Urban Farming Facts – Information About Agriculture In The City
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
If you are an avid gardener and lover of all things green, urbanagriculture might be for you. What is urban agriculture? It is a mindset thatdoesn’t limit where you can garden. The benefits of urban agriculture extendfrom the backyard all the way to the roofsof skyscrapers. It is a method of efficient city farming that produces foodlocally, minimizing transport and bringing communities together during theprocess.
What is Urban Agriculture?
Think food only grows in the country? What about agriculturein the city? Such an activity relies on using available space and resources aswell as utilizing local citizens to maintain the garden. It can be a small orlarge space and be as simple as a vacant field with corn to a more complex,highly involved series of gardens like a pea patch. The key to efficient cityfarming is planning and getting others involved.
A quick web search for urban farming facts brings up severaldifferent definitions by different groups. However, there are some basicnotions that all organizations agree upon.
- First, the purpose of the urban farm is to produce food, often for commercial purposes.
- Second, the garden or farm will utilize techniques to maximize production even in small spaces while using resources efficiently.
- The last common thread is the creative use of a variety of spaces. Roof top gardens, vacant lots, and even donated spaces on school or hospital grounds make wonderful urban farms.
Benefits of Urban Agriculture
Agriculture in the city provides an opportunity to makemoney off the surplus that you grow, or you can be a good Samaritan and give itaway to a local food bank, school, or other charity of need.
It is a flexible way of gardening that relies uponopportunity and may play an important part in the development of an area whilealso bringing social, economic, and ecological benefits. Here are some otherimportant facts about urban farming benefits:
- Provides an opportunity for commerce
- Improves city spaces
- Utilizes urban waste such as wastewater and food waste
- Reduces the cost of transporting food
- Can provide jobs
- Improve air quality
- Serve as a teaching garden
Tips on Starting an Urban Farm
Obviously, the first requirement is a space. If you can’taccess a vacant lot due to zoning restrictions or ownership claims, thinkoutside the box. Contact your local school district and see if they would beinterested in donating some land for the project, which could also be used toteach children how to grow plants and provide other educational benefits.
Call your local utilities and see if they have fallowland that they would allow you to lease. Once you have the site, considerwhat to plant and the layout of the farm. It must be easy to access, have asite for water storage, and have good soil and drainage.
As with any garden, the rest is mostly hard work and tendingplants, but in the end both you and your community will reap the many benefits.
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Read more about Urban Gardens
10 Reasons You Should Give Urban Gardening A Try
It’s hard to live in the city. It’s even harder to get space and grow a garden that you want. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can use urban gardening techniques to grow food even with the limited space that you have.
But should you even try to grow your own food? Is urban gardening worth the time and effort? Let’s look at the 10 incredible benefits that come from urban gardening and why you should give it a shot.
1. Learn a unique skill
People today have forgotten where their food comes from. We don’t know what it takes to grow healthy, nutritious food. Urban gardening helps you get educated about growing food. That’s a unique skill to have in today’s world.
You can educate your children about sustainable food and the health benefits. That’s something worth learning and teaching.
2. Grow food in a limited space
Urban gardening teaches you that you don’t need a lot of space to grow your own food. There are techniques like vertical gardening, container gardening, rooftop gardening, and hydroponic gardening that utilize space well.
Urban gardening helps you make the best use of space while growing all the food that you want.
3. Grow healthy food
There’s a lack of healthy food in today’s generation of fast foods and instant meals. These faster options may be convenient but they also put a serious dent on our health. Today’s generation faces widespread issues as a result, such as diabetes, blood pressure, and obesity due to unhealthy food.
Growing your own food means you grow healthy, nutritious food like fruits, vegetables, and herbs. These are low in cholesterol, high in fiber, and have beneficial vitamins and nutrients. Urban gardening is one of the best ways to get healthy, nutritious food for your family.
4. Reduce food insecurity
Around the world, urban areas face the constant issue of food deserts, or areas where healthy food is either not available or not affordable to the area’s residents. Urban gardening can help alleviate food desserts by providing people the opportunity to grow and harvest their own fresh and nutritious food at a fraction of what the same produce would otherwise cost in a grocery store.
