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Urban Farming: The Latest Architecture and News

Framlab Imagines Modular Vertical Urban Farms on the Streets of Brooklyn

5 months ago

Framlab Imagines Modular Vertical Urban Farms on the Streets of Brooklyn, Courtesy of Framlab
Courtesy of Framlab

Framlab, an innovation studio based in Bergen and New York City has created Glasir, a community-based system for urban farming. The proposed modular structure relies on aeroponic growth systems to provide local products.

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How the Dutch Use Architecture to Feed the World

6 months ago

How the Dutch Use Architecture to Feed the World, © Tom Hegen
© Tom Hegen

The Netherlands is the world’s second-biggest exporter of agricultural products. This is remarkable when one considers that the only country which tops the Netherlands, the United States, is 237 times bigger in land area. Nevertheless, the Netherlands exported almost $100 billion in agricultural goods in 2017 alone, as well as $10 billion in agriculture-related products. The secret to the Netherlands’ success lies in the use of architectural innovation to reimagine what an agricultural landscape can look like.

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How to Incorporate Gardens in Home Design

6 months ago

How to Incorporate Gardens in Home Design, © Adria Goula
© Adria Goula

Indoor gardens can contribute important benefits to home living, ranging from aesthetic beauty to improved health and productivity. Research has shown that indoor plants help eliminate indoor air pollutants called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that emanate from adhesives, furnishings, clothing, and solvents, and are known to cause illnesses. They also increase subjective perceptions of concentration and satisfaction, as well as objective measures of productivity. Indoor gardens may even reduce energy use and costs because of the reduced need for air circulation. These benefits complement the obvious aesthetic advantages of a well-designed garden, making the indoor garden an attractive residential feature on several fronts.

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How Can Cities Help and Be Helped by Bees

11 months ago

How Can Cities Help and Be Helped by Bees, Cortesia de COOKFOX
Cortesia de COOKFOX

Food production is directly reliant on bees, and their disappearance could lead to catastrophic effects on humanity. There are alarming reports all over the internet about how these little insects are dying. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 75% of the world’s food crops rely on bees. For example, it is only possible to have a juicy and well-developed strawberry if dozens of bees go by the flower at the right time and pollinate it. Without them, it would look more like a raisin.

Using Aqueducts as Lifelines for the Future of Cairo

about a year ago

Using Aqueducts as Lifelines for the Future of Cairo, © Islam El Mashtooly & Mouaz Abouzaid
© Islam El Mashtooly & Mouaz Abouzaid

Dubai Based architects Islam El Mashtooly and Mouaz Abouzaid along with Steven Velegrinis, Drew Gilbert & Abdelrahman Magdy have unveiled “LifeLines,” their vision for the future of Cairo. Centered on the idea of connecting people with water, a series of lines and paths are laid over the city to serve as a catalyst for development.

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Urban Farming: Food Production in Community Parks and Private Gardens

about a year ago

Urban Farming: Food Production in Community Parks and Private Gardens, Casa Torre / Andrew Maynard Architects. Image © Peter Bennetts
Casa Torre / Andrew Maynard Architects. Image © Peter Bennetts

As urban dwellers become more aware of the environmental impacts of food production and transportation, as well as the origin and security of what they consume, urban agriculture is bound to grow and attract public and political eyes. Bringing food production closer, in addition to being sustainable, is pedagogical. However, generally with small size and other restrictions, the concerns of growing food in cities differ somewhat from traditional farming.

Urban gardens can occupy a multitude of places and have varied scales – window sills and balconies, slabs and vacant lots, courtyards of schools, public parks and even unlikely places, such as subway tunnels. They can also be communitarian or private. Whatever the case, it is important to consider some variables:

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IKEA and Tom Dixon Explore Urban Farming with “Gardening Will Save the World”

about a year ago

IKEA and Tom Dixon Explore Urban Farming with "Gardening Will Save the World", © Tom Dixon
© Tom Dixon

Tom Dixon and IKEA have developed “Gardening Will Save The World,” an experiment in urban farming to be exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show in London. Exploring the contrast of the hyper-natural and hyper-tech, the garden offers ideas in alternative, local, and more sustainable ways of growing food.

Vincent Callebaut Architectures Reveals Tribute to Notre-Dame with Rooftop Farm

about a year ago

Vincent Callebaut Architectures Reveals Tribute to Notre-Dame with Rooftop Farm, © Vincent Callebaut Architectures
© Vincent Callebaut Architectures

Vincent Callebaut Architectures has unveiled images of their tribute to Notre-Dame Cathedral following the fire that badly damaged the historic structure. A transcendent project that forms a symbol of a resilient and ecological future, the project is inspired by biomimicry and a common ethic for a fairer symbiotic relationship between humans and nature.

Construction of MVRDV’s Landscaped Food Market Begins in Taiwan

about a year ago

Construction of MVRDV's Landscaped Food Market Begins in Taiwan, The Tainan Xinhua Fruit and Vegetable Market elevates a prosaic part of the supply chain into a place for the public to experience food . Image © MVRDV
The Tainan Xinhua Fruit and Vegetable Market elevates a prosaic part of the supply chain into a place for the public to experience food . Image © MVRDV

MVRDV has broken ground on a wholesale market for fruit and vegetables in TainanTaiwan. Defined by a terraced, accessible green roof, the open-air market will serve as both an important hub in Taiwan’s supply chain, and a destination for meeting, socializing, and taking in views of the surrounding landscape.

Named the “Tainan Xinhua Fruit and Vegetable Market,” the MVRDV scheme transforms an often-prosaic aspect of the food industry into a public experience of food and nature. Located in a strategic position between the city and mountains, with good public transport links, the scheme sits at a convenient node for traders, buyers, and visitors.

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Studio NAB designs a Floating Urban Farming Tower for Future Cities

about a year ago

Studio NAB designs a Floating Urban Farming Tower for Future Cities, © Studio NAB
© Studio NAB

Studio NAB has released details of their proposed Superfarm project, a six-story exercise in indoor urban farming that “focuses its production on the culture of foods with a high nutritional value.” The project is founded on the principles of pragmatic implementation, high-yielding foods, reducing health risks, promoting short circuits, reviving economies, energy self-sufficiency.

The scheme is a response to the projections that by 2050, 80% of the earth’s population will live in urban centers, demanding an area of farmland 20% more than is represented by the country of Brazil. By moving farm systems indoors, Superfarm represents an “ecological transition” that is resilient, human-sensitive, and technologically advanced.

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The Trends that Will Influence Architecture in 2019

about a year ago

The Trends that Will Influence Architecture in 2019, © Alberto Cosi. ImageBamboo Sports Hall for Panyaden International School / Chiangmai Life Construction
© Alberto Cosi. ImageBamboo Sports Hall for Panyaden International School / Chiangmai Life Construction

It is, once again, the time of year where we look towards the future to define the goals and approaches that we will take for our careers throughout the upcoming year. To help the millions of architects who visit ArchDaily every day from all over the world, we compiled a list of the most popular ideas of 2018, which will continue to be developed and consolidated throughout 2019.

Over 130 million users discovered new references, materials, and tools in 2018 alone, infusing their practice of architecture with the means to improve the quality of life for our cities and built spaces. As users demonstrated certain affinities and/or demonstrated greater interest in particular topics, these emerged as trends. 

Semaphore: an Ecological Utopia Proposed by Vincent Callebaut

2 years ago

Semaphore: an Ecological Utopia Proposed by Vincent Callebaut, Courtesy of Vincent Callebaut Architectures
Courtesy of Vincent Callebaut Architectures

In a design proposal for Soprema’s new company headquarters in StrasbourgFranceVincent Callebaut Architectures envisions an 8,225 square-meter ecological utopia. The building, called Semaphore, is described in the program as a “green flex office for nomad co-workers” and is dedicated to urban agriculture and employee well-being.

An eco-futuristic building, Semaphore is inspired by biomimicry and intended as a poetic landmark, as well as aiming to serve as a showcase for Soprema’s entire range of insulation, waterproofing, and greening products. The design is an ecological prototype of the green city of the future, working to achieve a symbiosis between humans and nature.

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IKEA and Tom Dixon Collaborate to Design Products for Urban Farming

2 years ago

IKEA and Tom Dixon Collaborate to Design Products for Urban Farming, © IKEA
© IKEA

IKEA and Tom Dixon have collaborated to investigate the future of urban farming, “making homes the new farmland.” In an upcoming entry to the Chelsea Flower Show, the UK’s most popular landscape event, the team will share their first ideas on how “affordable, forward-thinking solutions can be used to grow plants and vegetables at home and beyond.”

The ethos behind the collaboration is to celebrate food as a crucial part of everyday life, and inspiring a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. Identifying the potential savings in transport miles, water usage, and food waste, the team will use IKEA’s democratic design principles to “develop affordable, sustainable food farming and consumption within our homes and urban communities.”

Call for Ideas: Urban Meal Mine, London

2 years ago

Call for Ideas: Urban Meal Mine, London, How will you bring farms to the city?
How will you bring farms to the city?

1. Abstract:
Food is one of the most fundamental elements of human existence. Looking back, the way we produce, store and consume food has evolved greatly. Humans have thrived because our ancestors learnt how to gather, produce and consume food, all with their bare hands. And mankind has sustained due to these crucial elements of knowledge passed through generations. With industrialization came mass production, and with mass production came an influx of consumers – who started paying instead. Skills and crafts related to agriculture and food production are now mostly obsolete in the urbane environment. Mass consumerism through supermarkets and even

Henning Larsen Brings Canals and Rooftop Farming to Brussels in Competition-Winning Masterplan

2 years ago

Courtesy of Henning Larsen
Courtesy of Henning Larsen

Danish firm Henning Larsen has released images of their competition-winning Key West urban development, seeking to revitalize a socio-economically challenged area of the Belgian capital Brussels. Developed in collaboration with A2RC Architects, the masterplan aims to balance urban and recreational life along the Brussels Canal Zone through a combination of housing, schools, urban farming, and a market hall.

