First of all, let’s just start with the fact that it does not matter how conscious we are about the healthiness of food on our plate, it is less likely that we can control how these foods are produced. With the foods that come from distant farms, and often large farms, comes the risks of health hazards due to pesticides like agrochemicals. That’s why people are likely to prefer foods that come from credible sources and foods grown locally.
Because of the increasing number of people in most cities, one can notice them becoming food deserts and the lack of fresh foods. There’s always the demand for fresh produce in the cities, and of course, this demand often goes unfulfilled in the urban areas. Lack of fresh food means that there’s a lot of processed or preserved foods reaching your plate on the daily basis and that means a lot of chemicals, from the very beginning of the food production cycle.
One possible solution to most of these problems is producing the food locally within cities. The idea is called Urban Farming. And yes, there’s a lot of challenges to be faced to produce foods to fulfill or even supplement the demand of the urban population, but there are solutions too. Urban farming, as the name suggests can be done anywhere in the cities where plants can grow. In recent years, the trend of urban farming has been set in motion by a number of people including architects, engineers, plant scientists, different organizations, etc. as people have become more health-conscious.
As a matter of fact, urban farming is not only the way of producing and supplying fresh food in the urban areas but also has become means of livelihood to the urban poor also, in many countries. Urban agriculture has been recognized as one of the major food sources in recent years. In the past two decades, as people flocked into urban areas, the trend of urban agriculture also increased considerably. In 1999, FAO itself recognized the scope and mandated to work with Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture (UPA) as an integral part of the agriculture production system, delivering projects in a number of urban cities.
Why Urban Farms?
Urban Farms have the potential of not only producing the food for a large population but also has advantages over long distance and corporate farms in many aspects. These include sustainability, better resource use efficiency, and also a healthier approach to consuming food.
For the starters, urban farms and the food produced from urban farms have a much lesser carbon footprint i.e. the amount of carbon dioxide produced between the production and consumption is significantly lower. This is because the food we consume to reach from farm to table requires harvesting using types of machinery (most of the cases), refrigeration during transportation, transportation itself, and the refrigeration in the market too. This means the amount of CO2 or other greenhouse gases produced is much more when food has to cover a longer distance.
As the urban areas are mostly ‘concrete jungles’, arable lands are rare. The good thing is that urban farms can be set up almost anywhere, be it the backyard, rooftop, or even the walls. These concepts might or might not require soil and can be operated commercially or just to feed a family or two. Some people have formed the idea of a community garden where varieties of foods are grown. Different concepts including hydroponics and aeroponics are being implemented within greenhouses, rooftops, walls and even the indoor spaces, where the climate is controlled artificially and even the lights are provided artificially in most cases (mostly using LEDs).
Another important reason is that urban farming promotes food security among the urban population, and mostly to poorer communities, due to the easy and cheap availability of food. It can be made sure that the urban population gets the required nutrients through locally grown food. This video from Haiti shows how the urban agriculture project from FAO and OXFAM has improved the nutrient status of the community.
FARMS OF THE FUTURE??
As more people have started to live in the cities, the demand for the food is forever increasing, and to fulfill this demand, farmers are compelled to use more pesticides, and other detrimental measures, which are not sustainable. UN has projected that by 2050, 68% of the world population will be living in the cities. With this trend, it is evident that new and innovative ways of producing food have to be found out.
In the future, urban farms are likely to be set up in the rooftops or indoor spaces or even within a kitchen (like this one) rather than the soil itself, and with a reason – maximum production with minimum use of resources. These farms will be sustainable in the long run, produce more foods, and provide a healthier source of nutrients to the consumers than conventional farms. With smart technologies like IoT and AI to acquire and process data from farms, we’ll be able to control the factors affecting the growth and development of plants and fine-tune them according to our needs. With the development of different technologies like LEDs and OLEDs to provide the light required for plant growth, production will be further enhanced. All of these will soon be integrated into the urban plannings and strategies down the road in near future to build ‘sustainable cities’ and ‘green cities’.