Urban Farming

Deconstructed: urban farming

Could urban farming be a viable way to improve resilience and lower emissions in our cities, or are the challenges of growing enough crops to support local populations too great? We asked the experts…

“It will ease the disruption wrought by climate change on crop growing”

Urban agriculture is an umbrella term that covers everything from allotments and community gardens, to more high-tech solutions such as hydroponics or underground farming. The gap between the urban population and the food system has been growing. With the world facing a climate emergency, that gap is now being looked at seriously: it can reduce emissions, have huge benefits for urban environment, and provide social benefits, too.

Furthermore, it could add huge value to the rural sector. Climate change is going to have significant negative impacts on yields in the global south: urban agriculture can prop up that system. So I can see a lot of potential, and businesses are starting to get involved and looking to invest.

  • Michael Hardman is co-founder of the Food Geographies Research Group at the Royal Geographical Society, and a senior lecturer in geography at the University of Salford

“You won’t be able to feed whole cities, but it can help ease the burden”

By 2030, there will be 9 billion people on the planet, and researchers suggest we need to increase food production by 60% to feed them. Meanwhile, the number of pollinating insects is falling – 40% of insect species are in decline. So if the food system doesn’t work, we need to find one that does.

One possibility is hydroponics: systems in which the roots are not in soil, and plants are watered with nutrients. Artificial light enables hydroponic farmers to grow crops indoors all year round, and you can also grow vertically, so you can get much higher yields per square metre.

There are downsides. Although they’re space efficient, these systems may not be energy efficient. And to grow at the scale required to feed the population you would need an enormous amount of infrastructure.

I’m not saying cities will become self-sufficient. But plenty of urban agriculture is already happening in Africa, where rough estimates suggest that one-third of the food needed is produced in cities or on the urban fringe. And reducing the pressure we put on the environment is only good.

  • Silvio Caputo is a senior lecturer at Kent School of Architecture and Planning

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Do you think RICS is doing enough to raise awareness of, and help tackle, the climate crisis?YesNoSubmit your answer

Can urban populations be supported by food grown in their own neighbourhood?

“Growing crops close to population centres helps to reduce food miles”

My business partner and I realised there are huge problems with the way we currently produce food – so if we wanted to have a positive impact in the world, food was the place to do it. We decided aquaponics might be a sustainable way of growing in cities. It’s a type of hydroponics, which uses fertiliser from fish, but it has the potential to grow food in cities, right next to where consumers live.

That would give people the freshest food possible, reducing the need for transport and packaging. Plus, growing indoors isolates agriculture from the effects of the climate. But there are open questions about energy requirements: you’ve got to ask where the power comes from.

There are three elements to what we do: we’re an education company, teaching children about organic agriculture; we carry out research to explore the best way of using these systems in cities; and obviously we grow crops. This last element is the one we currently do the least, but we’re ramping up to do small-scale commercial growing.

  • Jens Thomas is co-founder of Liverpool-based social enterprise Farm Urban

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By 2030, the world will require 40% more water, 50% more food, 40% more energy and 40% more timber and fibre. The only way we can meet these demands is by managing our ecosystems smartly and sustainably.

UN Environment Programme

“Beyond supplying food, there are also educational and wellbeing benefits”

Greensgrow is a non-profit farm and garden centre, located in a very dense, depressed part of Philadelphia’s urban core. It started in the late 1990s on a brownfield site, and today we have one full city block; part of the site is also set up for animals.

We grow about half of what we offer on the farm stand ourselves. The other half comes from regional farms. Urban farms won’t be able to feed an entire city, but they can support a huge system of local farms, and help fill in the gaps. The limitations of the site include a lack of space and light, as well as just dealing with waste and pests.

One of the main purposes of urban agriculture is education: explaining the relationship between our food and the environment. The other big thing is wellness: farms attract birds, butterflies, caterpillars and more. There’s a sense of smell and sensuality in that landscape that is hard to find in an urban park.

  • Meg DeBrito is executive director at Greensgrow, Philadelphia, US

This article originally appeared in the Precision issue of Modus (Jul-Aug 2019). The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of RICS.

Urban Farming


The practice of urban agriculture is incredibly variable. There are a tremendous number of  current technologies and systems for developing urban agriculture on both large and small scales, and on surfaces that are both horizontal and vertical. It demands a certain ingenuity, or creative spirit, to take on farming of all types in the city and the best practices are the ones that take advantage of existing opportunities and infrastructures.