Like many European cities, Brussels is moving towards a post-industrial economy, giving new opportunities to old industrial areas such as the Canal Zone. The Henning Larsen redevelopment seeks to remodel the area as an urban center, tying the urban areas west of the canal to central Brussels.

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Ilimelgo Reimagines Future of Urban Agriculture in Romainville

3 years ago

Ilimelgo Reimagines Future of Urban Agriculture in Romainville , Courtesy of Ilimelgo
Courtesy of Ilimelgo

In their winning competition entry, French architecture firm Ilimelgo reimagines the future of urban agriculture with a vertical farming complex in the Parisian suburb of Romainville. The project integrates production of produce into the city through a 1000 square meter greenhouse that maximizes sunlight and natural ventilation. Recognizing the developing world’s diminishing agricultural space, the project aims to meet the growing demands for crop cultivation in urban environments.

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Sasaki Unveils Design for Sunqiao, a 100-Hectare Urban Farming District in Shanghai

3 years ago

Sasaki Unveils Design for Sunqiao, a 100-Hectare Urban Farming District in Shanghai, Courtesy of Sasaki
Courtesy of Sasaki

With nearly 24 million inhabitants to feed and a decline in the availability and quality of agricultural land, the Chinese megacity of Shanghai is set to realize the Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District, a 100-hectare masterplan designed by US-based firm Sasaki Associates. Situated between Shanghai’s main international airport and the city center, Sunqiao will introduce large-scale vertical farming to the city of soaring skyscrapers. While primarily responding to the growing agricultural demand in the region, Sasaki’s vision goes further, using urban farming as a dynamic living laboratory for innovation, interaction, and education.

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Toronto’s Urban Farming Residence Will Bridge the Gap Between Housing and Agriculture

3 years ago

Toronto’s Urban Farming Residence Will Bridge the Gap Between Housing and Agriculture, Courtesy of Curated Properties
Courtesy of Curated Properties

With the ever-expanding global population, cities around the world today are caught in the midst of mass urbanization; the resultant problems are the topic of much of the current architectural discourse. From these trends stems the challenges of providing adequate amounts of both housing and urban green space, and by extension, providing adequate food production. In order to address this divide, Toronto will soon be home to The Plant – a mixed-use community revolving around sustainable residential urban farming and social responsibility in the Queen Street West neighborhood.

“It might seem extreme, but we orientated this entire project around our connection to food,” says Curated Properties partner Gary Eisen, one of the developers involved in the project. “It’s our guiding principle and the result is a building that lives and breathes and offers a better quality of life to the people who will live and work here. The Plant is a community that fits with the foodie culture that has come to define Queen West.”

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New York City Urban Agriculture

Agriculture has deep roots in New York City, and a wide range of agricultural uses continue to make the city a more sustainable, livable, and equitable place. NYC Urban Agriculture is a portal created by the Department of City Planning, NYC Parks, and the Department of Small Business Services to inform businesses, property owners, and the public at large about agriculture in New York City. Agricultural uses include personal gardening, community gardening, commercial farming, indoor farming such as hydroponics and aquaponics, rooftop greenhouses, and more. The website serves as a resource to learn about initiatives and programs related to gardening and agriculture, as well as rules and regulations that pertain to agriculture.

The NYC Urban Agriculture website is provided by the City of New York solely for informational purposes to summarize key elements of New York City programs and regulations that relate to agricultural production and sales, and it is not intended to serve as a substitute for the NYC Zoning Resolution and the rules and regulations of NYC Parks. The City makes no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained on the website or its suitability for any purpose. The City disclaims any liability for any errors and shall not be responsible for any damages, consequential or actual, arising out of or in connection with the use of this information.Vegetables and herbs growing in aquaponics system at Oko Farms in Brooklyn, NYC. Courtesy of Department of City Planning.Vegetables and herbs growing in aquaponics system at Oko Farms in Brooklyn, NYC. Courtesy of Department of City Planning.

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Urban Farming in Uganda

Urban farming, the practice of growing fruits and vegetables on small plots in towns and cities, has become increasingly popular in developed nations in the past decade. Urban farming is also taking off in a big way in some developing countries, including Uganda. Although expanding agricultural production and distribution in rural communities is an important way to help families break the cycle of generational poverty, people living in cities also need support. Urban farming is a way for families to have healthy food and also save money. Sometimes, they may be able to supplement their incomes by selling surplus vegetables and fruit.

Shifting Demographics

Many of the world’s poorest people live in cities, often having moved there from rural areas to seek jobs and other opportunities, which are often not as available as families expect. The growing trend of urbanization in developing nations has placed significant pressure on already strained resources. For this reason, families living in urban areas often struggle with food scarcity, malnutrition and associated health risks.

Some Ugandans have already seen the impact that urban farming can have on their communities, including Harriet Nakabaale, one of the country’s most successful urban farmers. She runs Camp Green in the capital city of Kampala, a space where young people can learn the basics of agriculture and how to cultivate their own smallholder farms with limited space.

“There is growing interest in urban farming in Africa, yes,” Nakabaale says. “We are successfully reaching out to young people, teaching them business skills and how to grow their own food. I want to make all of Kampala green”

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URBAN FARMING IS BOOMING, BUT WHAT DOES IT REALLY YIELD?

The benefits of city-based agriculture go far beyond nutrition.Carolyn Leadly outside greenhouse at Rising Pheasant FarmsPhoto by Marcin SzczepanskiAuthor profile imageWRITERElizabeth Royte
@ElizabethRoytescience and environment writer and authorREPUBLISH

April 27, 2015 —  Editor’s note: This story was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a non-profit investigative news organization.

Midway through spring, the nearly bare planting beds of Carolyn Leadley’s Rising Pheasant Farms, in the Poletown neighborhood of Detroit, barely foreshadow the cornucopian abundance to come. It will be many months before Leadley is selling produce from this one-fifth-acre (one-tenth-hectare) plot. But the affable young farmer has hardly been idle, even during the snowiest days of winter. Twice daily, she has been trekking from her house to a small greenhouse in her side yard, where she waves her watering wand over roughly 100 trays of sprouts, shoots and microgreens. She sells this miniature bounty, year round, at the city’s eastern market and to restaurateurs delighted to place some hyperlocal greens on their guests’ plates.

Leadley is a key player in Detroit’s vibrant communal and commercial farming community, which in 2014 produced nearly 400,000 pounds (181,000 kilograms) of produce — enough to feed more than 600 people — in its more than 1,300 community, market, family and school gardens. Other farms in postindustrial cities are also prolific: In 2008, Philadelphia’s 226 community and squatter gardens grew roughly 2 million pounds of mid-summer vegetables and herbs, worth US$4.9 million. Running at full bore, Brooklyn’s Added-Value Farm, which occupies 2.75 acres, funnels 40,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables into the low-income neighborhood of Red Hook. And in Camden, New Jersey — an extremely poor city of 80,000 with only one full-service supermarket — community gardeners at 44 sites harvested almost 31,000 pounds (14,000 kilograms) of vegetables during an unusually wet and cold summer. That’s enough food during the growing season to feed 508 people three servings a day.Carolyn Leadley and family at Rising Pheasant Farms

In addition to raising vegetables, urban gardens can help families raise kids who enjoy the outdoors. Photo of Rising Pheasant Farms’ Carolyn Leadley and family by Marcin Szczepanski.

That researchers are even bothering to quantify the amount of food produced on tiny city farms — whether community gardens, like those of Camden and Philly, or for-profit operations, like Leadley’s — is testament to the nation’s burgeoning local-foods movement and its data-hungry supporters. Young farmers are, in increasing numbers, planting market gardens in cities, and “local” produce (a term with no formal definition) now fills grocery shelves across the U.S., from Walmart to Whole Foods, and is promoted in more than 150 nations around the world.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 800 million people worldwide grow vegetables or fruits or raise animals in cities, producing what the Worldwatch Institute reports to be an astonishing 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food. In developing nations, city dwellers farm for subsistence, but in the U.S., urban ag is more often driven by capitalism or ideology. The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t track numbers of city farmers, but based on demand for its programs that fund education and infrastructure in support of urban-ag projects, and on surveys of urban ag in select cities, it affirms that business is booming. How far — and in what direction — can this trend go? What portion of a city’s food can local farmers grow, at what price, and who will be privileged to eat it? And can such projects make a meaningful contribution to food security in an increasingly crowded world?

Urban Advantages

Like anyone who farms in a city, Leadley waxes eloquent on the freshness of her product. Pea shoots that have traveled 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) to grace a salad are bound to taste better and be more nutritious, she says, than those that have traveled half a continent or farther. “One local restaurant that I sell to used to buy its sprouts from Norway,” Leadley says. Fresher food also lasts longer on shelves and in refrigerators, reducing waste.Gotham Greens Greenhouse

New York City–based Gotham Greens produces more than 300 tons per year of herbs and greens in two hydroponic facilities. Photo by TIA (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Food that’s grown and consumed in cities has other advantages: During times of abundance, it may cost less than supermarket fare that’s come long distances, and during times of emergency — when transportation and distribution channels break down — it can fill a vegetable void. Following large storms such as Hurricane Sandy and the blizzards of this past winter, says Viraj Puri, cofounder of New York City–based Gotham Greens (which produces more than 300 tons (270 metric tons) of herbs and microgreens per year in two rooftop hydroponic operations and has another farm planned for Chicago), “our produce was the only produce on the shelf at many supermarkets across the city.”

