On October 16th, World Food Day will call attention to the crucial role that small-scale family farmers play in creating a more sustainable global food system – and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time. As the global population approaches nine billion by the year 2050, nourishing the world and preserving diminishing environmental resources presents a daunting challenge. Over the coming week, Food Tank will highlight the many ways in which small-scale farmers – both urban and rural – are growing healthy, nutritious food for their communities while protecting the planet.
Sixty percent of the global population is predicted to live in cities by the year 2030, and feeding those people will become more challenging without innovative solutions for growing and distributing food in urban environments. Urban agriculture is often difficult because of space limitations, but that has not stopped people from raising animals, growing fruits and vegetables, and even beekeeping in cities. These five examples of urban agriculture from around the globe demonstrate how small-scale and local agriculture in cities do more than simply nourish city-dwellers. These projects are not the only examples of worldwide efforts to bring attention to growing populations and food systems, but represent the different forms that urban agriculture can take.
1. Food Field, Detroit, Michigan
Food Field, an urban farm built on a unique site, offers a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) service that provides more nutritious food and economic opportunities for the neighborhood. Noah Link and Alex Bryan created Peck Produce, LCC in 2011 in order to convert the old site of an elementary school in Detroit into a revitalized farm. Their goal is to create an alternative to the corporate food system, and local residents have been able to enjoy Food Field, whether eating the sustainable produce in weekly CSA boxes and local restaurants or volunteering on the farm itself. Food Field produces what the local community asks for, including farm favorites like salad greens and mulberries. Food Field is expanding with a new aquaponics system in order to raise fish, such as catfish and blue gill, in addition to collecting eggs from their chickens and ducks.
2. FARM:shop and FARM:London, London, United Kingdom
The self-proclaimed first “urban farming hub,” Dalston’s FARM:shop offers small scale farming, workspaces, and a café for residents of the neighborhood. Opened in 2011 by the eco-social design practice Something & Son LLP, FARM:shop is a unique example of urban agriculture. Inside the once-neglected storefront, the space now includes small-scale aquaponic fish farming, high-tech indoor allotment, and a polytunnel. FARM:shop even has a rooftop chicken coop and café. The goal of the project is not only to grow food for city dwellers, but also to prove to others in London that it is possible to grow food even without acres of space. The next step for Andrew Merritt and Paul Smyth of Something & Son is FARM:London, a plan to build a 3,000 square meter rooftop farm. The goal is to grow vegetables and raise fish in ways that are as environmentally friendly as possible, without waste or food miles.
3. Sky Greens, Singapore
In a small country where locally grown vegetables make up only seven percent of consumption, Sky Greens’ vertical farming provides both an efficient and environmentally sound solution. Jack Ng founded Sky Greens, the world’s first low-carbon hydraulic water-driven urban vertical farm that reduces the amount of energy and land needed for traditional farming techniques. Within a greenhouse, the three storeys-high vertical systems are able to produce five to ten times more per unit area compared to conventional farms. The greenhouse and low-carbon hydraulic system allows lettuces and cabbages to be grown year-round using less energy and water. While Sky Greens produce is a premium good, it is still priced competitively and found at grocery stores in Singapore. For a small country that imports the majority of their food from China, Indonesia, and even Europe and the United States, projects like Sky Greens could be a valuable way to feed a growing population.
4. The Distributed Urban Farming Initiative, Bryan, Texas
The Distributed Urban Farming Initiative (DUFi) has started to transform vacant lots in Bryan, Texas, demonstrating how urban farming can educate and inspire as much as it can produce healthy food to enjoy. The goal to sustaining the project is community, not only to build gardens in otherwise empty spaces, but also to inspire Bryan residents to eat healthy food and drive entrepreneurship and tourism. This past winter season, DUFI was able to grow broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and lettuce in a raised bed and pallet gardens. DUFI’s goal is to get the farm’s produce on plates at local restaurants to promote a healthier community. Another goal is to use the garden spaces for events and field trips, with the intention of reconnecting the Bryan community with the food system. As such, DUFI is an example of the importance of a hands-on approach when learning about nutrition.
5. Sharing Backyards, throughout Canada, The United States and New Zealand
Sharing Backyards offers a solution for people who lack land but want to grow their own food locally by linking them with people who have unused yard space. Through the initiative’s website, those with unused property can post their approximate location, and those looking for space to grow food locally can search locations nearby at no cost. While Sharing Backyards already has yard-sharing programs set up throughout Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, anyone is encouraged to start their own local program. With the support of Sharing Backyards’ technology and staff, starting and maintaining a community garden can be more collaborative and easier than it seems at first.