Urban farming, urban agriculture or urban ag as it is sometimes called, is about growing food in cities. It is about local people growing their own, often organic crops on rooftops and in neighborhood gardens, providing easy access to fresh, local food. And it is about high-tech food producers in former industrial structures.
Urban farming is sustainable: it is local, mostly small scale and often organic. And it makes business sense. Producing close to the market cuts costs and allows for lower prices. On top of that, it greatly helps to improve food security in cities.
Leading the way in urban farming
In the United States, cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are leading the way with urban farms that range from small community gardens to large-scale rooftop farms. Abandoned industrial buildings provide great opportunities for indoor farming and vertical farming, often using state-of-the-art technology.
Cities in Europe such as London, Amsterdam, and Berlin too have seen an increase in urban farming projects.
On the other hand, city farming in many places in Africa and Asia plays a vital role both in providing food, and also keeping the local economies afloat.
Because of their sheer size, dense population, and complex structures, cities face serious challenges when it comes to climate change, sustainability, and social coherence. Urban farming can help to improve life in big cities and help to make them more resilient to climate change and improve the overall quality of sustainable city life.
When disaster strikes, think hurricanes, floods, and power outs, the food supply is one of the most vulnerable and vital functions. That can be no surprise when you realize that an average supermarket has a food stock for two days or less. So the more food is produced locally, the more resilient an urban area will be.
How much land to feed a city
Of course, cities can’t rely on urban farming alone for their needs. An average city of 1 million people and 250 km2, like Amsterdam, Stockholm, or Naples, needs an additional 5000 km2 of land to feed its population, assuming that it takes about 0,6 ha or 1.5 acres to feed a person. As a rule of thumb, 1 km2 of urban area requires 30 km2 of agricultural land to feed everyone.
But that is only one aspect, the advantages of growing food in cities are multifold. Let’s look at some of the most obvious ones.
10 reasons why farming makes better cities
We listed ten of the most obvious advantages that growing food in urban areas provides. Here they are:
1 – Farms in cities reduce the Carbon Footprint
Urban farms help reduce the carbon footprint of cities by reducing transportation and emissions associated with traditional food distribution systems. Organic produce grown locally is also free of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, making it more sustainable and better for the environment.
2 – Urban farming increases access to healthy food
Urban farming increases access to healthy, locally grown food in urban areas where fresh produce is often limited or expensive. This can help reduce poverty and food insecurity in cities by providing residents with access to nutrient-rich foods at affordable prices.
How much food?
It is estimated that between 5% and 10% of the global production of legumes, vegetables and tubers is delivered by urban agriculture (Clinton et al., 2018), while between 15% and 20% of global food is produced in urban and peri-urban environments (Abdulkadir et al., 2012).
3 – Urban ag creates jobs and boosts the local economy
By providing food to local restaurants and businesses, urban farms can help stimulate local economies by keeping the profits of the businesses within the local community, instead of letting the money flow to anonymous shareholders in faraway places. It can and it does generate employment opportunities, from farm-to-table chefs and restaurant staff to farmers that run urban farms, and jobs in delivery and local stores.
4 – Urban Farming enhances the cityscape
Urban farms can help revitalize urban areas by providing attractive green spaces with lush vegetation. They can also act as vibrant community hubs, creating spaces for people to come together and enjoy fresh, local food.
5 – Urban Farming improves air quality
Urban farms can improve air quality in cities by reducing emissions from vehicles. Green spaces in towns also reduce dust and small particles from the air. They also help to cool spaces in summer by providing shadow and humidity.
6 – Urban Farming conserves water
With its low water requirements, urban farming is an efficient way to conserve water. On the other hand, farming lots also help to naturally absorb water in case of extreme rainfall and help to prevent flooding. Water that otherwise would be wasted through sewer systems, makes crops grow and will not add to the damages of flooding.
7 – Urban Farming provides education opportunities
Urban farms can provide educational opportunities for residents, particularly young people, and kids, to learn about urban agriculture and sustainable food production . Many kids in big cities have little or no opportunities to frequently visit nature and get to know the natural world. Sometimes local ag projects are their only contact with nature..
8 – Urban agriculture promotes biodiversity
Creating habitats that produce food and at the same time are beneficial to insects and other species, urban farms help promote biodiversity in cities. The more natural green in cities, the better it is. Many species find shelter in tiny forests and food gardens. Nice examples of activities that boost biodiversity even more are urban beekeepers or projects that create special conditions for butterflies.
9 – Farming in cities connects people with nature
By bringing nature into city centers, urban farms can provide respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and bring people closer to nature and to one another.
10 – Urban Farming can improve food security
By providing locally sourced fresh produce, urban farms can serve as an alternative to traditional supermarkets and groceries that may not always be accessible or affordable. Additionally, by reducing the distance between producer and consumer, these farms can help reduce food waste and spoilage, and help make food production more sustainable.
In the next articles in this series of blogs, we will look at successful practices in urban farming, which have proven their value and serve as solid examples, and business cases for urban farming. Want to find out how? Read on!