Urban Agriculture and the Future of Farming




“Urban agriculture has the potential to become so pervasive within our cities that by the year 2050 they may be able to provide its citizens with up to 50% of the food they consume. In doing so, ecosystems that were fragmented in favour of farmland could be allowed to regain most of their ecological functions, creating a much healthier planet for all creatures great and small.”1 From Japan to Australia, and even Chicago’s O’Hare airport, urban gardening has become a worldwide trend and brought new hope for humanity’s ability to provide food to the world’s ever-growing population in the years to come. You don’t have to look far to find numerous working examples of sustainable indoor gardens, stretching the realm from high-tech and expensive to simple and home-made.  “Large-scale indoor farms such as EuroFresh Farms in Willcox, Arizona (318 acres of one-storey-high hydroponic greenhouses), supplying fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and FarmedHere in Bedford Park, Illinois, a 90,000 square-foot empty warehouse several storeys tall that was converted into an indoor farm producing tilapia, a variety of leafy green vegetables, and several value-added products”1 are just a couple of the examples of major initiatives that are revolutionizing the way people are fighting to end hunger and bring fresh, nutritious, and affordable food to urban areas.

Four high-school students in Philadelphia recently won a competition by developing an innovative hydroponic system within a shipping container, complete with solar panels for power and LEDs for heat.2 In Vancouver, Urban Stream Innovation (a sustainable technology firm) recently installed the first “self-contained prototype composter and vertical growing system designed to eliminate kitchen waste and produce restaurant-quality herbs and greens,”3 all in a container that fits into a single parking space behind the restaurant. As for the aforementioned O’Hare airport, they have a “928-square-foot garden consist(ing) of 26 aeroponic towers that grow a variety of herbs and vegetables.”4 The produce is utilized by three in-airport restaurants as well as being available for purchase at a pseudo-farmer’s market, also located in the airport.

So, it seems apparent that urban (and, primarily, indoor) gardening is the wave of the future for agriculture. What does this mean for conventional, soil-based farming? Will red and blue LEDs replace sunshine? Will overalls and John Deeres be replaced by lab coats and nutrient syringes? According to Barry Holtz, at Caliber Biotherapeutics in Bryan, Texas, “this type of indoor gardening isn't going to replace traditional farms anytime soon. It's still relatively expensive for growing food. ‘But for certain specialty crops, the economics wouldn't be so bad.’”5

  1. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130603-city-farms-to-feed-a-hungry-world/all
  2. http://technical.ly/philly/2013/06/25/sustainability-workshop-fresh-direct-urban-farming-challeng/
  3. http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Vancouver+Urban+Stream+captures+circle+life+shipping+container/7999086/story.html
  4. http://www.kcet.org/living/food/food-rant/chicagos-airport-urban-garden.html
  5. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/05/21/185758529/vertical-pinkhouses-the-future-of-urban-farming

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