No matter who you are or where and how you live, the food you eat plays a huge role in your daily life and happiness. Rapid global urbanization and the industrialization of agriculture mean that people everywhere are becoming more and more disconnected from the source of the food that sustains them, and some are starting to rebel against this trend by growing their own crops right in their city homes.
The possibilities for the future are exciting and innovative. There are visions of soaring garden towers that will be at home among the skyscrapers, growing food locally and actually producing a net gain of energy.
One nine-story corporate office in Tokyo has already been converted into a functional farm, where businessmen walk past rice paddies on their way to their meetings and tend to herbs as leisure on their breaks. The kitchen is stocked with fresh crops grown in the building itself. Futuristic developments like these hold great promise for a new way to farm our food.
Even among modest individual households without any cutting edge technology, however, urban farming is far more common than you might expect. The United Nations reports that 800 million people around the world produce their own food in cities, supplying an astonishing 15 – 20 percent of the world’s food. In Africa the numbers are almost double the world average, with an estimated 40 percent of city-dwellers involved in their own mini agricultural operations.
Why are so many people turning to their own balconies, backyards, rooftops, and roadsides for food? The reasons are many, and the benefits are spread across all spheres of life.
Perhaps the most obvious and measurable benefit of growing your own food is that those who do will always have something to eat, even in times of food shortage or unemployment. This means that the popularity of home grown veggies is good news for the whole country. Even a small pot or scrap of land can go a long way to supplement the weekly groceries, and is guaranteed to be fresh and nutritious.
Growing your own veggies requires only minimal setup costs, and they can even be fertilized using compost from household scraps. Urban farming also saves money by eliminating transportation costs, which make up a large part of the price tag for the produce you find in the grocery store.
Perhaps surprisingly, urban gardens are actually considerably more efficient than rural farms. An area of only one square meter can produce 20kg of food per year, up to 15 times more than a traditional farm. Depending on the size of the plot, some families even sell their excess veggies at local markets for extra income.
Many people grow their own food with an eye to a much larger picture. With seven billion hungry people to feed, agriculture takes a huge and damaging toll on the Earth. Habitats are destroyed to make way for large farms, water and energy resources are depleted, and pesticides pollute the rapidly eroding soil.
Growing food at home can have a huge impact. Making good use of otherwise unnoticed space like rooftops, backyards, balconies, and even empty lots and roadside strips helps to maximize the space we use to grow our food. Instead of cutting down trees to make way for a new rural field, urban farmers can create fertile, beautiful spaces in a concrete city.
Your backyard is as local as it gets. Massive amounts of energy and pollution are saved when food doesn’t have to be shipped hundreds of miles in refrigerated vehicles to arrive on grocery store shelves. It is also easy to grow organic, pesticide free produce at home, because the small scale does not attract swarms of pests.
Each household may only be able to grow a few veggies, but imagine if every home in the world included a one-meter farm. The impact can be extraordinary.
Quality of Life
Urban Farming isn’t only about practicality or altruism, however. It’s also about luxury. Organic, home-grown, just-picked vegetables will always be more delicious than food that has been frozen or left on the store shelf for days or even weeks. No amount of money could buy a meal fresher than one you picked in your own garden. Fresh, local food simply tastes better, and even more so when you add the satisfaction of growing it with your own hands.
The more people who take up urban farming, the more beautiful the city they live in becomes. Lush, green gardens decorating rooftops and lining the streets make a busy city a refreshing and pleasant place to live. Having more inner city plants also increases shade and fights against the “heat island” effect that can be created by large cities where the roads and buildings soak up and reflect heat, making summer in the city more unpleasant than living just outside it.
Each small contribution goes a long way to improve the lives of individual gardeners and their families, as well as benefit their city and the health of their plant. Urban farming is accessible to everyone, and delicious local vegetables should be as well.