As people all over the world move from rural areas to cities, urban centres sprawl to accommodate them. Often that means a loss of arable farmlands that usually surround towns and cities.
It is predicted that by 2050 the world population may be around 10 billion. How to feed the world is now a pressing issue. The stresses of climate change, the declining availability of arable land and fresh water are challenging conventional agriculture as never before.
Food security is needed by all and is achieved when the population has access to affordable, sufficient, safe and healthy food to meet dietary requirements necessary to lead an active and healthy life. The idea of supplementing food production – beyond rural farming operations and distant imports – with urban food gardens, is not new. As a strategy for survival, urban farming has been used during times of war and economic depression when food shortage issues arose, as well as during times of relative abundance – as many very dedicated home food-growers will attest. Recently, the urban farming movement has experienced considerable growth since various food movements around the world have contributed to its popularity.
What is Urban Farming?
Urban farming, urban agriculture or city farming, is the practice of sustainably growing, processing and distributing food throughout urban areas, by people and communities not necessarily traditional farmers.
Urban farms can be as simple as traditional home food gardens or groundbased community food gardens. Vertical gardening – for home and community growers – allows the use of walls where ground space is at a premium. They can be simple pocketed panels or can be as complex as large vertical hydroponic or aquaponic farms – the new trend of utilizing the three-dimensional space.
Urban farming covers a variety of levels on both economic and social fronts. In some communities there is a demand for organic, locally produced food with the focus on holistic lifestyles, fresh unprocessed foods and ‘transition town’ concepts.
There is a trend towards local production and availability through local markets of safe, healthy food – from ‘farm to fork’. This goes hand in hand with an educated consumer base that cooks and wants better ingredients, promoting these micro-economies.
On the other hand, particularly in lower-income groups (within cities and in the developing world generally), food security, nutrition, poverty alleviation (income generation) and basic survival are the driving forces for urban farming and creation of community urban gardens.
Benefits of Urban farming:
As cities are transformed from only consumers of food to generators and suppliers of agricultural products, the effects can lead to increased sustainability of food production, poverty alleviation, increased food security and health, and overall reduction in carbon footprints.
- Health benefits:
- Within cities there are areas (often known as food deserts) that lack supermarkets and stores that sell fresh produce and which often have limited food choices – which are also often only highly processed, fast food or convenience foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients.
- This diet can lead to elevated rates of diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. With increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables there is a decrease in risk for disease and a marked increase in health and wellness.
- Social benefits:
- The provision of work for communities with concomitant financial rewards is a major result of urban farming.
- By re-connecting with food production and nature, increasing cooperation, providing for others and positive social interactions, urban community gardening teaches individuals the skills necessary to participate in a democratic society.
- Feelings of independence, improved levels of self-esteem and empowerment often arise with the ability to produce and grow food for oneself and others, increasing emotional well-being of both individuals and of communities.
- Urban farms are also an effective educational tool to teach children about healthy eating and meaningful physical activity.
- Environmental benefits:
- Sustainable farming methods contribute towards improving air, water and soil quality in the built environment.
- Transport distances are reduced or removed thus lowering CO2 emissions.
- Plants are well known as carbon sinks and are able to reduce ozone and particulate matter from the air.
- Wastewater and organic solid waste can be transformed into resources for growing agriculture products: the former can be used for irrigation, the latter as fertilizer. The use of wastewater for irrigation improves water management and increases the availability of freshwater for drinking and household consumption.
- Phytoremediation – or cleaning up of chemical pollutants by plant material are also possibilities, as well as preventing soil erosion.
- Gardens may help reduce noise pollution in cities as the built environment is notoriously noisy with hard flat surfaces that reflect sound.
- Vacant urban areas can be used for agriculture production.
One form of Urban farming that is gaining traction worldwide is the use of rooftops and vacant land within the city boundaries to erect Vertical Farms and stacked Greenhouses. These systems generally employ hydroponic and aquaponic growing techniques and can produce vast amounts of produce in very little space.
Aquaponics can produce usable water from waste water and recycles organic waste back to energy and nutrients producing not only food plants but fish as well.
Smaller vertical gardens for the home-grower are also very popular as utilization of horizontal space within the city is often limited or not an option. Balconies or courtyard walls are available to be used to grow food.
Planning for Urban farms in commercial or residential spaces:
With the current emphasis on sustainable design and sustainable cities, modern town planning and design initiatives are often responsive to incorporating Vertical farms into future cityscapes
When urban farming activities are conducted on vacant municipal land or private own land, concerns have been raised about the allocation of land and property rights. Municipal governments need to create successful policy measures that can be incorporated in urban planning.
In South Africa stakeholders from both the private and public sectors need to be motivated to play a role in creating and growing successful projects of this nature.
There are many highly successful urban agricultural initiatives besides the thousands of small urban farmers and home food growers. These include rooftop farms, large-scale, high- tech, vertical urban farming projects and indoor (e.g. Japan) and outdoor (e.g. Germany) hydroponic growing systems all over the world
Locally there are several new initiatives of rooftop farming especially in Johannesburg, using tunnels and hydroponics.
Cape Town too has a few rooftop gardens utilizing both box gardens and vertical gardens. Vertical Veg (Pty) Ltd has installed and maintained a roof garden of 16m of pocketed panels plus boxes, on the roof of the Westin Hotel Cape Town for the last 6 years. Herbs and edible flowers are grown and supplied to the Hotel restaurants. Zero miles, organic and fresh!
Article by: Marcelle Warner
Vertical Veg (Pty) Ltd
10th December 2018