Large Scale


Large scale projects in urban agriculture are less common because they bring up complex political and social issues regarding urban land use, ownership and labor. Cuba is the best, and perhaps only example, of a large scale urban agriculture movement that has been formally deployed. There are also other large scale instances of urban agriculture in other developing countries where it is an issue of survival. There aren’t any examples in the United States currently, but there is a project in the works in New York called the Five Borough Farm. This is a pilot project that is looking to consolidate disused, under-used or vacant urban land in New York City, for the purpose of creating the first city-wide urban agriculture plan in the country. The land under discussion is city owned, and the intention of the project, after completing a survey of existing urban agriculture initiatives throughout the five boroughs, is to leverage the available land base and those existing projects to show the city how it can support and improve the urban agriculture movement in New York through policy changes.

Small Scale


There are countless examples of people producing small amounts of food (vegetables, a fruit tree, etc.) for personal consumption in their own yards. There are also many examples of community based agriculture all over the world. These community gardens are large garden areas in a common space where each tenant has their own area to garden.

On the Roof


Since open land in cities that’s available for growing crops is scarce, many have started growing crops on the other horizontal surface in cities that are in abundance: rooftops. Roof gardens have become ever more popular, especially in cities where land values and density are high. Food production is possible on an intensive green roof where the soil is deep enough to accommodate vegetables, like the Gary Comer Youth Center. These types of systems can be a bit expensive, especially compared to just having large boxes or pots of soil to grow in. A roof can be done by one group that takes care of the entire roof or can be split up and done as community garden plots.


Greenhouses can be an important addition to these urban agricultural systems, especially in northern climates where the growing season may be rather short. Adding a greenhouse component to these horizontal systems can allow for much higher production over a longer period of time. Greenhouses can even be operated in a more sustainable manner by using waste heat from a nearby building or industry to heat them.


Dr. Dickson Despommier, of Environmental Health Science at Columbia University makes a compelling argument for utilizing city skyscrapers for vertical farming. He notes that growing food indoors is already becoming commonplace with the techniques of hydroponics (growing plants not in soil, but with the roots in a nutrient rich water solution) as well as aeroponics (growing plants, not in soil but suspended with the roots exposed that are then sprayed with a nutrient-rich water solution).


Hydroponic and aeroponic greenhouses currently allow crops to be produced year-round with maximized yields because of ideal growing and ripening conditions. It can also be done without concern for outdoor environmental conditions such as soil, precipitation or temperature profiles and could even be supplied by gray water and powered by renewable technologies. By utilizing these existing technologies in dense, urban areas, a 30-story building covering one city block could produce 2,400 acres of a year.

Small scale vertical farming can be as simple as a few pots in window sills.  There are some products that allow for easier vertical farming. Bohn & Viljoen Architects has designed a hydroponic system that can be hung in a window like a curtain.


The main reasons for urban agriculture are producing more food closer to home, food security and reducing the demand for food products generated by traditional agriculture systems. Therefore, urban agriculture isn’t just about growing produce, but can also include raising animals.

There has been a strong push for raising chickens in back yards, which is legal in Chicago and many other major cities. Producing much less waste and being less noisy than a dog, there are not many drawbacks to urban chickens. They can produce around an egg a day, which is more nutritious and delicious than store-bought eggs. They can also be fed table scraps, reducing feed cost as well as organic waste that would have to be shipped away.

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms, including fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants. (‘Farming’ here implies some sort of intervention such as regular stocking, feeding, or protection from predators.) Both indoor systems in tanks, and outdoor systems in ponds can be used. Unlike most forms of livestock, aquaculture systems can be very compatible with nearby residential areas and provide an opportunity to treat organic domestic waste. In many countries, such as India, Thailand, China and Vietnam, human waste is used as a source of nutrients for aquaculture, which is then treated in the process; however, this practice needs to be done with extensive management in order to prevent disease. Tilapia and carp are the main fish used in aquaculture.

Dr. Noel Arrold took advantage of an existing disused rail tunnel in Sydney Australia and began growing mushrooms there. The cool, dark and damp space provides a perfect space for growing them, while reinvigorating this existing infrastructure.

Many cities have also started allowing the keeping of bees on rooftops.  This greatly helps maintain a bee population within a city, which has many great environmental benefits like pollinating crops on green roofs and other urban farms. They also produce honey, which can be eaten or sold.  There are many bee colonies in Chicago, including on City Hall, Chicago Cultural Center and the Marriott Hotel.

Rice paddies are a less common product for urban agriculture but this project utilizes empty lots in downtown Tokyo.

