Urban Farming

Farms usually evoke images of red barns, corn fields to the horizon, and tractors down rural country roads. However, the closest farm to you might not be miles away, but on the roof of a skyscraper downtown! Read on to learn more about urban farming practices and their importance.

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    Urban Farming Definition

    Agriculture is the practice of cultivating food, either in the form of plants grown or animals raised. Agriculture is traditionally associated with rural areas, with wide open areas being ideal for the large-scale growing of crops and animal grazing. Urban farming, on the other hand, is agriculture taking place within urbanized land, where residential and commercial buildings exist.

    Urban Farming: The practice of growing plants and raising animals for human consumption within cities and suburbs.

    The line between urban and rural can sometimes be blurred, especially in suburban areas which may have a significant portion of green areas interspersed with housing, but for today we’ll focus primarily on densely urbanized areas.

    Urban Farming Examples

    Urban farming can take many forms, from small to large scale, from on the ground to high in the sky. Let’s take a look at some urban farming examples.

    Rooftop Farms

    Situated on top of buildings, rooftop farms are often hidden from sight. In the densest parts of cities, the land is often expensive and not easy to come by so it doesn’t make sense to have a sprawling farm of the kind you’d see in rural areas. Roofs of buildings are generally used for utilities like air conditioning units, but rarely is all the space occupied. Rooftop farms can fill in the empty spaces on roofs and offer a productive use for them. However, because not all rooftop farms produce food (some grow grass and flowers solely for aesthetic purposes), these are more broadly known as urban gardens. As we’ll discuss later, the benefits are often the same whether or not food is grown on rooftop gardens.

    Urban Farming Brooklyn rooftop garden StudySmarterFig 1: Rooftop farms like this one in Brooklyn, NY, use excess space on roofs

    Community gardens

    While rooftop farms can certainly also be community gardens, community gardens usually are on the ground, located within municipal parks, or in a space dedicated just to the garden. The maintenance of these gardens is typically done by volunteers and provides fresh food for members of the community. Community gardens may also be affiliated with schools, libraries, and religious institutions.

    Vertical Urban Farming

    Much of the space issues in urban farming can be solved by doing what buildings do, build up! Vertical farming allows layers of plants to grow on top of each other, better utilizing available land. Typically vertical urban farms are in controlled, indoor environments where horticulturalists can maintain the ideal temperature, light, water, and nutrients. While some vertical farms use traditional soil-based methods, there are several other techniques commonly used as well, as we’ll discuss next.

    Hydroponics and Aquaponics

    While traditional farming and gardening use soil, hydroponics uses a water solution to provide the plants with their water and nutrient needs. Hydroponics requires much less water than soil farming methods and are good options to provide food in areas without water to support soil farming. Aquaponics combines the growing of marine animals and hydroponics. The water and nutrients built up in a tank containing fish and other water animals are fed to plants to help them grow.

    Urban Farming, Indoor hydroponics, StudySmarterFig. 2: Indoor hydroponics efficiently uses space and energy to grow plants

    Aeroponics

    In contrast to hydroponics and aquaponics, aeroponics uses only air and mist to grow plants. It is also conducive to vertical urban farming, with lots of plants able to fit into a small space. Like other controlled environment farming methods, aeroponics is much less energy and resource-intensive and allows plants to grow as efficiently as possible.

    Check out new food movement topics like organic farming, fair trade, and dietary shifts to learn more about how the way we grow, buy, and eat food is continuing to adapt and change!

    Commercial Urban Farming

    While many urban farms are just for community use and consumption, some urban farming operations sell their goods on the market and are profitable. Not all urban land is densely populated and expensive, meaning old industrial areas or abandoned land offer a prime opportunity for the construction of greenhouses or conversion into vertical farming spaces. A huge benefit to commercial urban farming is the product is close to the people who buy it, reducing transportation costs compared to rural farms marketing to cities. Non-profit organizations may run commercial farms to provide funds for a charity, and the farm itself can provide educational and engagement opportunities.

    Benefits of Urban Farming

    Urban farming has numerous benefits that enrich the local community, economy, and environment. Below are some of the main benefits of urban farming.

    Health and Food Security

    Poorer areas of cities generally have much less access to affordable, fresh, healthy foods. This phenomenon is known as a food desert. A lack of well-stocked grocery stores with the only alternatives being fast food or convenience stores makes eating healthy challenging. This in turn leads to poorer health outcomes for the community at large. Community gardens can provide access to affordable or free produce to those with little access otherwise. This alleviates pressure from the lack of food options, and a robust network of community gardens can fill in where grocery stores are lacking.