5. Grow high-quality food
The problem with mass-produced food is that it is often loaded with chemicals and pesticides to increase production and shelf-life. With urban gardening, you don’t have to worry about this. You can grow organic food without such chemicals. You have control over the growing conditions and the water, soil, and compost you want to use.
You can choose to grow the unique heirloom varieties of food that are high-quality and delicious but may be susceptible to disease if mass-produced. You can pluck the fresh fruits and vegetables whenever they are ready for harvest, so you don’t need to worry about the shelf-life.
6. Grow food year-round
Urban gardening now has many options to help you grow food wherever you have space, such as with container gardening, hydroponic gardening, and rooftop gardening.
This means you can control the location where you grow the food, and worry less about environmental conditions like drought or cold weather.
You can choose what you want to grow, how you want to grow it, and where you want to grow. This helps you get the food that you want, when you want, without always depending on the seasons.
7. Grow sustainable food
Growing mass-produced food with traditional farming methods takes a lot out of the planet. Beyond the many resources that are used on the farm, the food then has to be transported from where it is grown to a store near you. That requires burning a lot of fuel. On average in the U.S., food is now transported between 1,500 and 2,500 miles to reach the consumer.
Urban gardening helps reduce the carbon footprint of the food system by reducing such fossil fuel consumption. It also makes far more efficient use of water. Hydroponic gardening uses around 90% less water than conventional farming.
8. Grow safe food
We know that mass-produced food has to be transported a long way to reach you. This increases the chances of contamination from bacteria and viruses such as salmonella.
With urban gardening, you grow food locally. You grow it with good soil, water, fertilizer. And you grow the food with care. This all helps improve the quality and safety of your food. Of course, it is also important to test your soil (if using) and other inputs before growing to ensure that your fresh food will be safe and delicious, and to practice basic food safety guidelines.
9. Build community
People who stay in urban areas have forgotten what it means to be part of a community. We tend to be isolated and independent which causes issues like depression, mistrust, and lack of happiness.
Urban gardening can help bring men, women, children, friends, families, and neighbors together for a common purpose. The purpose of growing sustainable food together. This also helps to reduce the disconnect we experience to where our food comes from. It also helps teach our children valuable lessons about nature, our food system, and sustainability.
10. Save money
It can be costly to live in the city. A large part of this cost is the expensive food that you need to buy. Healthy fruits and vegetables cost a lot more than junk food that is so readily available.
When you grow your own food, you can avoid this problem. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables that you need. If you’re able to grow a lot of food, you can even sell it to other people. This can help you set up a small business and make money. It can also create jobs for other people in your neighborhood.
Growing your own food doesn’t have to be hard, even if you live in the city. Urban gardening can help you grow your own fruits and vegetables in a sustainable way.
All you need to do is take that first step. Start learning about urban gardening and before you know it you’ll be harvesting your first crop.
Everyone deserves healthy, nutritious food. You do too.
About the author: Kevin Rodrigues is the founder of GardeningMentor. He's also a software developer that wants to transition into a full-time gardener. Kevin plans to grow an organic garden that can help sustain his family. His love for gardening drives him to share tips, guides, and resources on his website.
The disadvantages associated with urban agriculture
Urban agriculture can offer many benefits, especially in terms of improved food security. However, as with any system, there are potential downsides which can reduce or even eliminate the potential benefits. Such issues are especially prevalent in developing lands and in areas affected by poverty where effective infrastructure, e.g. regulation, sanitation or education, has not yet been established or is in disarray.
- The potential for disease transmission if proper food and environmental safety precautions are not in place
- Exposure to pesticides and herbicides
- Contamination from animal waste
- Urban soils may be contaminated and unsuitable for food production
- Soil, water, and air pollution from chemicals or animal waste
- Abuse of urban flora for grazing
- Erosion or flooding from riverside agriculture
- Too much time may be spent managing crops, leading to a neglect of familial obligations
- The potential for child labor
- Further erosion of rural communities
- Taxation is difficult
- Urban agriculture sites may occupy spaces that can command higher rents when used in other capacities
- Uses expensive or limited potable water
- Requires extra monitoring for food and environmental safety
- May not be aesthetically pleasing
- Improper land-use may result in accidents
Nonetheless, many of the above-mentioned issues can be addressed via education, infrastructure development, and intelligent foresight in an effort to create sustainable, inclusive urban agriculture systems that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits to local communities.
