for the city are previously industrialized areas are now vacant. Having community gardens means that this land can be given a new purpose. Over 40 volunteers help to grow the produce and each is allowed to take a bag of vegetables for free; the rest is sold locally.
The project has been a great success, so much so, that they have now acquired an apiary and will be soon making their own honey .
GrowUp urban farms (London, UK)
Most people wouldn’t think you can combine aquaculture with agriculture particularly in an urban environment. But this myth has been completely dispelled by the work of London-based aquaponics enterprise GrowUp Urban Farms, which produces fish, salads and herbs in unused city spaces.
Housed in an industrial warehouse in east London, this innovative urban agriculture business combined the principles of hydroponics and aquaculture into a closed loop system.
Water is pumped into the fish tanks along with fish food and then this nutrient rich wastewater from the fish tanks is fed directly to the roots of the plants helping them grow. The plants then purify the water which can then be sent back to the fish tank so that the loop can start again.
This is a low energy and water use system that is both good environmentally but promises to produce high yields. Annual production is estimated at 20 tons of greens and herbs (enough for 200,000 salad bags) and 4 tons of tilapia .
Indoor apartment farming DIY for everyone
We know that not everyone or every urban area has space that would be available to produce food. And what about those who live in a temperate climate where it is challenging to grow vegetables outside during the cold times of the year?
The answer to these problems may lie in growing some of your own vegetables indoors. While growing vegetables inside may not be the first thing that you think of when it comes to growing your own food, it is actually easier than you might think.
Read on to learn some great tips about how you can grow your own vegetables indoors!
5 tips on how to grow your favorite vegetables indoors
- Choose plants that are appropriate for indoor conditions
Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and kale grow well inside, can take partial shade, and can do well in containers. Many herbs like oregano, parsley, and basil are also pretty hardy and don’t require much care. Some smaller, fast-growing varieties of radishes, and smaller varieties of peppers and tomatoes are ideal for growing in containers and can be adapted for growing indoors.
- Help them to see the light
While some vegetable plants like leafy greens can do well in the partial shade conditions of your home, others, such as tomatoes and peppers require more direct light than many windowsill environments can provide.
Vegetable and herb plants require 6-8 hours of “sunlight,” so it may be necessary to use grow lights to ensure that these plants get enough light each day for optimal growth. Be sure to check seed packets or growing instructions for your vegetable plants to determine their optimal growing conditions.
Be cautious if you have drafty windows, as this can lead to too much stress for warm-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers, especially when the weather is very cold outside. A south-facing window is usually the best place to grow plants for the most sunlight.
- Give them a good home
Pots and other containers should provide enough room for when your vegetable plants are fully grown and for sufficient drainage to keep the soil from becoming water-logged and rotting the roots. Hanging baskets can be used for some vegetable plants like tomatoes in front of windows that have lots of light. A stake or a trellis may be needed for some vegetable plants to provide them with adequate support as they grow vertically.
- Consider growing indoor-friendly plants year-round
Some plants are especially a good fit to grow indoors and don’t require much space. Microgreens and sprouts can easily be grown on a windowsill and provide many nutritional benefits. Herbs are especially easy to grow indoors in containers, and some varieties of herbs even allow for several plants to be grown in the same pot together, maximizing your indoor growing space.
Many mushroom species are easily grown indoors, and provide a plethora of health and culinary benefits. Home indoor organic mushroom growing kits can now be easily purchased online, and for those who wish to learn and cultivate their own culinary and medicinal mushrooms indoors using mushroom mycelium, there are many companies and courses that offer such resources.
- Watering and fertilizing
Indoor vegetable plants should be watered as you would water any vegetable plants in an outdoor garden outside, keeping the soil moist, but not overly wet. Beware that indoor air may be drier in the wintertime in temperate climates due to home heating systems.
Plants that are grown inside will grow at a slower rate than outdoor plants, and therefore require less fertilizing. Adding compost to your soil is always a great way to provide great nutrition to your plants when it is periodically needed.
Suggested vegetable plant varieties for indoor growing (but just a place to start!)
Tomatoes: Many varieties can be grown inside, especially in hanging baskets, including “Hundreds & Thousands”, “Muskoka”, and “Garden Pearl”, which grow well in hanging baskets.
Radishes: The following varieties can grow well in almost any container: “Early Scarlet Globe”, “Cherry Belle”, and “Pink Beauty” do well indoors and are fast growing.
Beans: Running beans, such as “Dwarf French Beans”, grow very well indoors. You will need to provide a small trellis for them to climb onto a window as they grow.
Urban agriculture has most certainly made a come-back and it can deliver numerous benefits to those living in urban areas. This is a space to watch out for as more urban farming enthusiasts put their skills to the test by growing their own food and expanding their agricultural ventures. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the idea of reaping the fruits of their own labor?