Despite their relatively small size, urban farms grow a surprising amount of food, with yields that often surpass those of their rural cousins. This is possible for a couple reasons. First, city farms don’t experience heavy insect pressure, and they don’t have to deal with hungry deer or groundhogs. Second, city farmers can walk their plots in minutes, rather than hours, addressing problems as they arise and harvesting produce at its peak. They can also plant more densely because they hand cultivate, nourish their soil more frequently and micromanage applications of water and fertilizer.

As social enterprises, community gardens operate in an alternate financial universe: they don’t sustain themselves with sales, nor do they have to pay employees.Though they don’t get as much press as for-profit farms and heavily capitalized rooftop operations, community gardens — which are collectively tended by people using individual or shared plots of public or private land, and have been a feature in U.S. cities for well over a century — are the most common form of urban agriculture in the nation, producing far more food and feeding more people, in aggregate, than their commercial counterparts. As social enterprises, community gardens operate in an alternate financial universe: they don’t sustain themselves with sales, nor do they have to pay employees. Instead, they rely on volunteer or cheap youth labor, they pay little or nothing in rent, and they solicit outside aid from government programs and foundations that support their social and environmental missions. These may include job training, health and nutrition education, and increasing the community’s resilience to climate change by absorbing stormwater, counteracting the urban heat island effect and converting food waste into compost.

Funders don’t necessarily expect community gardens to become self-sustaining. These farms may increase their revenue streams by selling at farmers markets or to restaurants, or they may collect fees from restaurants or other food-waste generators for accepting scraps that will be converted into compost, says Ruth Goldman, a program officer at the Merck Family Fund, which funds urban agriculture projects. “But margins on vegetable farming are very slim, and because these farms are doing community education and training teen leaders, they’re not likely to operate in the black.”

[I]t’s the microgreens that keep Leadley from joining the ranks of the vast majority of U.S. farmers and taking a second job.Several years ago, Elizabeth Bee Ayer, who until recently ran a training program for city farmers, took a hard look at the beets growing in her Youth Farm, in the Lefferts Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. She counted the hand movements involved in harvesting the roots and the minutes it took to wash and prepare them for sale. “Tiny things can make or break a farm,” Ayer notes. “Our beets cost US$2.50 for a bunch of four, and people in the neighborhood loved them. But we were losing 12 cents on every beet.” Ultimately, Ayer decided not to raise the price: “No one would have bought them,” she says. Instead, she doubled down on callaloo, a Caribbean herb that cost less to produce but sold enough to subsidize the beets. “People love it, it grows like a weed, it’s low maintenance and requires very little labor.” In the end, she says, “We are a nonprofit, and we didn’t want to make a profit.”

Sustainable and Resilient

Few would begrudge Ayer her loss leader, but such practices can undercut for-profit city farmers who are already struggling to compete with regional farmers at crowded urban markets and with cheap supermarket produce shipped from California and Mexico. Leadley, of Rising Pheasant Farms, realized long ago that she wouldn’t survive selling only the vegetables from her outdoor garden, which is why she invested in a plastic-draped greenhouse and heating system. Her tiny shoots, sprouts, amaranth and kohlrabi leaves grow year-round; they grow quickly — in the summer, Leadley can make a crop in seven days — and they sell for well over a dollar an ounce.

Nodding toward her backyard plot, Leadley says, “I grow those vegetables because they look good on the farm stand. They attract more customers to our table, and I really love growing outdoors.” But it’s the microgreens that keep Leadley from joining the ranks of the vast majority of U.S. farmers and taking a second job.

Mchezaji Axum, an agronomist with the University of the District of Columbia, the first exclusively urban land-grant university in the nation, helps urban farmers increase their yields whether they are selling into wealthy markets, like Leadley, or poorer markets, like Ayer. He promotes the use of plant varieties adapted to city conditions (short corn that produces four instead of two ears, for example). He also recommends biointensive methods, such as planting densely, intercropping, applying compost, rotating crops and employing season-extension methods (growing cold-tolerant vegetables like kale, spinach or carrots in winter hoop houses, for example, or starting plants in cold frames — boxes with transparent tops that let in sunlight but protect plants from extreme cold and rain).

“You learn to improve your soil health, and you learn how to space your plants to get more sunshine,” Axum says. Surveying D.C.’s scores of communal gardens, Axum has been surprised by how little food they actually grow. “People aren’t using their space well. More than 90 percent aren’t producing intensively. Some people just want to grow and be left alone.

“Using biointensive methods may not be part of your cultural tradition,” Laura J. Lawson, a professor of landscape architecture at Rutgers State University and the author of City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America, says. “It depends who you learned gardening from.” Lawson recalls the story of a well-meaning visitor to a Philadelphia garden who suggested that the farmers had planted their corn in a spot that wasn’t photosynthetically ideal. The women told their visitor, “We always plant it there; that way we can pee behind it.”Noah Link checking on bees

Noah Link checks on his bees at Food Field, a commercial farm in Detroit. Photo by Marcin Szczepanski.

Axum is all about scaling up and aggregating hyperlocal foods to meet the demands of large buyers like city schools, hospitals or grocery stores. Selling to nearby institutions, say food policy councils — established by grassroots organizations and local governments to strengthen and support local food systems — is key to making urban food systems more sustainable and resilient, to say nothing of providing a living to local growers. But scaling up often requires more land, and therefore more expensive labor to cultivate it, in addition to changes in local land use and other policies, marketing expertise and efficient distribution networks.

“Lots of local institutions want to source their food here,” says Detroit farmer Noah Link, whose Food Field, a commercial operation, encompasses a nascent orchard, vast areas of raised beds, two tightly wrapped 150-foot (46-meter)-long hoop houses (one of which shelters a long, narrow raceway crammed with catfish), chickens, beehives and enough solar panels to power the whole shebang. “But local farms aren’t producing enough food yet. We’d need an aggregator to pull it together for bulk sales.”

Link doesn’t grow microgreens — the secret sauce for so many commercial operations — because he can break even on volume: His farm occupies an entire city block. Annie Novak, who co-founded New York City’s first for-profit rooftop farm in 2009, doesn’t have the luxury of space. She realized early on that she couldn’t grow a wide enough diversity of food to satisfy her community-supported agriculture customers in just 5,800 square feet (540 square meters) of shallow raised beds. “So I partnered with a farm upstate to supplement and diversify the boxes,” she says. Now, Novak focuses on niche and value-added products. “I make a hot sauce from my peppers and market the bejesus out of it,” she says. She also grows microgreens for restaurants, plus honey, herbs, flowers and “crops that are narratively interesting, like purple carrots, or heirloom tomatoes, which give us an opportunity to educate people about the value of food, green spaces and our connection to nature,” she says.Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm

Brooklyn Grange in New York grows more than 50,000 pounds of produce each year in its rooftop gardens. Photo © Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm / Anastasia Cole Plakias.

Sometimes being strategic with crop selection isn’t enough. Brooklyn Grange, a for-profit farm atop two roofs in New York City, grows more than 50,000 pounds (23,000 kilograms) of tomatoes, kale, lettuce, carrots, radishes and beans, among other crops, each year. It sells them through its CSA, at farm stands and to local restaurants. But to further boost its income, Brooklyn Grange also offers a summerlong training program for beekeepers (US$850 tuition), yoga classes and tours, and it rents its Edenic garden spaces, which have million-dollar views of the Manhattan skyline, for photo shoots, weddings, private dinners and other events.

“Urban farms are like small farms in rural areas,” says Carolyn Dimitri, an applied economist who studies food systems and food policy at New York University. “They have the same set of problems: people don’t want to pay a lot for their food, and labor is expensive. So they have to sell high-value products and do some agritourism.”

Under Control

On a miserable March morning, with a sparkling layer of ice glazing a foot of filthy snow, a coterie of Chicago’s urban farmers toils in shirtsleeves and sneakers, their fingernails conspicuously clean. In their gardens, no metal or wood scrap accumulates in corners, no chickens scratch in hoop-house soil. In fact, these farmers use no soil at all. Their densely planted basil and arugula leaves sprout from growing medium in barcoded trays. The trays sit on shelves stacked 12 feet (3.7 meters) high and illuminated, like tanning beds, by purple and white lights. Fans hum, water gurgles, computer screens flicker.

[W]ith 25 high-density crops per year, as opposed to a conventional farmer’s five or so, CEA yields are 10 to 20 times higher than the same crop grown outdoors.FarmedHere, the nation’s largest player in controlled environment agriculture — CEA —pumps out roughly a million pounds (500,000 kilograms) per year of baby salad greens, basil and mint in its 90,000-square-foot (8,000-square-meter) warehouse on the industrial outskirts of Chicago. Like many hydroponic or aquaponic operations (in which water from fish tanks nourishes plants, which filter the water before it’s returned to the fish), the farm has a futuristic feel — all glowing lights and stainless steel. Employees wear hairnets and nitrile gloves. But without interference from weather, insects or even too many people, the farm quickly and reliably fulfills year-round contracts with local supermarkets, including nearly 50 Whole Foods Markets.

“We can’t keep up with demand,” Nick Greens, a deejay turned master grower, says.

Unlike outdoor farms, CEA has no call for pesticides and contributes no nitrogen to waterways. Its closed-loop irrigation systems consume 10 times less water than conventional systems. And with 25 high-density crops per year, as opposed to a conventional farmer’s five or so, CEA yields are 10 to 20 times higher than the same crop grown outdoors — in theory sparing forests and grasslands from the plow.