Urban Farming

The Rise of Urban Farming

Image for post

Urban farming is big news. You may not have heard too much about it but according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), urban agriculture is something that is practised by 800 million people worldwide, over one-tenth of the global population. So what exactly is it and how is it changing how we produce and distribute food?

What is urban farming?

Urban farming, or urban agriculture, can be described as the growing of plants and raising of animals in and around towns, cities and urban environments. Until recently, farming has been a largely rural activity. But the development of technology, together with a pressing need to find more sustainable ways of production and consumption, has led to the adaptation of farming techniques in more built up environments.

There are several different types of urban farms of varying scales that exist in different parts of the world, including commercial city farms, community gardens, community orchards, indoor vertical farms, hydroponic greenhouses, rooftop gardens, urban aquaponic farms (or fish farms), urban beehives and small-scale homestead farms. They produce a range of goods for local consumption or retail, such as grains, vegetables, fruit, meat, poultry, fish, herbs, honey and dairy products.

Urban farms can be small, medium or large-scale commercial enterprises, cooperatives run by community groups or residents, or even individual set ups. The farms have proliferated in both developed and developing countries in recent years, serving slightly different purposes in general in each. Farms in wealthier industrialised nations have largely been in response to the challenge to find more sustainable methods of agricultural production, along with moves towards more localized economies. In poorer countries, they have come about through multi-stakeholder efforts to combat food insecurity and hunger levels.

Why has urban farming become popular?

Urban farming has grown in popularity over the last 10–15 years. In the developing world, it has largely been driven by the rapid urbanization of developing regions. The urban population across the developing world has grown by around 500 million in the last decade and it is predicted that, by 2025, more than half of the developing world will live in urban areas. The main drivers of urban growth in these countries are high birth rates and an influx of rural people trying to escape poverty. Unlike countries where urbanization has been driven by industrialization, in low income areas it is often accompanied by high levels of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. Urban farming has been seen as a way to combat all three of these problems.

In richer nations, the growth of urban agriculture has been in tandem with a return to localism, the growth of localized businesses, social entrepreneurialism and ethically-minded start ups. Social good and environmental sustainability are high on the agenda with new businesses, with one study finding that 90% of today’s CEOs and 88% of business students believe that sustainability is an important part of commercial success. Finding new and improved agricultural methods is an important area of sustainability. Studies have found that agriculture uses 38% of the world’s land area and is responsible for over 70% of global freshwater consumption. With more people concentrated in urban areas, farms can be more productive without using up the same level of resources. Warmer urban conditions are also conducive to the growing of crops.

Not all urban farming practices, however, are for a commercial profit. There are many such as community gardens and community orchards that are run by charities, community groups or resident cooperatives and exist for more social purposes such as sharing food, providing for poorer sections of the community, or bringing parts of the community together.

What are the impacts of urban farming?

Impact on businesses and the economy

Urban farming can have many positive effects on the local economy. As well as presenting green-fingered entrepreneurs with opportunities to start new local businesses, it also creates job opportunities for local people. Furthermore, farms can often provide local shops, supermarkets and restaurants with cheaper and fresher produce which has knock-on positive effects. One study has estimated that urban farms have the potential to provide around 10% of global vegetable crops, which could translate into big savings for local economies worldwide. Start up costs, however, are still high. Those involved in urban farming typically work longer than average hours, lose more food than rural farmers due to urban pests, and struggle to find skilled and experienced staff.

Impact on the environment

Urban farming has been championed as a way of improving agricultural environmental sustainability, but in truth it can have both positive and negative effects and it comes down to the way that farms operate and are regulated. Farms can provide a more efficient way of meeting local demand. If operated sustainably, they can reduce both the agricultural energy footprint (through eliminating the need to store and transport imported products) and the water footprint (through sustainable irrigation and water recycling). They can also transform wasteland into productive green space and stop it from becoming polluted. Vertical farms, which are set up inside multi-storey buildings and warehouses, also have the benefit of saving on space.

But studies have shown that urban farms can also increase energy and water use. Indoor farms, such as vertical farms, use energy-intensive artificial lighting and climate control systems. Many farms use the municipal water supply rather than a recycled water system for irrigation. There are also distinct health and safety risks with urban farming. Urban land can be contaminated with pollutants, while wastewater if not treated properly can contain human pathogens. This can compromise food safety if strict regulations are not in place.

