Urban farming, feeding tomorrow’s cities ?

| 19 July 2016 | Category: Ideas, News, Practices

schildeUrban farming is taking off all over the globe. Local communities and businesses alike seize the opportunities to enrich city life, create green business and contribute to feeding the planet in a responsible way.

Like in Detroit, where, as the Globe and Mail reports, after four years of urban farming, the southwest corner of Custer and Brush Streets in Detroit’s North End neighbourhood has become a literal cornucopia. In the past two years, it’s pumped out 400,000 pounds of produce that has fed 2,000 households within two square miles. It provided valuable volunteer experience for 8,000 local residents who have collectively put in 80,000 hours, which have been valued at $1.8-million (U.S.).

Tyson Gersh, 26, a University of Michigan student and co-founder of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) in 2011, estimates that about $2-million has also arrived in the form of new investment as abandoned houses are purchased nearby, which are then renovated and filled with tenants. And all of these new eyes, whether on the faces of volunteer farmers or new residents, create a safer place to live.

Yet, offers Mr. Gersh, “I believe that the current [city] administration sees urban agriculture as nothing more than a transitional land use; I don’t think they see it as having any long-term relevance to the city that we think they should have.”

Members of the Toronto district council of the Urban Land Institute, who gathered around Mr. Gersh to hear his story on a steamy June afternoon, think differently. Even if new housing were to spring up here – a not so farfetched scenario with a new light-rail line set to open two blocks away in 2017 – the permanent presence of urban farming might be a perfectly good land-use practice, especially when one considers that many Detroit neighbourhoods remain underserviced “food deserts.” The ULI, after all, espouses “the responsible use of land” and “creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.”


Chicago the new green capital

Detroit is rivaled in producing its own greens by neighbor Chicago, that develops into the US capital of urban agriculture as we write, now hosting 820 projects, and counting, according to the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project. Even O’Hare’s Terminal 3 is home to the world’s first airport aeroponic garden.

Chicago’s “urban farming renaissance” has been led by a burgeoning indoor farm market, Co.Exist writes. http://www.fastcoexist.com/3059721/world-changing-ideas/why-chicago-is-becoming-the-countrys-urban-farming-capital

This includes FarmedHere, a 90,000-square-foot space in Bedford Park that is not only the first organically-certified indoor vertical aquaponic farm in Illinois, it’s also the largest indoor farm in North America. FarmedHere’s two-story farming facility currently sits on the site of a formerly abandoned warehouse in the outskirts of Chicago.

FarmedHere’s produce is grown in a sustainable environment where 97 percent of fresh water is reused and plants are grown without the use of herbicides or pesticides. The farm’s LED lighting system mimics outdoor conditions, meaning plants don’t need natural sunlight to grow.

Farmed Here CEO Nate Laurell also mentioned to Co.Exist that investors are becoming increasingly interested in indoor farming as LED lighting and solar energy drive operation costs “cheaper and cheaper.”

Projections show that the global vertical farming market is expected reach $3.88 billion by 2020, a figure that Laurell says is lower than what it actually might be.

“The greens market for Chicagoland alone is $400 million dollars,” Laurell said. “Given the market is so big, and it’s so top of mind for people where their food came from and how it was grown, even if only some fraction of that food grew in an indoor environment, when you extrapolate to other cities in the U.S. and abroad, you’d easily reach $4 billion; $4 billion seems light.”


Europe catching up fast

Over in Europe it’s Urban Farmers that is taking the lead, with a newly constructed roof farm in The Hague, Netherlands. The farm is located at a signature building of The Hague; the former Philips telecommunication building constructed in 1950s. UF002 De Schilde is the first-mover of a series of new tenants re-purposing the building into a multi-story urban farming hotspot, following the ‘Stadslandbouw Initiative’ competition by the Municipality of The Hague.

The unique revolutionary farm will produce both vegetables and fish using aquaponics, an ancient sustainable farming technique: wasted nutrients from fish farming will be recycled as fertilizer for plants, and plants can purify the water that will be reused for fish farming.

Urban Farmers are now preparing for expansion in the US, where it develops several locations in and around New York.


Forbes: a ludicrous idea

But not everyone is enthousiastic about developments in turning cities into foodland. Recently, business magazine Forbes cried out: Urban Farming Is A Ludicrous Idea, a contributon from Tim Worstall

“I will admit that this is fun – the idea of having a floating barge operating as a cow farm in the middle of Rotterdam harbour. But I would also insist that is is gapingly, jaw droppingly, ludicrously stupid as an economic idea. And sadly this is also true of all urban farming attempts.” That’s how he starts off his piece, ending with: ” Farming is a low value added production process. Sure, that output, the food, is absolutely vital but it’s also cheap. Meaning that we want to do it where the vital input, land, is also cheap. Urban farming just doesn’t make sense as a food production system. Therefore let’s not do it.”

However he is missing the whole point, it seems. And that is, urban farming mainly uses spaces otherwise unused: wasteland, rooftops, water. At marginal costs. Urban farming does make sense, if only you start from the right perspective.


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Category: Ideas, News, Practices