Seeds in the city, the pros and cons of urban farming
I have very fond memories of helping my dad plant a garden in our backyard each summer. I’ll admit that I hated the weeding and the waiting, but I always gained satisfaction knowing that the tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and zucchini on my plate at dinner came from right outside.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always been fascinated with growing food. But it wasn’t until going to college that I became even more intrigued by the concept of urban agriculture.
In 2008, globally the number of people living in cities exceeded the number of people living in rural areas for the first time in history. The number of city dwellers is expected to continue to skyrocket, and the UN predicts that urban populations will grow by more than one billion people between 2010 and 2025.
Shifting to urban centers can be a good thing. Cities tend to offer better opportunities for education and employment, which correlate with higher incomes and more food security. However, around one-third of the world’s labor force is made up of rural farmers, and this proportion is dwindling as urbanization trends continue.
So where is food going to come from in the future?
Some leading urban agriculturists envision city skyscrapers filled with floors of vegetable patches and orchards. Glass windows would let in optimal natural light, and conveyor belts would ensure that the plants have equal time in the sun. Others imagine cities with gardens on every rooftop. Plants would be watered naturally, and could beautify the skyline as an added bonus.
A building in Sydney, Australia uses vertical gardening techniques that may become vital to urban agriculture.
Image: Flickr- Rob Deutscher
I am tempted by these visions of lush city-scapes, but there are some very serious pros and cons to urban agriculture that require consideration.
Pro: Urban agriculture has enormous production capability
Today, there are 22 countries with the capacity to feed their cities by farming on less than 10% of their urban land. Another 39% of the global population lives in countries that can feed city residents by farming on less than 25% of urban land.
Combine these statistics with the knowledge that some urban farms are currently producing over 500 pounds of food a day, and you have a recipe for growing a whole lot of food on a little bit of land.
Con: But… let’s not forget about the food pyramid
Unfortunately, estimates on how much food could be produced by urban farms do not account for nutritional recommendations on produce consumption. While 22 countries can meet their city’s produce demand with urban agriculture, only 9 can provide a truly healthy quantity of fruits and veggies. Of the 29 most food insecure nations, 23 would need to farm on over 100% of their urban land to feed those residing within cities with proper servings of produce. Not so realistic.
Pro: Local eating is good eating
City dwellers who eat locally produced food are minimizing the mileage it takes for food to get from farm to table. (Check back later this week for another article on how shipping food long distances can perpetuate poverty).
Local food is often fresher because very little time passes between harvest and consumption. Even better, local urban farms encourage the ingestion of seasonal vegetables, which are riper and more nutritious than the off-peak alternatives available in grocery stores year-round.
Con: Contaminated soil is a real threat
Unexpected items such as cars and paint can have a significant impact on the quality of city soil, and thus city produce. Tests on urban soil often reveal the presence of arsenic, lead, and heavy metals, meaning that the dirt has to be purified or removed before planting can begin. Neither of these options are particularly cost effective, and serve as a major disincentive for potential urban farmers.
If these impurities pass unnoticed, produce grown in contaminated soil can be poisonous. Eating compromised fruits and vegetables can cause serious health concerns that compromise brain, liver, and kidney functions.
Pro: Urban farming benefits city environments
Rainwater in cities typically cannot be absorbed back into the ground due the abundance of pavement and concrete. Instead, the water is syphoned off to the closest river or lake through sewage systems, where it disturbs ecosystems, deposits previously mentioned contaminants, and contributes to flooding. If cities were covered with the greenery of urban farms instead, this water could be absorbed back into the soil to prevent run off naturally.
Many cities are also overheating. Paved roofs and roads can be 50–90°F (27–50°C) hotter than the air temperature after baking in the sun all day. Urban agriculture keeps city surfaces shady and damp, minimizing increased electricity usage and health concerns such as heat stroke.