Is CEA the future of urban farming? It produces a lot of food in a small space, to be sure. But until economies of scale kick in, these operations — which are capital intensive to build and maintain — must concentrate exclusively on high-value crops like microgreens, winter tomatoes and herbs.

Reducing food miles reduces transit-related costs, as well as the carbon emissions associated with transport, packaging and cooling. But growing indoors under lights, with heating and cooling provided by fossil fuels, may negate those savings. When Louis Albright, an emeritus professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University, dug into the numbers, he discovered that closed-system farming is expensive, energy intensive and, at some latitudes, unlikely to survive on solar or wind power. Growing a pound of hydroponic lettuce in Ithaca, New York, Albright reports, generates 8 pounds (4 kilograms) of carbon dioxide at the local power plant: a pound of tomatoes would generate twice that much. Grow that lettuce without artificial lights in a greenhouse and emissions drop by two thirds.

Food Security

In the world’s poorest nations, city dwellers have always farmed for subsistence. But more of them are farming now than ever before. In Africa, for example, it’s estimated that 40 percent of the urban population is engaged in agriculture. Long-time residents and recent transplants alike farm because they’re hungry, they know how to grow food, land values in marginal areas (under power lines and along highways) are low, and inputs like organic wastes — fertilizer — are cheap. Another driver is the price of food: People in developing nations pay a far higher percentage of their total income for food than Americans do, and poor transportation and refrigeration infrastructure make perishable goods, like fruits and vegetables, especially dear. Focusing on these high-value crops, urban farmers both feed themselves and supplement their incomes.Urban farming in Ghana

Urban farming is common in Ghana and other sub-Saharan countries. Photo by Nana Kofi Acquah/IMWI

In the U.S., urban farming is likely to have its biggest impact on food security in places that, in some ways, resemble the global south — that is, in cities or neighborhoods where land is cheap, median incomes are low and the need for fresh food is high. Detroit, by this metric, is particularly fertile ground. Michael Hamm, a professor of sustainable agriculture at Michigan State University, calculated that the city, which has just under 700,000 residents and more than 100,000 vacant lots (many of which can be purchased, thanks to the city’s recent bankruptcy, for less than the price of a refrigerator), could grow three quarters of its current vegetable consumption and nearly half its fruit consumption on available parcels of land using biointensive methods.

No one expects city farms in the U.S. to replace peri-urban or rural vegetable farms: cities don’t have the acreage or the trained farmers, and most can’t produce food anything close to year-round. But can city farms take a bite from long-distance supply chains? NYU’s Dimitri doesn’t think so. Considering the size and global nature of the nation’s food supply, she says, urban ag in our cities “isn’t going to make a dent. And it’s completely inefficient, economically. Urban farmers can’t charge what they should, and they’re too small to take advantage of economies of scale and use their resources more efficiently.”

That doesn’t mean that community gardeners, who don’t even try to be profitable, aren’t making a big difference in their immediate communities. Camden’s 31,000 pounds (14,000 kilograms) of produce might not seem like a lot, but it’s a very big deal for those lucky enough to get their hands on it. “In poor communities where households earn very little income,” says Domenic Vitiello, an associate professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania, “a few thousand dollars’ worth of vegetables and fruit grown in the garden makes a much bigger difference than for more affluent households.”

History tells us that community gardening — supported by individuals, government agencies and philanthropies — is here to stay. And whether these gardens ultimately produce more food or more knowledge about food — where it comes from, what it takes to produce it, how to prepare and eat it — they still have enormous value as gathering places and classrooms and as conduits between people and nature. Whether or not cultivating fruits and vegetables in tiny urban spaces makes economic or food-security sense, people who want to grow food in cities will find a way to do so. As Laura Lawson says, “City gardens are part of our ideal sense of what a community should be. And so their value is priceless.” 

UPDATED 05.06.15: A source was added for the percent of global food grown in cities.SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR NONPROFIT JOURNALISM!

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  • Pingback,Apr. 27th, 2015How much food can a city farm produce? — Elizabeth Royte
  • FoolishnessApr. 27th, 2015Great story. Here in New Zealand (with our economic base in agriculture and dairy) it would seem unlikely that urban farming would take off. But there are signs that in our poorest regions, the attitudes and methods described here are starting to embed.
  • FrederickApr. 27th, 2015great article. One thing I’ve never seen quantified is the amount of food produced by city residents but not for commercial sales purposes. It must be gigantic. I am concerned that not quantifying this aspect of local production under-estimates a city’s food production.
  • BotanyBobApr. 28th, 2015There’s been alot of success with our urban vegetable gardens in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area utilizing
    compost from yard waste. This super soil grows wonderful organic crops that are well received by consumers at local farmers markets. People work and make money doing this! I’m pleased to say that I provided the compost and made money for my work!! We love it! Yes, regular folks need to make a living!
  • helenApr. 28th, 2015Australian. I did a survey for a PhD student on backyard food production. Everything harvested was weighed. Over a year I grew over a fifth of a tonne on my small suburban block. Also lots of eggs. Even though we still had to buy some food it gives me a great sense of accomplishment knowing we are eating something from the garden at every meal.
    Not urban farms, just people wanting a healthy lifestyle.
  • Vijaya ShanbhagApr. 29th, 2015Can yu pls tell what manure is being used
  • RoxsenApr. 29th, 2015This is a well-done, thorough article on current urban farming initiatives. What it, and the “movement”, continues to overlook is the economic opportunity. In the last few years new farmers in the US and Canada have been having success with SPIN-Farming, which is an organic-based, small plot farming system that outlines how to make money growing in backyards, front lawns and neighborhood lots. The next important step is to convert some of the energy and enthusiasm surrounding urban farming into viable farm businesses. This will require training a large and diverse corps of new occupational farmers in microenterprise development and getting them up and operational quickly. Success is a numbers game. The more farming talent can be developed, the more new farm businesses will be created. As professional urban farming becomes more commonplace, it will start to again be obvious where real food comes from and why it is better. This will expand and solidify the already rapidly developing markets that will sustain urban agriculture long term.
    The past 100 years of urban farming cycles correlated to world wars and economic downturns. While it temporarily helped communities get through hard times, it never became a significant source of production or provided a serious alternative to the industrialized food system. For this time to be different, and for urban agriculture to have measurable impact, it needs to work as a business.
  • Walter HaugenApr. 29th, 2015This kind of agriculture has a HUGE carbon footprint because of the energy used in production, as well as the embedded energy in the greenhouses, hoophouses, transport, electricity, etc.

    On the flip side, if it gets more people growing their own food, it has some value. However, you might notice that Margaret Atwood’s urban farmers in the MaddAdam post-apocalyptic series were doing things on a much more “manual” level. That is the real vision of the future of urban farming. Of course it is not as sexy as the techniques described in the article.
  • Doug in SFBAApr. 30th, 2015This is such a great article…unfortunately, in a maddening, saddening, but ultimately affirming way. I came to learn that as important and critical as our food system is to our lives, it is a very challenging to make a living doing it. In fact, we wouldn’t have a food system if it weren’t for government subsidies. “…they rely on volunteer or cheap youth labor, they pay little or nothing in rent, and they solicit outside aid from government programs and foundations that support their social and environmental missions….”
    I live in the SF Bay Area and real estate is precious. Granted, the community gardens and school programs are great and certainly raise awareness of the role of fresh healthy food in our lives, but as the article points out, it only goes so far. Urban agriculture has many benefits from better health of those who consume the produce to more connection to local commerce. These “positive externalities” are something of tangible, but not recognized economic value.
    I guess as I ponder this article, I am left with the following questions: are there entities out there making it on a significant scale? Have there been scenarios from the past where we’ve been able to feed ourselves and make a living at this same time. If so, how do we get there?
  • ElizabethMay. 7th, 2015Vijaya Shanbhag: the “manure” these farmers use is often green manure (cover crops) and a whole lot of compost (made from food waste, which is super-abundant in U.S. cities).
  • IsabelMay. 8th, 2015Though the 15-20% statistic is very hard to believe, the movement is massive and growing stronger every year. The solutions for “patio farming” are better than ever — the 50 plant composting Garden Tower (http://www.gardentowerproject.com) is a large system for small spaces that is making a difference. Approximately 170,000lbs of organic produce is produced in Garden Towers annually.
  • KieronMay. 13th, 2015Walter Haugen writes, “This kind of agriculture has a HUGE carbon footprint because of the energy used in production, as well as the embedded energy in the greenhouses, hoophouses, transport, electricity, etc.”

    So? Perspective, man. No one who complains about carbon footprints ever seems to take into consideration that military vehicles, jets, ships, tanks etc are all spewing way more waste products than ordinary people/civilians trying to create a positive future ever could. Maybe you ought to criticize the real problem instead of trashing people trying to do something constructive instead of mindlessly destructive.
  • GardenMasterMay. 28th, 2015Kieron, I’m not for sure ideological rhetoric is useful in this context & your assertion of Military carbon footprint size is unsupportable. The carbon footprint of the world’s military organizations are dwarfed by their civilian footprints. Please do a little research. I will give you the point that some countries are mindlessly destructive, and even the US has at times (I’ll not debate which times) used its military might is ways counter to the values we profess to honor that are described in the US Constitution. But many, if not most military orgs are there primarily to keep the bad ones from hurting you and me. Because, brother, if the US (or British or name a country) military wasn’t around some of those bad guys would come and take what I have, what you have and what everybody else has, and just freakin’ kill you, and sleep like a baby tonight after doing it. To them it’s right and good an moral for the simple reason that they can. No diplomacy or arbitration will work. They stay in check only so long as it hurts too much went they get pummeled trying to take on the wrong mark. They are not oppressed or aggrieved, they just want what everyone has and have no other moral guidance than they they can take and can’t do anything about it. So please stick to the content and premise of the article.