    Environmental Benefits

    There are many benefits to promoting urban agriculture. Here are a few:

    • Rooftop gardens are proven to reduce the amount of heat absorbed by a building, reducing the energy spent on air conditioning.
    • Rooftop gardens also help absorb rainfall, which prevents runoff and the overflowing of sewer systems, all of which can pollute and harm the environment.

    • Not limited to just rooftops, all kinds of urban farms and gardens actually make the city cooler. The large amounts of concrete, buildings, and heat sources combine to make cities hotter than rural areas. This is called the urban heat island effect. One way to limit the urban heat island effect is to increase the number of plants in a city, and urban farming helps that. With climate change threatening to make cities unbearably hot, promoting urban farming is a great way to adapt and keep our cities cooler.
    • Additionally, urban farming reduces a city's carbon footprint by absorbing carbon dioxide.

    Urban Farming, community garden in Chile, StudySmarterFig. 3: A community garden in Chile. In addition to bringing a community together, urban farming helps the environment

    • Finally, because food is closer to its consumers with urban farms, the transportation impact is much less. Less fuel is used compared to shipping goods from rural areas to cities, helping to reduce pollution and carbon emissions.

    Local Economy

    Commercial farms in particular help to promote the local economy. Employment provided by these farms and taxes generated through the sale of goods is all helpful in boosting the economy. By dealing with issues like food insecurity, urban poverty can be alleviated. People who are in poor health due to a lack of quality, healthy food also struggle with finding and maintaining jobs, contributing to poverty.

    Community Cohesion

    Urban farming does not exist without the input and tireless work of many people. Each garden and farm, no matter how small, requires an effort to plan and maintain. The work that goes into maintaining a garden is a great opportunity for community bonding and developing a sense of place. By eliminating the effects of living in a food desert, communities can lift themselves out of poverty, all of which increases the cohesion and resilience of the community. The responsibility of maintaining a garden and lifting up members of the community are all ways that urban farming improves the social well-being of urban communities.

    Drawbacks of Urban Farming

    While urban farming is promising in terms of sustainability and promotion of community cohesion, its main drawback is that currently, it cannot meet all our food needs on its own. Rural farming still makes up the bulk of where our food comes from and for good reason, it's simply easier to produce large quantities of food in the wide expanse of rural areas. Of course, any boost to food supply as a result of urban farming is welcome, but it's all a part of the broader agricultural market, to which rural farming is essential.

    Additionally, there may be better land uses than something like an urban farm depending on the specific situation in a community. Affordable housing, business districts, or public utility works may provide more of a net benefit to a community than an urban farm. What exactly is the best land use requires thoughtful analysis at the local level and involves input from community members, stakeholders, and leaders.

    Urban Farming - Key takeaways

    • Urban farming is growing plants or raising animals within a city.
    • Urban farming can take the form of traditional farm plots and community gardens, as well as modern indoor techniques like aquaponics and hydroponics.
    • Community cohesion, environmental health, and food security are key benefits of urban farming.
    • While urban farming can help bring food to communities that need it, rural farming is still an essential part of the overall food supply.

    References

    1. Fig. 1 Brooklyn rooftop garden https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Grange_(75922).jpg by Rhododendrites https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Rhododendrites Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en
    2. Fig 2. Indoor hydroponics Japan https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indoor_Hydroponics_of_Morus,_Japan_(38459770052).jpg by Satoshi KINOKUNIhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/nikunoki/ Licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
    3. Fig. 3 Chilean community garden https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Comunidadproyectohuerto.jpg by Ncontreu https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Ncontreu&action=edit&redlink=1 Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
    Frequently Asked Questions about Urban Farming

    What is urban farming? 

    Urban Farming is the cultivation of plants and animals in urban areas. This is in contrast to rural farming, which is agriculture in rural areas. 

    How does urban farming work? 

    Urban farming takes place in the forms of rooftop gardens, indoor controlled environment farming, or in the form of community gardens. It works just like any other kind of farming, except it usually does not have the kind of heavy equipment like tractors and combine harvesters associated with rural farms.

    Is urban farming good for the environment? 

    Yes, urban farming is associated with a better environment and lower carbon footprint in cities. Improvements in air quality and allowing rainfall to better absorb into the ground are other examples of how urban farming is good for the environment.

    Can urban farming solve world hunger? 

    While there’s no clear answer on whether urban farming can solve world hunger, it’s definitely useful for solving hunger on the local scale. Lack of access to quality food can be mitigated by the construction of urban gardens and farms, where community members can have access to that food for free or at reduced prices. 

    Why is urban farming important?

    Urban farming can have a huge impact on a community’s well-being and health, as well as improve local economies. Much attention is made towards farming in rural areas, but cities have great potential to grow food and meet the needs of a growing population.

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