Impact on communities

There are a number of positive social impacts associated with urban farming, such as:

  • improving food security and reducing poverty among the poorest by providing cheaper and more easily available food;
  • health benefits of providing affordable nutritious fruit, vegetables and organically produced meat;
  • greater social inclusion by providing local job opportunities and, in the case of community projects, bringing communities together;
  • educational opportunities for children, e.g. school trips to city farms and community gardens where pupils can learn more about where food comes from

However, urban farming has attracted some criticism in places such as Europe for becoming monopolized by the middle-classes and excluding lower income groups.

Who are the main players in urban farming?


Urban farming in Europe is not a new phenomenon. In fact, several countries encouraged the production of food in urban environments during both the First and Second World Wars in the 20th century. Today, start up urban agriculture enterprises are cropping up across the continent. At governmental level, individual governments have had limited involvement but the EU-funded Urban Agriculture Europe, a network of over 120 researchers, have been looking into ways in which urban farming can play a key role in future EU agricultural policy. Berlin-based start up InFarm has become the European urban farming leader with over 100 indoor and outdoor city farms in Germany, France and Switzerland. Among the largest urban farms in Europe are Space&Matter in the Netherlands, the Jones Food Company vertical farm in the UK, and the BIGH rooftop farm in Belgium.


There has been a growth in urban farming across the American continent in recent decades. In the US, policies and initiatives vary between states but projects ranging from vertical hydroponic enterprises to community gardens flourish across the country. A 2012 study by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) identified over 300 urban farms in the US. This includes one of the world’s largest urban farms located across nearly two acres in Chicago. In Canada, there has been more state-level involvement. Toronto in particular has been proactive, setting up a Food Policy Council which has drawn up a GrowTO Urban Agriculture Action Plan. In south and central America, where poverty and food insecurity are big issues in several countries, the UNFAO has been involved in kick-starting urban micro-gardens projects in countries including Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Venezuela.


Several Asian countries have invested significant amounts in urban farming technologies as a way of dealing with population growth and combating food insecurity. China, which has industrialized at a rapid pace in recent decades, has become a world leader in indoor vertical farming thanks to state investment. Similarly, Thailand has a community-supported agriculture initiative, led by the Thailand Environment Institute, that has helped create rooftop farms and indoor vertical farms across Bangkok. In India, another country that has urbanized at a pace, urban farming is now being seen as a sustainable food production method. Methods such as rooftop farming have taken off in cities such as Kerala.


The African continent has also seen wide-scale urbanization in recent years. Urban farming methods in the poorest countries have largely centred around setting up micro-gardening and community gardening projects, overseen by UNFAO, equipping urban locals with skills and resources to produce sustainable and feed the local community. Methods such as vertical farming are starting to take hold in some African countries. Johannesburg has hosted two Urban Agri Africa Summits to date, looking into possibilities of developing urban farming technologies across the continent.

Urban farming is unlikely to replace traditional agriculture any time soon but it will have a vital role to play in addressing challenges such as environmental sustainability and food insecurity in the coming years. As the world continues to urbanize and new technologies emerge, we can expect to see increasing governmental and inter-governmental involvement as urban farming becomes more mainstream. The key stakeholders will need to make sure that business models stay alert to environmental, social and economic challenges so that the farming of the future is a sustainable benefit for all.

Urban Farming

Urban Farming

Urban Farmers in Training

Grow Pittsburgh, in partnership with Braddock Youth Project and Homewood Children’s Village, offers a six-week employment and educational program for high-school aged youth each summer. Students are intimately involved in the workings of the farm from seeding to harvest, additionally learning about leadership, teamwork, and how their actions affect the larger food system.Learn More

Pittsburgh Urban Growers Cooperative

Pittsburgh Urban Growers Cooperative

The Pittsburgh Urban Growers Cooperative (PUGC) emerged to address the primary gaps in our urban farming system and make urban farming more economically sustainable. Please note that PUGC is curently on an indefinite hiatus.

Urban Growers Guide

Urban Growers Guide

The resources provided in the guide cover a range of topics that one might run into when growing and selling food in Pittsburgh, from rules about zoning or food safety permits to understanding liability or water access. (External Link)Learn More

Urban Farming

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 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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Urban Farming

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.

Urban Farming

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”

Urban Farming


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 ( 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 (

    Total US Military emissions were estimated at 172 MMTCO2 in 2009

    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

    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
    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.
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  • RegApr. 1st, 2016Hey Elizabeth,

    I enjoyed your article. I’m the Co-founder of™, 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:

    If you have questions, you can reach me using,
  • 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

Urban Farming

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.

Urban Farming

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


  • 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 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.”