    I do though, agree that Walter Haugen, misplaces his aggression. Walter, there is a simple fact that the intensive agriculture technologies have not developed to the point of economic ROI that the very inferior product producing and destructive current state of Agricultural technology has. Some of these alternative production systems are using tech that requires a high ‘carbon’ input. Currently, this is the only way to get the production necessary to make a commercial venture worthwhile to the people with the cash. Others are VERY low on carbon impact. And part of the reason these guys are doing the ‘urban farming’ is to REDUCE the cost and time of distribution. So on all counts your assertions miss the mark.

    I will return to the simple point of this article, and that is to tell how some are finding new ways or improving old ways of providing the food necessary for a growing global population.

    As a Master Gardener, I have to listen to an awful lot of tripe promulgated from the Extension Services people. Most of them are die-hard petrol-chem-pesticide-fertilizer till-till-till true believers, regardless of all the research that shows it has destroyed our soil. But, consider that they get and keep jobs by keeping the current agri-business functioning. Unfortunately, that means chems, GMOs, tilling etc. But you have some, that see what is happening and they encourage many of us to explore these alternatives and report back. Those guys are having a slow but noticeable effect on the direction many Universities are taking in their research.

    As a permaculturalist…don’t get me started on what ‘modern’ ag tech has done to destroy the food producing capacity of the US and the world. Arrgggh!

    As an aquaponaut/aquaponicist or whatever we are calling ourselves this year, I am finding a ‘gold rush’ attitude from the slick to the simple, that is little deserved. So many, ‘snake oil’ salesmen out there hyping up what is possible and so many people believing them and losing their shirts or wasting money on toy system or toy system plans that promise to feed ‘a family of 4 in a 4’x4′ space’. You won;t get a salad a day for lunch off that.

    To be honest, I have, & I know others who have devised and operated working systems that provide that type of output running completely on solar power. But the winter stops production without high amounts of energy to create heat, and the start-up/build-out expense is in the thousands of dollars even building it yourself, and we’re not talking about 16 sq/ft, we’re talking about a minimum of 700 – 1000 sq/ft. That’s what you’re going to have to have to get your family to reduce food bills by 50% much less the 90% those internet crooks claim. And that’s if everything goes perfectly and you have run this thing for a few years to work out the bugs (sometimes literally) in the system.

    Finally, you have to keep in mind, most of these ‘farms’ are not profitable, unless they have heavy tax payer subsidies, lots of volunteers and interns, private or public grants, research facilities and funding from Universities, or they target VERY high end consumers. To be frank, some of these guys are getting $$/aid from more than one of if not most these sources or even others I have not mentioned. Either that or they are selling their ‘technology’ either as plans, consulting or actual systems products. So aside from the guy selling to high end ‘users’ the rest are not actually profitable AS FARMS. But, honestly, given the food production and distribution system we have, we’ve not needed anything like this until we began to realize that this system that is in place is producing very low quality food that quite possibly may be doing more damage than good. But, that bad system is more profitable than any other system we have. So they guys with money are going to support that and pay for research to increase yields of that system or to lock out any potential competitions from another system.

    So, enter these new, or re-newed technologies. Hydroponics, Aquaponics, intensive agriculture, permaculture, are all different, and, I have found, not always entirely incompatible, ways to solve the food production and distribution problem we didn’t realize we had. Many of us are out there & are experimenting and learning more each year. Each of these types of systems are becoming ever more productive. Maybe, if the people who are pioneering these system can show there is profit in them, the money will begin flow to the new systems, and we’ll have more local food, more food in general, better food, less expensive food.
  • KieronMay. 28th, 2015″The carbon footprint of the world’s military organizations are dwarfed by their civilian footprints.”

    How? Little people consume only so much, and yes taken as a whole, they do consume a whole lot, but, “brother,” the MIC (globally) consumes much much more, year in and year out. It takes an enormous amount of energy to fuel all those weapons, machine and armaments, wouldn’t you say? I’m not too worried about the baddies killing me without a qualm. I’m a bit more worried about my own government’s overreach, and I think we could hold off the baddies if we would just fricking stop meddling in other people’s countries.

    You tell me to do research, yet you offer no backup to your own assertion about the MIC footprint. Sources for what you claim? Attributions? Anything…? Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.
  • melonieJun. 3rd, 2015wow
  • chantalJun. 9th, 2015Thanks for this very interesting article.

    I live in Paris in a multicultural district. In April I had the chance to be atttributed a 12 square meters piece of land in a community garden at 5 minutes walk from my place. This is a real pleasure to take care of this precious land in the middle of the concrete surroundings and I know that I am going to eat natural healthy products and share them with my friends.

    On top of this, it develops social links, by sharing pieces of advice on the way to grow different vegetables, sharing our own production (not selling) and just chatting.

    Of course we are far from urban farming but hope these initiatives will spread around like bee-keeping on Paris roofs.
  • Pingback,Jun. 10th, 2015Urban farming is booming, but what does it really yield? | Food and Farm Discussion Lab
  • GardenMasterJun. 11th, 2015Using USA number from 2009 alone:

    Total USA GHG emissions were 6,576 MMTCO2 in 2009 (http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/)

    Total US Military emissions were estimated at 172 MMTCO2 in 2009

    http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/July-August%202010/securing-foreign-oil-full.html

    The pink table 1.

    Let’s assume that that “total” USA number is ONLY the civilian emissions. Those numbers mean the “little people” used approximately 38.23 times what the military used.

    Even if we look at the numbers a different way and make the military emissions part of the total, we go through this process:

    6576 – 172 = 6404
    6404/172 = 37.23
    38.23-37.23=1

    Making the military emission part of the total only makes approximately 1% difference.

    Still, the USA’s civilian population emits nearly 40X, that’s FORTY TIMES what the military does.

    Given that the US tends to have a much larger military, spend much more and have much more operational hardware per capita than the average country, it is safe to assume that using the US numbers and extrapolating them for the rest of the world would be advantageous to Keiron’s position. But they still show civies using 40x more than the military.

    And, yes, you are correct, that if we didn’t have to spend so much on military, much of that might be able to be spent on technologies such as these. I do have to say though, I wish we didn’t need to spend so much, and I suspect that we do not. I’ll admit that some, but only some, of the waste and the need to have such a military presence is due to the so called “meddling”. I think it should be stopped, and we should be only dealing with incidents that are truly in our “interests” and not engage in affairs that would be placed in context of being “repugnant to the Constitution”. Too often, business interests, or personal interests are placed above national interest and conscience.

    I hope I have established a parallel or compatible ideal with you Keiron, even if we do not agree on the “facts”.

    I don’t mean to demean you, or the idea we need to concentrate more on helping people than hurting them. I, in fact, vigorously agree. I just would prefer that when I agree with people on an ideology, that we are all straight on the facts.
  • Pingback,Jun. 15th, 201520 Percent of Your Food Comes From Urban Farming Now – Culination Magazine
  • MarkSep. 2nd, 2015Urban farming could be a great way to generate some additional income from home. some of the latest urban farming devices are able to grow as much as 50 plants in a four square foot area using a vertical tower garden. I just found out about it in one of the articles at Nourish the Planet. Also checkout these awesome urban farms on rooftops of high rise buildings http://nourishtheplanet.com/2014/12/6-sustainable-urban-agriculture-ideas-around-the-globe/
    I think everyone should go and read this article.
  • John @ Voinovich SchoolSep. 17th, 2015@Doug in SFBA – no scenario of the past is a reasonable model for now or the future, so just forget them. The capitalist process guarantees that you can’t go backward, because your sense of “need” and the associated debt just keeps getting deeper and deeper as you go forward. You have to envision new scenarios that encompass the times we are in, the times we are heading into, and that include changing your consumption paradigm. The consumption factor of modern consumer based capitalism is what drive your “needs” out of reach to the realistic productive capacity. Our forefathers on the farm didn’t have computers, GPS, Apple watches, desktop printing, cell phones, Nova Lox in a little convenient bag, “metal canned” goods, and all the other means by which the 1% transfer your wealth to their accounts. Zero point nothing was “convenient” and that’s where you lose a bunch of money today – paying for convenience. Another cost is the energy slaves you use. Up before dawn and down at o dark thirty is the life of every successful farmer that I know. Eliminate fuel, electricity, any secondary cost associated with someone else moving or making your “stuff”. Change that and minimize your debts, and you will have your success formula.
  • Pingback,Nov. 9th, 2015Featured in the Media: Rising Pheasant Farm and Food Field in Detroit | Detroit Urban Farmers
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  • RegApr. 1st, 2016Hey Elizabeth,

    I enjoyed your article. I’m the Co-founder of SoilSurfer.com™, a California-based web startup that helps urban farmers connect with urban landowners. Landowners can rent their grow space, and seamlessly receive payments through our platform.

