What Is Urban Farming?
Urban farming is the act of growing food in an urban setting for profit. This could be any populated area from small villages to a large metropolis. Although they have much in common, urban farming is not to be confused with urban gardening or community gardens. Urban gardens are for personal consumption and not for profit.
There are different types of urban farms. Farms can be plant based, animal based, aquaponic, hydroponic, raised bed, vertical, subsistence and/or a combination of these and probably a lot I can’t think of. As you might guess, just about anyone can start an urban farm. It just takes a little time and effort.
How does urban farming work?
Urban farming usually is done in relatively small spaces. However, some urban farms cover several thousand square feet. These larger ones being in warehouses, shipping containers, vacant lots or on rooftops. Many small urban farming operations are from a spare bedroom or apartment balcony. Some are as simple as having a beehive or a few chickens in the backyard or growing micro-greens in some containers or a raised bed. A few people get started growing mushrooms in a spare room or garage.
There are several small urban farmers that have replaced their yards with gardens. They then sell their produce at the farmer’s market or to some local restaurants. These farmers can make a from a few dollars a week to a full time living. Most of the smaller farmers grow things that are quick growing and easy to sell, like micro-greens or mushrooms. Crops like tomatoes or corn take too long to make monetary sense in a small space.
Some farmers are growing in and for potted plants. Potted plants, like Japanese Maples, can sell for ten dollars for a small plant, and a couple hundred dollars for some of the larger ones. The seedlings can be bought for a couple dollars or less. It takes a few months to be ready to sell though.
When did urban farming start?
Urban farms have really always been. When early man learned to grow his food is when farming started. That in turn caused groups to form. Those groups grew into villages. Those Villages then grew into cities. Since people like to eat, the farming never stopped.
As cities grew, open space became less and less and therefor urban farms became less and less. More and more people move to the cities for employment. As a result, a dependency grew on the rural farms to provide the cities with food. This caused even fewer urban farms. Those remaining had to adapt to maximize production in the space they had. But they never disappeared completely.
In 19th century America it was socially unacceptable to have a garden in the city. Immigration changed that. Many ethnic populations had to garden to survive, so they became very creative in finding ways to grow what they needed in the cities. Some used window boxes to grow herbs, lettuce and tomatoes. Some used rooftops to grow potatoes, corn and carrots and more.
In the early 20th century, urban farming was promoted by governments as a way for the poor to help feed themselves and raise their standard of living, especially during wartime. This trend continues today with some cities utilizing public land as community farms. A few lease this land to urban farmers or community gardens.
What Are the Benefits of Urban Farming?
Much more can be grown in the same area as conventional farming. Most urban farms grow vertically. Instead of having a 2ft by 2ft patch of soil you can have 2ft by 2ft growing tower with several shelves. You can even cover a whole wall and take up almost no space at all. There are many vertical garden growing systems on the market today from the very simple to the very elaborate.
Urban farming systems use about 90% less water and much less space than traditionally grown produce. Although it may be more expensive in the beginning to start up. However that is usually made up for in a few months. It costs much less to maintain and produces sometimes tenfold or more of what conventional methods do. That means that in the long run it becomes more sustainable.
Urban farms generally require less water, chemical fertilizers, growing area and energy spent on transporting products. Additionally, the water used can be waste water so less spent on water treatment facilities. Food scraps can be composted so less in the landfills and sewer systems. Crops can be planted in areas that normally would not have anything growing like rooftops, riverbanks and vacant lots. This helps clean the air and rain. Also, it helps prevent erosion of the topsoil.
Urban farms provide jobs in areas that were previously unproductive. Anyone can start and benefit from one. That means even the economically disadvantaged can help themselves by growing food for sale or to feed their families. This is going to feed some of the most needing of the population.
Increase in Health
Urban farms help to make people knowledgeable of the fruits and vegetable that they were getting from the grocery stores. Additionally, they become aware of how what they were eating was grown and handled getting to the store. They develop and allegiance to homegrown food. They learn to cook. This has been shown to cause eating healthier. The foods are now non GMO. They are fresh with no chemical additives. All this adds up to better health.
Urban Farming Is The Way Of The Future?
Many people think that the only way of feeding the growing population of the world is through urban farming. It is estimated that there will be 9 billion people on earth by 2050. Today there is 7.2 billion people. 50% live in urban areas. Only about 3% of the population actively grow there own food.
Advancements in Technology
There is a growing interest in urban farming. Many of these farms are embracing technology to grow their crops. One such company, AeroFarms, say it will have the world’s largest indoor vertical farm. They employ vertical farming to grow leafy greens like arugula, lettuce and kale on a large scale. They plan on selling to local grocery stores and to the local community.
MIT Media Lab is using technology to create a library of climate recipes to grow the perfect crop. Called OpenAg, they are using computers to monitor and control the environment that the crops grow in. They control almost everything from water pH and temperature, to the amount of CO2 in the air. This allows for optimizing yields and flavors. As each crop is grown the results are recorded and measured. This becomes a climate recipe. Recipes are freely shared so anyone can create a perfect environment.
Urban farms using these giant greenhouses and technologies may be the future of farming but they won’t replace traditional farms. There are limitations to what can be grown it these farms. Most only produce leafy greens because of the short growing time. Crops like corn, beans or potatoes are still grown traditionally.
Whatever the future holds, urban farming will be part of it.