Photo courtesy of Kristine Paulus via Flickr.

Is Urban Farming The Ultimate In Locally-Grown Food?

Photo courtesy of Kristine Paulus via Flickr.

As awareness of sustainability and local food increases, so does the trend of urban farming. Here are the pros and cons of growing food in the city.

It can take the form of community backyard farms, or larger private company farms such as the Brooklyn Grange or the 20,000 square-foot greenhouse farm under construction on the roof of a Whole Foods in (you guessed it) Brooklyn.

As part of a rebellion against the global industrial food system, the trend of urban farming is driven by a consumer desire for organic, locally grown food.

It’s also inspired by a desire for reducing one’s carbon footprint and living a sustainable lifestyle.

Benefits

  • Shorter distances. By reducing the amount of miles produce travels to reach the consumer – an average of 1,000 miles – urban farming can reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food production by up to 15%, according to (pdf) one study.

  • Less waste. According to a paper citing United Nations numbers, up to 60 pounds of food per person is wasted globally each year in production and distribution. Having a farm in your backyard could significantly reduce this.

  • Less heat. Urban rooftop farms would provide shade and insulation for cool air, reducing the need for summer air conditioning, which accounts for 20% of urban energy usage.

In addition, advocates say, urban farming promotes local economic investment, strengthens communities through cooperation, and provides people with affordable, healthy foods.

Of course, not everyone agrees that urban farming is always beneficial.

Criticism

  • Gentrification. By growing on land that would otherwise be used for housing or business, urban farming can drive up prices and contribute to gentrification, opponents say.

  • Not a cure-all. Eating local food reduces the amount of GHG emissions from transport. But production still produces a majority of those gases, especially with large, year-round greenhouses.

  • Disease and pollution. Although more of a problem in lower-income countries, improper handling of produce and related agrochemicals could lead to both contaminated foods and environments.

On the horizon

Urban farming seems to represent a convergence of two trends: an increasing global awareness (pdf) of environmental issues and rapid urbanization.

Whether in cooperative community gardens or large-scale, hydroponic (soil-less) vertical farms, the movement seems poised to continue forwards.

Ole Skaar