    Our site beta is live, and landowners can signup and create a profile here: https://www.soilsurfer.com/

    If you have questions, you can reach me using, hello@soilsurfer.com
  • Pingback,Apr. 4th, 2016Urban farming is booming, but what does it really yield? – Neritam
  • ASSEFAADANEAug. 12th, 2016Dear Hey Elizabeth,
    This Assefa Adane from Ethiopia, your article is interesting and I like to train Dwellers how to implement urban Agriculture in Addis Abeba, capital city of Ethiopia, any suggestion how to proceed?
  • Mary HoffAug. 23rd, 2016From Elizabeth Royte:

    Hello, Assefa Adane. Have you contacted Addis Ababa’s Urban Agriculture Office? I read here that the city has become a signatory to the “Feeding Cities in the Horn of Africa” declaration, intended to promote and support urban and peri-urban ag. They may be able to refer you to local groups that are already farming in the city. Also I see that “urban agriculture in Ethiopia” has a Facebook page.
  • Pingback,Sep. 1st, 2016Feeding Detroit | richard2496
  • Janet SchultzOct. 13th, 2016I am a believer in food not lawns for so many many reasons. I am my grandmothers daughter… there is a crisis break out the tea kettle and the soup pot and get busy making beds. I live in the north, in snow and cold country, on the edge of tornado alley, with the occasional overland flood just for giggles, and recessions and job cuts and what do you mean my savings are now worth half and and and in other words yeah I have had to live thru it as well. I took comfort however in a couple of pieces of knowledge which made my little world easier. My hubby worries about the not real stuff, the money stuff, the part that pays for the land that I am turning to a permaculture urban forest/garden/oasis/retirement insurance plan. I have over the last fifty years seen more than three recessions, have heard my elders since I was five tell me new and shiny ain’t always better. So eight years ago I converted to a permaculturally based urban food not lawns type set up, still want to invest in solar, aqua, and poultry and vermiculture on top of how I live now. We can do this if we stop looking at new and shiny it is so awesome to hear that my little patch of reality has another little patch to attach theirselves to. I have had a great year but I am like I said 8 years in 700 pounds this year aiming for half ton next year, I admit mostly fruit still but working on the vegie beds as I still work full time. The herbs ran me over again mid season but so did the weeds….may the rains come as you need and the sun as you wish this next season…
    And may your dreams and schemes run rampant this winter…Janet
  • Pingback,Oct. 25th, 2016Agroecology Can Help Fix Our Broken Food System. Here’s How. – Food and Farm Discussion Lab
  • Pingback,Nov. 16th, 2016Opinion: Urban farming? Who knew? | Big Ag Watch
  • Pingback,Sep. 12th, 2017Urban Farming Is Booming in the US, but What Does It Really Yield? · Global Voices

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Urban farming is serious business

Urban farming has serious social, ecological and economic impacts in cities across the country and world. Though rural agriculture might be what most think of when they think farming as a business, urban agriculture is taking off as a viable alternative for those with limited space who want to provide food for their communities and create a worthwhile business.

What is urban farming?

Urban farming is the growing of plants and food or the raising of livestock within or around cities. Unlike farming in a rural sense, urban farming relies on nearby residents for labor and resources for irrigation and other aspects of the growing process. Agriculture in metropolises directly affects the area around it. While farms of the past were removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, urban farms are entrenched in it.

Urban agriculture can take many forms, from beekeeping to roof-top gardens. It also includes major community spaces operating as farms, orchards growing within city limits and high tunnels and greenhouses. At its core, urban agriculture brings food production into the ecosystem of cities so that residents can grow their food where they are.

Unlike rural farming, which is concentrated with large farmers, urban farming is dispersed, and farmers often operate smaller businesses in harmony with city infrastructure. The miles that food travels are condensed, making it fresher and reducing the impact on the environment. Urban farmers tend to have direct links with their consumers and have a community-minded approach to their business operations.

The RUAF Foundation, a leading organization on sustainable urban agriculture and food systems, stated, “The most striking feature of urban agriculture … is that it is integrated into the urban economic and ecological system: Urban agriculture is embedded in – and interacting with – the urban ecosystem.”

Benefits of urban farming

Urban farming benefits are extensive. From culture to the environment, urban farming makes a difference in the way people in cities live. It also has serious economic payoffs that can’t be ignored.

Social and cultural benefits

Urban farming builds a sense of community. The RUAF Foundation pointed out that urban agricultural projects have incorporated many disenfranchised groups, including orphaned children, recent immigrants and the elderly.

Urban agriculture also strengthens social bonds and provides ways for people to express their heritage while also connecting with their community. According to a workbook published by Vitalyst Health Foundation, farms in the city can provide a sense of shared community purpose. It said, “Working together on urban agriculture projects, people get involved in building their communities through organizing, advocacy and collective action.”

Community gardens often function as a third place for people to go other than work and home, which connects them to their city, providing a sense of pride and purpose. If done right, the communities working on urban farms will benefit from them for years to come, socially and culturally.

Health and accessibility benefits

Many people in the United States don’t have access to inexpensive, fresh food. Food deserts, or areas that have limited access to affordable and nutritious food, are unfortunately prevalent in many cities. They affect numerous Americans, primarily those in minority populations or low-income areas where diets lack essential nutrients. Urban farms provide access to fresh food where that access might have otherwise been costly or non-existent.

Growing food locally in a community garden or organizing urban farmers to provide nutritious food to low-income neighbors at affordable prices is one way food insecurity can be addressed. It also combats the health issues food deserts cause, like obesity. Food can be grown where people need it instead of relying on larger farms or businesses to provide it to the public at higher costs.

Working in community gardens also provides exercise and time outside. In crowded cities, valuable time outdoors may be hard to come by. The physical and psychological effects of an outlet in a natural environment are another way that urban farms improve health.

Job creation and skill development benefits

In areas where poverty and hunger are prevalent, urban farming can help address these issues in two ways: providing food and creating jobs. People working and volunteering at urban farms or running their own small farming operations develop marketable skills they might not have otherwise gotten. School gardens are another fantastic way that agriculture and an understanding of where our food comes from is being taught to youth from all walks of life.

The local businesses created through urban farming also create job opportunities right in the backyards of some of the people who need them most. Agripreneurs, as agricultural entrepreneurs have been dubbed, have an increased opportunity to start their farms in urban areas because a large amount of land isn’t required, and large farm equipment is not a start-up cost.

Environmental benefits

Urban farming can play a vital role in the environmental management system of a city because it is woven into the framework of the metropolis. One area where this makes a huge difference is with organic waste. Urban farming provides a way to turn organic waste into a resource. It can be repurposed into compost or food for livestock. Wastewater can also be used to irrigate farms.

Farming in urban areas beautifies the environment. The environmental impacts of transforming unused lots and filling them with plants and animals may have lasting effects when it comes to the environmental health of urban areas. In an article about the 10 benefits of urban farms, The Ecology Center stated, “Greenery adds aesthetic appeal, reduces runoff from precipitation, provides restful spaces for the community, and counters the heat island effect by fixing carbon through photosynthesis.”

Urban farming in AL

Urban farming is taking place in Alabama’s metropolitan areas. In southwestern Birmingham, a seasonal high tunnel was built thanks to an NACD urban agriculture grant in 2016. The tunnel produces fresh vegetables for the community. Project Coordinator Virginia Ward seeks to educate and build awareness in the community through her work as well as provide job opportunities to young workers and healthy food to local businesses, churches and the community.

Huntsville boasts more than 20 community gardens, most of which receive assistance from the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association (TVCGA). “The TVCGA was formed to help existing gardens leverage their assets, create power buy opportunities for gardens, help new gardens get started correctly and give new community garden leaders the tools to not only survive but thrive,” said Lee McBride, master gardener and subcommittee chair for the North Alabama Food Policy Council.

While people have different motivations for entering urban farming, there’s no doubt that it’s serious business. In the years to come, those with business experience will find opportunities in this area of agriculture, helping to make it more profitable and marketable than ever before.

Interested in influencing urban farming from a business perspective? Expand your skills with our online MBA program. With UWA, you’ll earn your degree entirely online at one of the state’s most affordable institutions.

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Food security is a global problem. Here’s how urban farming could help

KEY POINTS

  • Around the world, cities and towns are getting bigger, with people moving in search of economic opportunity.
  • In the years ahead, urban areas could have a role to play when it comes to strengthening food security. 

Tracy Packer | Moment Mobile | Getty Images

Around the world, cities and towns are getting bigger, with people moving to built-up areas in greater numbers in search of economic opportunity and success.

This mass movement looks set to accelerate.In 2018, the United Nations said that 55% of the planet was living in “urban areas” and forecast that this would rise to 68% by the middle of the century.  

Cities and towns are undoubted centers of finance, culture and politics, but will they also have a role to play when it comes to strengthening food security and feeding the planet? According to a recent study, published in the journal Nature Food, the answer could be yes.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield found that using only 10% of a city’s urban green spaces and gardens to grow food could provide 15% of the local population – which equates to 87,375 people in Sheffield – with five portions of fruit or vegetables per day.

“Urban areas are particularly well suited to growing horticultural crops – fruits and vegetables,” Jill Edmonson, from the university’s Institute for Sustainable Food, told CNBC.com via email.

“Urban horticulture could play a really important role in strengthening local food security as the majority of people live in cities and towns … providing access to fresh nutritious produce close to the source of demand,” she added.

Edmonson went on to explain that urban areas were “made up of a mosaic of smaller patches of greenspace” such as gardens, to larger ones like allotments.

“You can grow a variety of different fruit and vegetables in these spaces, at different scales – for example picking your favourite fruit, like strawberries, to grow in a small patch in your back garden, or a full variety of crops from onions and spuds to blueberries and asparagus in an allotment plot.”

The growing of crops such as wheat was not really viable in urban settings, Edmonson added, as these types of crops needed larger areas and processing before being used as food.  

Not getting access to enough food is a serious situation which affects people around the world. The UN has described an estimated 821 million people on the planet as being “undernourished,” with one in nine not getting “enough food to be healthy and lead an active life.”

