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The Growing Importance of Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture is becoming a serious business. It takes many forms and is increasingly part of urban ecosystems and environmental management of cities.

Urban agriculture can be defined as the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities.

Researchers, using satellite data, found that global agricultural activities within 20km of urban areas occupy an area equivalent to the 28 nations of the European Union[1].

While at present those most dependent on urban agriculture live in developing countries there is great potential for urban agriculture to supply a cities needs for fresh vegetables and herbs.

The Metcalf Foundation in Canada found that urban agriculture could be scaled up by taking five actions[2]:

  1. increasing urban growers’ access to spaces for production
  2. putting in place the physical infrastructure and resources for agriculture
  3. strengthening the food-supply chain
  4. sharing knowledge
  5. creating new models for governance, coordination, and attracting financial support

New and innovative initiatives are underway in many cities with many of them being established by young social entrepreneurs in partnership with industry.

In Johannesburg, The Chamber of Mines[3] has launched an urban agriculture initiative, which is aimed at creating a vibrant urban agricultural ecosystem by innovatively repurposing disused rooftops and making use of hydroponics and aquaponics to produce agricultural produce for Johannesburg’s inner city communities.

In Jackson Wyoming, Penny McBride one of the world’s first vertical greenhouses located on a sliver of vacant land next to a parking garage. This 1250 square metre three-story stacked greenhouse utilizes a 400 square metres to grow an annual amount of produce equivalent to 2 hectares of traditional agriculture.

Vertical Harvest sells locally grown, fresh vegetables year round to Jackson area restaurants, grocery stores and directly to consumers through on-site sales. Vertical Harvest replaces 45,000 kilos of produce that is trucked into the community each year.

GrowUp Box[4] have reinvented 20 foot shipping containers. Inside the container, tilapia are farmed in tanks specially designed to ensure the fish enough room to grow, while on top, greens are cultivated in vertical columns. The water from the tilapia tanks circulates through the columns, where the fish waste provides nourishment to about 400 plants. The fish and greens are sold to area restaurants.

At the Tokyo headquarters of the Pasona Group, a staffing company, tomatoes dangle from the ceiling, herbs grow fragrantly in meeting rooms and a rice paddy is the lobby centrepiece. The plants are intended to relax employees, encourage innovative thinking about agriculture and create a sense of community as workers tend to the crops. The foods grown in the office are prepared and served in the company cafeteria.

In Singapore, inventor Jack Ng created the Sky Greens system to grow more food in less space. Using an A frame structure on a kind of ferris wheel some 32 trays of greens — including lettuce, spinach and a variety of Asian slowly rotate, so each tray gets sufficient exposure to sunlight. Sky Greens, harvests and delivers vegetables to Singaporean markets every day.

The potential for new agricultural projects in urban environments is exciting and significant employment growth area in the agricultural sector. It is a kind of reverse disruption in which a traditional industry sector moves into non-traditional sectors.

[1] Journal of Environmental Research Letters

[2] Scaling up Urban Agriculture in Toronto

[3] Mining Weekly

[4] GrowUp Urban Farms