Does the idea of taking the reins on your own food security excite you? What if you could cultivate much of your own food and once and for all put a dent in those budget woes? Well, thanks to smart technology and consumer awareness, there’s an app for that.
The rise of urban farming has become mainstream - so much so that those who have experimented with it are growing evermore curious about its sustainability. From a smart device, farming can now control virtually everything from irrigation to determining the best in-season harvest. Even better is that it can be controlled from just about anywhere. Funding for urban farms has grown exponentially in the past few years. Some 800 million people worldwide practice some form of urban farming. Urban farming can take shape in the form of a rooftop garden or a vertical garden. Both are examples of utilizing limited space for the purpose of cultivating food. Along with building a strong sense of community, urban farming has the ability to not only contribute to a healthier diet, but is also economical.
So then, what exactly is urban farming?
Urban farming is the practice of agriculture in an urban setting. Community gardens might spring to mind when one thinks of urban farming. One common characteristic of urbanization is population density. In the 1970s, cities like Detroit and San Francisco realized the need and desire among residents to grow their own vegetables. Yet with limited space, individual households could not partake. With so many people concentrated in one setting, space becomes a premium making urban farming a viable option. Urban farming yields a number of benefits ranging from environmental to social aspects. Communities are more likely to thrive when they have food security.
Urban vs. Industrial Agriculture: Environmental Impact
Large scale farming, or industrial agriculture is characterized as the answer to global hunger. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the number of people suffering from hunger increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. As such, the agriculture industry has positioned itself as a controversial leader in fighting the cause, backing up claims of the benefits to monoculture with it being an industry able to keep up with a fast growing population. Critics however, would argue that the benefits of mass food production do not outweigh modern day agricultural practices and its adverse toll on the environment.
Monoculture -- the practice of tilling large areas of land in near constant fashion to produce single crops -- depletes once healthy soil and often harbors unnecessary amounts of animal waste which can flow into drinking water systems. We can also look to air pollution as an example of an overabundance in agricultural practices. Both animal feed and manure for livestock significantly contribute to the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Due to poor waste management, livestock manure is not properly disposed of and seeps into the air.
On the contrary, urban farming -- as it scaled down to size -- generally does not present the many problems associated with industrial agriculture simply because there is no room to. Cities have strict regulations over the use of chemicals in areas heavily populated. Raising livestock or other animals for meat has its own set of challenges as urban areas generally do not have enough room. Another added bonus of urban farming’s environmental benefits is its minimal use of freshwater supply. Water systems designed for industrial agriculture are so vast that they suck up 70 percent of freshwater sources -- including those meant for human consumption. These components make urban farming both attractive and attainable.
Urban Farming Tips & Tricks
Now that you’re armed with the knowledge and benefits of urban farming, where does one start? First thing’s first, identify your city’s regulations when it comes to urban agriculture. Certain chemicals are banned from use within city limits. Ensuring that you are using the right chemicals (if any) will not only keep you legally compliant, but it also limits the risk chemicals have on humans nearby.
Depending on which systems you’ll adopt, upfront and operational costs for urban farming can be high. Advanced systems such as hydroponic farming require additional piping and sometimes complex irrigation systems. However, given the space limitation of urban farming, a wide use of materials will likely be kept to a minimum.
It’s also a good idea to test the soil of the area for which you plan to cultivate. Not all soil is poised for food production and testing will reveal any chemicals that be toxic to food growth.
There are numerous benefits to urban farming that stretch beyond food security. It also has economical gains in the form of jobs. There is also the educational component as children can understand and appreciate where their food comes from which enhances their respect for the environment.