While the potential of growing food in urban areas seems to be significant, there are undoubted roadblocks, not least when it comes to logistics and changing perceptions.

Edmonson explained to CNBC that “realising the potential of urban horticulture” was complex and required the support of local and national policymakers “to overcome the scientific, practical, engineering, socio-cultural and economic challenges.”

“However, in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, there is a clear need to understand how we shorten supply chains and improve national resilience in our food supply.”

The U.K.’s supermarkets have seen demand for many products soar during the coronavirus pandemic, with empty shelves becoming a common sight across the country earlier in the year.

This has in turn led to discussions about food security and the resilience of global supply chains, which can be complex and dependent on many different factors to run smoothly.

Indeed, the U.K. is, like many countries, reliant on imports to help meet the needs of consumers. In 2018, “home production” of fruit and vegetables accounted for 16.7% and roughly 53% of the U.K.’s total supply respectively, according to government figures.

Growing food without soil

Other technologies such as hydroponics and aquaponics could also have a role to play in strengthening food security. 

The Royal Horticultural Society has described hydroponics as, “the science of growing plants without using soil, by feeding them on mineral nutrient salts dissolved in water.” In the case of aquaponics, the waste of fish is used to fertilize crops.

Hydroponics is a flexible technique which does not require natural light to grow produce. Around the world, several businesses are looking to scale-up these kinds of systems.

These include London-based firm Growing Underground, which uses hydroponics and LED technology to grow micro greens and salad leaves in a subterranean facility throughout the year.

The University of Sheffield’s Edmonson explained to CNBC that hydroponic and aquaponic systems had “clear potential in urban areas” because they could use underutilized “grey spaces” both on top and within buildings to produce food.

“For example, in Sheffield city centre we found that there was the equivalent of 0.5m2 (meters squared) of grey space, like flat rooftops, per person in the city,” she said.

“While this might sound small, hydroponic systems have the potential to produce high value crops, such as tomatoes, at very high yields, year round.”

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The trouble with the urban farming ‘revolution’

Rooftop agriculture and vertical farms are touted as the way of the future. But one case study on commercial farms in New York City sheds doubt on urban agriculture’s actual success.By Emma BryceApril 5, 2019

Commercial urban agriculture in New York City has provided questionable environmental gains, and has not significantly improved urban food security. These are the findings of a recent case study of New York City which shows that, despite the fanfare over commercial urban farming, it will need a careful re-evaluation if it’s going to play a sustainable role in our future food systems.

The rise of commercial controlled-environment agriculture (CEA)–comprised of large scale rooftop farms, vertical, and indoor farms–is a bid to re-envision cities as places where we could produce food more sustainably in the future. Proponents see CEA as way to bring agriculture closer to urban populations, thereby increasing food security, and improving agriculture’s environmental footprint by reducing the emissions associated with the production and transport of food.

But the researchers on the new paper wanted to explore whether these theoretical benefits are occurring in reality.

They focused on New York City, where CEA has dramatically increased in the last decade. Looking at 10 farms that produce roof- and indoor-grown vegetables at commercial scales, they investigated how much food the farms are producing, who it’s reaching, and how much space is available to expand CEA into.

They found that the biggest of these 10 commercial farms is around a third of an acre in size. Most are on roofs spread across New York City, and some are inside buildings and shipping containers. Mainly, these farms are producing impressive amounts of leafy greens such as lettuce, and herbs; some also produce fish.

But while rooftop farms rely on natural sunlight to feed the crops, indoor farms use artificial lights. These farms potentially have a greater energy footprint even than conventional outdoors farms, the researchers say–challenging the assumption that urban farms are less impactful than conventional ones.

Some farms also embraced high-tech systems, such as wind, rain, temperature, and humidity detectors and indoor heating, to enhance growing conditions in environments that aren’t naturally suited to agriculture. These elevate the energy costs of the food produced, and may be giving CEA an unexpectedly high carbon footprint, the researchers say.

Furthermore, the predominantly grown foods–such as lettuce–aren’t of great nutritional value for the urban population, especially those threatened by food insecurity. Most produce from CEAs is sold at a premium, something that partly reflects the cost of the real estate used to grow the food. Consequently, that produce is typically grown for high-end food stores and restaurants, meaning it’s unlikely to reach low-income urban populations who need it most.   

The researchers also think it’s unlikely that CEA–which currently occupies just 3.09 acres in New York City–could expand into the roughly 1,864 acres they estimate is still suitable for urban farming in New York City.

The rising cost of real estate might put these urban acres beyond the reach of new farming start ups, they think. These companies also face increasing competition from a growing number of farms springing up on the outskirts of cities–where land is cheaper and there’s space to produce more food, while also benefiting from urban proximity.

With its one-city focus, the research isn’t representative of what might be unfolding in other places around the world. Other cities may be having more success–for instance, Tokyo has gained global attention for its large scale vertical farming efforts. Yet as a case study, it does reveal useful lessons–especially for cities wanting to meet the original twin goals of urban agriculture: equitably increasing access to food, at a lower environmental cost.

The researchers note first of all that CEA is optimal in places where less supplemental heat and light is needed to grow food. More thought might also be given to the nutritional value and cost of foods grown, to generate benefits for all the city’s residents, not just high-income ones. The researchers question whether smaller, community-driven plots of urban agriculture–like community gardens, school, and prison farms–might actually do a better job of providing food to at-risk city residents, compared to commercial urban farms that inevitably have to focus on profits.  

Based on the study of New York, the researchers caution: “CEA may be touted as an exciting set of technologies with great promise, but it is unlikely to offer a panacea for social problems or an unqualified urban agricultural revolution.” 

It’s easy to be drawn in by the dystopian allure of vertical farms and underground greens nestled into our cities. But until we’ve streamlined its role, we should perhaps not overstate what commercial urban agriculture can do – or, instead be guided by cities where there are stronger signs of social and environmental success.

Source: Goodman et. al. “Will the urban agricultural revolution be vertical and soilless? A case study of controlled environment agriculture in New York City.” Land Use Policy. 2019.
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Starting an Urban Farm?

Ploughshares Nursery, Alameda, California

If you want to start an urban farm in California there are several things to consider. Just like starting any business there are many steps, and doing the right homework will save time and money in the end. Urban farming has many inherent challenges, like distribution, space and production capacity limitations, concerns with neighbors, and financing challenges. By considering the barriers up front, you’ll have fewer surprises as you get started.

Find Training. There is a great deal of knowledge and expertise involved with starting a farm. Consider finding a learning opportunity near you.

Create a Business Plan. It is important for farmers to grow and/or create products that can easily be marketed or are in demand. To do this, talk to restaurants, grocery stores, farmers’ market managers, local food producers, and community members to find out where there are gaps or marketing opportunities. Consider value-added products and the role they might play in your business. Learn about the process and costs. Create a business plan that includes marketing strategies and a budget.

Find Appropriate Land. If you are looking for space, check out your local utility agencies, parks and recreation departments, or research existing vacant lots. Consider local zoning codes and how they may apply to the type of urban farm you have in mind.

Test Soil. Some urban soil has elevated levels of heavy metals, such as lead, or other contaminants. Make sure to test your soil and remediate accordingly.

Learn the Basics of Production. Our research tells us that many beginning urban farmers struggle with the basics of producing crops or raising animals as they get established. Learn as much as you can about soilplantingpest management and watering. If you plan to raise animals or bees, learn the details of how to care for them.

Ensure Food Safety. Learn about how to make sure that the crops you grow are harvested, stored and processed safely, according to best practices.

Learn about Other Urban Farms. Read about urban agriculture projects throughout California here, and find out about their challenges and successes.

Explore Resources for Beginning Farmers. The following websites provide lots of general information for starting a farm.

EPA

USDA

San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance

FarmsReach

Los Angeles Food Policy Council

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What is urban agriculture?

Interest is high in urban agriculture, with many not-for-profits, businesses, municipalities, and individuals launching urban agriculture ventures. These individuals and organizations engage in urban agriculture to achieve a range of lofty private and public goals: to improve their own health and economic situation, to improve food access in their communities, to create income and jobs, to beautify their communities, to educate about gardening and farming, to create a feeling of community, and to provide ecosystem services for their communities (Santo, Palmer, & Kim, 2016).

But what is urban agriculture? How is urban agriculture defined by government agencies and researchers? What does urban agriculture look like in real life? What production systems and business models do urban producers use?

What is the definition of “urban agriculture”?

Urban agriculture has been most concisely defined by Wagstaff and Wortman (2013) as “all forms of agricultural production (food and non-food products) occurring within or around cities.”

Government agencies and the peer-reviewed literature have reached consensus on this broad definition of urban agriculture, which includes all production in or near cities of plants or animals, whether for personal use or for sale, whether soil-based or hydroponic (Diekmann et al., 2016; FAO, 2016; Hendrickson & Porth, 2012; Oberholtzer, Dimitri, & Pressman, 2014; USDA, 2016). Agricultural production near cities is further defined as “peri-urban agriculture” (Diekmann et al., 2016; Hendrickson & Porth, 2012; Oberholtzer et al., 2014).

What is the definition of “urban”?

Because urban agriculture includes a broad variety of agricultural production systems unified solely by their location in and near urban areas, defining “urban” becomes necessary to defining “urban agriculture.”