Image: Flickr- SPUR
Take off your gardening gloves because urban agriculture cannot be counted on as the fuel of the future quite yet. However, safe and healthy urban farms have already sprouted in many parts of the world, and may be bringing fresh seasonal produce (and an abundance of environmental benefits) to a city near you. Let’s call it part of the solution.
If you want to be part of the solution to food security problems, sign the petition in TAKE ACTION NOW to make sure more funding and attention is paid to increasing food security around the world.
Indoor apartment farming DIY for everyone
We know that not everyone or every urban area has space that would be available to produce food. And what about those who live in a temperate climate where it is challenging to grow vegetables outside during the cold times of the year?
The answer to these problems may lie in growing some of your own vegetables indoors. While growing vegetables inside may not be the first thing that you think of when it comes to growing your own food, it is actually easier than you might think.
Read on to learn some great tips about how you can grow your own vegetables indoors!
5 tips on how to grow your favorite vegetables indoors
Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and kale grow well inside, can take partial shade, and can do well in containers. Many herbs like oregano, parsley, and basil are also pretty hardy and don’t require much care. Some smaller, fast-growing varieties of radishes, and smaller varieties of peppers and tomatoes are ideal for growing in containers and can be adapted for growing indoors.
- Help them to see the light
While some vegetable plants like leafy greens can do well in the partial shade conditions of your home, others, such as tomatoes and peppers require more direct light than many windowsill environments can provide.
Vegetable and herb plants require 6-8 hours of “sunlight,” so it may be necessary to use grow lights to ensure that these plants get enough light each day for optimal growth. Be sure to check seed packets or growing instructions for your vegetable plants to determine their optimal growing conditions.
Be cautious if you have drafty windows, as this can lead to too much stress for warm-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers, especially when the weather is very cold outside. A south-facing window is usually the best place to grow plants for the most sunlight.
- Give them a good home
Pots and other containers should provide enough room for when your vegetable plants are fully grown and for sufficient drainage to keep the soil from becoming water-logged and rotting the roots. Hanging baskets can be used for some vegetable plants like tomatoes in front of windows that have lots of light. A stake or a trellis may be needed for some vegetable plants to provide them with adequate support as they grow vertically.
- Consider growing indoor-friendly plants year-round
Some plants are especially a good fit to grow indoors and don’t require much space. Microgreens and sprouts can easily be grown on a windowsill and provide many nutritional benefits. Herbs are especially easy to grow indoors in containers, and some varieties of herbs even allow for several plants to be grown in the same pot together, maximizing your indoor growing space.
Many mushroom species are easily grown indoors, and provide a plethora of health and culinary benefits. Home indoor organic mushroom growing kits can now be easily purchased online, and for those who wish to learn and cultivate their own culinary and medicinal mushrooms indoors using mushroom mycelium, there are many companies and courses that offer such resources.
- Watering and fertilizing
Indoor vegetable plants should be watered as you would water any vegetable plants in an outdoor garden outside, keeping the soil moist, but not overly wet. Beware that indoor air may be drier in the wintertime in temperate climates due to home heating systems.
Plants that are grown inside will grow at a slower rate than outdoor plants, and therefore require less fertilizing. Adding compost to your soil is always a great way to provide great nutrition to your plants when it is periodically needed.
Suggested vegetable plant varieties for indoor growing (but just a place to start!)
Tomatoes: Many varieties can be grown inside, especially in hanging baskets, including “Hundreds & Thousands”, “Muskoka”, and “Garden Pearl”, which grow well in hanging baskets.
Radishes: The following varieties can grow well in almost any container: “Early Scarlet Globe”, “Cherry Belle”, and “Pink Beauty” do well indoors and are fast growing.
Beans: Running beans, such as “Dwarf French Beans”, grow very well indoors. You will need to provide a small trellis for them to climb onto a window as they grow.
Urban agriculture has most certainly made a come-back and it can deliver numerous benefits to those living in urban areas. This is a space to watch out for as more urban farming enthusiasts put their skills to the test by growing their own food and expanding their agricultural ventures. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the idea of reaping the fruits of their own labor?