Most definitions of urban and rural areas are based on measurements of population density and land use, but different branches and agencies of the United States government use slightly different thresholds and scales to delineate between urban and rural areas (John & Reynnalls, 2016). Both the USDA-Economic Research Service and the Office of Management and Budget define rural and urban at the county level (Cromartie & Parker, 2018; Donovan, 2015). This can be helpful in identifying counties where land prices and markets are likely to be influenced by nearby metropolitan areas (Heimlich & Anderson, 2001), and thus where agriculture might be considered “peri-urban.” However, for the purpose of defining urban agriculture, the US Census Bureau’s Urbanized Areas and Urban Clusters are more useful (Ratcliffe, Burd, Holder, & Fields, 2016), because they are defined and mapped at a more fine-grained scale (Figure1).

What is urban agriculture-Figure 1Figure 1: Urbanized Areas in Maryland, as defined by the US Census Bureau. Map made by Neith Little, using open-access mapping software Grass GISand TIGERLINE shapefiles provided by the U.S. Census Bureau: https://www.census.gov/geo/maps-data/

At the local level, zoning boards often differentiate between locations prioritized for urban development or for rural open space preservation. These zoning maps can also be helpful in defining urban agriculture (Figure 2).

What is urban agriculture figure 2Figure 2: Urban Rural Demarcation Line in Baltimore County, MD, as mapped by the Baltimore County Planning Department: https://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/planning/index.html

What does urban agriculture look like?

Urban agriculture encompasses a broad spectrum of production methods and business models. Production systems can be broadly categorized as

  1. Ground-based outdoor urban gardens and farms (Figure 3)
  2. Hydroponic or aquaponic indoor production (Figure 4)
  3. Rooftop gardens and farms (Figure 5)
  4. Landscaping and nursery businesses
  5. Urban livestock

More detail about different urban agriculture production systems will be covered in Chapter 1: Urban production systems.

Intro Figure 3- Whitelock Community Farm, Baltimore, MD
Figure 3: Outdoor urban agriculture can be done in raised beds or containers,in-ground in native or imported soil, and in high tunnels or hoop houses. Picture taken at Whitelock Community Farm, Baltimore, MD by Neith Little, UMD Extension.
Intro-Figure 4 Urban Pastoral, Baltimore, MDFigure 4: Basil grown hydroponically in a modified shipping container at Urban Pastoral, in Baltimore, MD. Photo by Neith Little, UMD Extension.
Intro-Figure5 Up Top Acres, Washington, DC.Figure 5: Okra growing on a retro-fitted green roof at Up Top Acres, in Washington, DC. Photo by Neith Little, UMD Extension.

Similarly, urban agriculture encompasses a spectrum of business structures:

Intro-Urban Agriculture business structures

Many personal and community urban gardens exist, but for-profit and not-for-profit urban farms also grow crops for sale or distribution. Whether they are organized as for-profit or not-for-profit businesses, most urban farms include benefiting their communities among their goals. Not-for-profit urban farms might focus primarily on producing healthy, affordable food for their community, or on employing community members who face barriers to employment, while for-profit urban farms often use a “Robin Hood” business model, selling high-value crops to chefs and at farmers markets in order to be able to subsidize selling produce at affordable prices to their neighbors. Urban agriculture can be economically important to the grower, whether by producing food for personal use, creating supplemental income through a “micro-enterprise”, or enabling urban residents to start businesses and become entrepreneurs.

Additionally, much grey area exists between gardening and farming. For example, “market gardening” is a term for a type of small-scale market-oriented production: growing a diverse variety of vegetables and fruits on small plots for direct marketing to local customers. And some community gardens are experimenting with Community Supported Agriculture subscription programs, whereby community members can access food either by the sweat-equity method of working in the garden, or by the market-based method of buying into the garden.

Those doing urban agriculture use a variety of words to describe themselves and the work they do, but usually government agencies and academics differentiate between gardening and farming by whether money changes hands. As soon as a product is sold for money, or a person is paid to do work, additional legal responsibilities begin to apply to an urban farm, related to regulations, taxes, and liability. More information about legal topics important to urban farmers will be covered in Chapter 4.

The rest of this guidebook will be written with urban farms in mind, with “urban farmer” defined as anyone who grows or raises agricultural products in an urban area, for sale, whether for-profit or not-for-profit.

Urban farms usually “direct-market” what they produce, that is they sell directly to their customer through farm-stands, farmers’ markets, CSAs, and direct sales to restaurants and institutional customers. Economies of scale, and proximity to customers, means that selling to wholesale distributors is less economically viable for small-scale urban farms than direct-marketing produce to urban customers. More information about markets and marketing of urban farm products to which urban farms sell their products will be covered in Chapter 3: Marketing challenges and opportunities.

Literature cited

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We need to think beyond urban farming

By Karn Manhas

February 26, 2020

The Terramera greenhouse.

Vertical salad farms in San Francisco. Microgreens grown in Manhattan warehouses. Shipping containers sprouting strawberries in Paris. The last few years have seen an explosion of indoor urban farms throughout the globe, with the concept of producing, well, produce in the middle of the urban jungle — capturing the attention of everyone from foodies to food journalists to investors. 

Indeed, the market for indoor urban farms was valued at $2.3 billion in 2018, with investment in the sector reaching more than $400 million, up from just $60 million just three years earlier. 

As more people flock to cities, urban farms purport to alleviate some major issues plaguing our food systems: reducing transportation miles; decreasing water use; and producing higher yields on smaller parcels of land. But as much as urban farming has increased in popularity, critics point out that it’s unlikely to revolutionize our food systems on a global scale. A major advantage of indoor farming is the ability to collect data that sheds valuable insight into how plants respond and react to a variety of stimuli, nutrients and environmental conditions.Put simply: we can’t feed the world with salad alone. 

With the global population set to reach more than 9.7 billion people by 2030, we also need to focus on efficient and sustainable production of staple crops, such as wheat, soy, corn and rice. These high caloric-density foods make up the bulk of global diets, both for humans and livestock, and are unlikely candidates for indoor farming due to their high requirements for both energy and space. 

That doesn’t mean we should not pursue urban farming — but we ultimately may find there is greater value in applying its lessons to improve agriculture as a whole, rather than in just producing microgreens in the urban core. 

Shining a light on costs 

For all the excitement over urban farms, many companies in the space are struggling to scale and turn a profit. That’s because indoor urban farming is a costly endeavor — in both economic and environmental terms. 

This is largely due to the industry’s reliance on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to mimic the sun. As far as artificial lighting has come in recent years, the sun still vastly outshines even the most efficient LEDs, and it does so for free. Additionally, artificial lights must draw power, and lots of it, from municipal grids which don’t always rely on renewable energy sources. 

Lettuce grown in a traditional greenhouse, for example, takes about 250 kilowatt-hours per year for every square meter of growing space, compared to a whopping 3,500 kWh per year for lettuce grown in a purpose-built vertical farm. Add to that the energy costs of keeping urban farms perfectly climate-controlled and the overhead of leasing or buying real estate in some of the world’s most expensive markets and it all adds up to produce that is both created and sold at a premium. 

At present, the only crops that come close to generating profits are leaves, such as salad greens, microgreens and herbs. Some water-heavy, calorie-light fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and strawberries may come soon. These crops make great garnishes but do little to provide the basis for a nutritionally complete diet. More often than not, they are sold to high-end restaurants or boutique grocery stores, serving a clientele that has the means to access nutritious foods year-round rather than those living in lower-income neighborhoods that are often the epicenters of urban food deserts

Terramera growth chamber

The most valuable ‘indoor’ crop? Data 

Don’t get me wrong. There is value — both nutritional and educational — in providing food sources in the urban center. Exposing urban-dwellers to the process of growing food emphasizes that vegetables don’t originate at the grocery store and helps connect people to the food system and its role in creating a healthy planet. 

But to truly make an impact on feeding the world, the fruits of urban farms need to be accessible to a much broader demographic. As costs come down and technology improves, they have a role in augmenting fresh food without expensive transport costs. And, it may be that some of the most useful applications for indoor urban farming techniques happen far outside of our major cities.  

There are nearly 4 billion acres of farmland across the world — far too much to convert to, or replace with, indoor farming. But applying some techniques and technologies developed through indoor farming to more traditional methods can help us update the world’s food systems to produce higher yields, reduce its environmental impact and grow cleaner, more nutritious, more affordable food. 

A major advantage of indoor farming is the ability to collect vast reams of data that shed valuable insight into how plants respond and react to a variety of stimuli, nutrients and environmental conditions (my own company relies heavily on indoor growth chambers to help us refine our technologies to reduce synthetic pesticide loads). We ultimately may find there is greater value in applying the lessons of urban farming to improve agriculture as a whole, rather than in just producing microgreens.Lessons learned through indoor farming have already resulted in more efficient ways to deal with plant stress from pests, drought and disease by learning to spot signs of distress earlier and maximizing natural inputs, rather than relying on disruptive land use practices or chemicals when it’s too late. 

As the world grapples with an increasingly unpredictable climate, this knowledge is key in optimizing mother nature to continue to provide consistent and nutritious foods. And, indoor urban farming in its current form may have beneficial applications in remote northern communities that have limited access to fresh foods for much of the year. 

The future of farming is hybrid

To be clear, we do need to continue to grow food within our cities. 

The United Nations predicts two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050 — making it imperative that food sources are close by. But there are a multitude of ways we can do this: supporting raised-bed community gardens, encouraging individuals and businesses to grow vegetables instead of lawns, repurposing urban rooftops as growth spaces and greenhouses to harness the power of the sun. 

As the cost of urban indoor farming decreases and more renewable energy sources come on board, foods grown in the urban core may yet become accessible to a wider demographic, including lower-income populations. We may even see a future where growth chambers in homes and buildings yield fresh produce for households year-round. 

In the end, the evolution of urban farming is promising. But it is only one part of a global food puzzle — one that needs input on all sides to grow, and become genuinely sustainable and accessible to all.