28 Most Inspiring Urban Agriculture Projects Around the World
Around 15 percent of the world's food is now grown in urban areas. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban farms already supply food to about 700 million residents of cities, representing about a quarter of the world’s urban population. By 2030, 60 percent of people in developing countries will likely live in cities.
The Green Machine Mobile Food Market uses a bus to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to almost 400 customers in the food deserts of South Memphis. Photo credit: Green Machine Mobile Food Market
At Food Tank, we are amazed by the efforts of hundreds of urban farms and gardens to grow organic produce, cultivate food justice and equity in their communities and revitalize urban land. Urban agriculture not only contributes to food security, but also to environmental stewardship and a cultural reconnection with the land through education.
The Urban Food Policy Pact (UFPP), signed on World Food Day, addresses the potential of cities to contribute to food security through urban agriculture. A technical team of 10 members organized physical and virtual workshops with many of the 45 cities participating in the pact, and drafted a framework for action that includes 37 provisions covering the themes of governance, food supply and distribution, sustainable diets and nutrition, poverty alleviation, food production, and food and nutrient recovery.
“The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize the importance of building sustainable cities,” says Maurizio Baruffi, Chief of Staff of the Mayor of Milan, Italy. “The City of Milan is partnering with urban areas around the world to embark on this journey, starting from food.”
Do you want to discover urban agriculture projects in your own city or are you interested in visiting farms during your travels to new urban areas? Check out these inspiring projects, and find even more links to urban agriculture projects below.
Abalimi is an urban agriculture and environmental action group located outside of Capetown, South Africa. The organization supports and assists groups and individuals looking to improve their livelihoods through organic farming.
A nonprofit that promotes social and environmental justice in Montreal, Canada, Alternatives’ Feeding Citizenship is growing healthy food to fuel healthy communities. The project engages the community through horticultural training programs while supporting school and neighborhood gardens.
An after-school and summer program, BUGS provides children from low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland with a safe place for learning. Kids can garden, visit local farms and try new foods while improving math and reading skills as well as exploring creative entrepreneurial projects.
Located in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, Camino Verde’s mission is to plant trees and encourage environmental stewardship through educational programs and public awareness. The project’s Living Seed Bank acts as a botanical garden with over 250 tree species and protects endangered varieties. Camino Verde has planted over 70 different fruit trees, 40 flowering species, and enough trees to cover seven hectares of land.
Serving communities in Canberra, Australia, Canberra City Farms is dedicated to establishing learning hubs where people can collaborate and share their knowledge of sustainable and environmentally responsible food production.
A 100 percent bike-powered compost recycling project in Austin, Texas, Compost Pedallers strives to reduce waste, strengthen the local food system and connect the community with farms. Residents can sign up to redirect organic waste to local farms and gardens through the bicycle-powered network.
Detroit Dirt is a compost company that helps complete the “circle of life” in food production by regenerating waste into resources. Through partnerships with community coffee houses and local businesses, the organization is hoping to instill a self-sustaining culture of recycling organic waste and provide a valuable resource to urban farms and gardens in Detroit.
A municipal organic farm nestled in an expansive park, Ferme de Paris provides the public with vegetable gardens, orchards, medicinal plant gardens and a number of farm animals housed in sustainably-constructed buildings. City residents can even stay to volunteer if they want to.
Fresh & Local is looking to use urban agriculture to improve the health and well-being of Mumbai. The organization takes underutilized spaces and transforms them into places of community empowered food production.
Frisch vom Dach (Fresh from the Roof)
An aquaponics project starting on the rooftop of a former malt factory in Berlin, Germany, Frisch vom Dach uses nutrients from aquaculture to irrigate plants in a mostly closed loop.
A collaborative project among a number of organizations in Memphis, Tennessee, the Green Machine Mobile Food Market uses a bus to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to almost 400 customers in the food deserts of South Memphis.
Grignon Energie Positive, located in Paris, France, is an experimental farm run by the AgroParisTech program for sustainable development. The farm is working to reduce energy inputs by developing techniques that minimize its carbon footprint while growing enough organic food to feed between 5,500 and 8,000 people annually.
Grow City is a nonprofit in San Francisco, California that works to amend the way people consider the division between urban and rural to build a “more secure, sustainable, and fair” food system.
An edible forest in Mexico City, Mexico with 45 tree varieties, a seed bank, and a large section of bio-intensive gardening, Huerto Tlatelolco was created with the objective of building the local community.
A nonprofit farming cooperative in the South Bronx, New York, La Finca del Sur is led by Latina and black women. By empowering minority women through economic and food stability, the project is contributing to social and political equity in an underserved area.
The Last Organic Outpost is a research farm that teaches sustainable agriculture techniques to residents of Houston, Texas. The project targets underserved areas and supports local farmers so they can develop a safe, healthy local food economy.
An urban farm in San Antonio, Texas, Local Sprout grows fresh fruits and vegetables year-round using a hydroponic growing system. The project aims to contribute to food security, provide education and reduce environmental impact.
Marathon Restaurants, a small, sustainably minded chain in Philadelphia, now sources its fresh, organic produce from Marathon Urban Farm. The farm is revitalizing urban land and providing workshops on cooking and composting.
The Mazingira Institute provides training and support for urban farmers in Nairobi, Kenya. The NGO has trained about 3,000 urban farmers and organized youth and women’s hubs.
Natural Sound Agriculture and Craft Education is a private enterprise that offers educational opportunities about agriculture and food crafts to increase knowledge about urban gardening, sustainable agriculture and traditional skills like beekeeping, mushroom growing and brick-making.
At the Rotunda Building of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, 26 vertical, aeroponic towers house herbs, greens, and tomatoes. The project also raises animals that mow the property’s lawn.
An urban farm in Tokyo that grows over 100 types of produce indoors, underground and on the exterior walls of the nine-story office-style building, Pasona O2 has been described as technologically intensive.
Located in Montreal, Canada, The People’s Potato is a neighborhood collective providing garden and greenhouse space for community members. Volunteers grow and distribute organic produce to the surrounding community and distribute vegan meals through a food bank. The People’s Potato maintains an educational program in the form of monthly workshops and an affordable Good Food Box program.
ReVision Urban Farm is a community-based urban agriculture project that grows nutritious, culturally appropriate food for residents of its family home and the Boston community. The project also teaches locals about healthy eating and offers job training for youth and the homeless in the area.
Roosevelt Row Growhouse is a revitalization initiative from two artists that transformed a vacant, dilapidated property into a learning center for urban desert vegetable farming, sustainable living, healthy eating and edible landscaping in Phoenix, Arizona.
An urban farm and San Diego-based company that creates and distributes small-scale vertical gardens, SoCal Urban Farms aims to help anyone produce sustainable and healthy food, even with minimal space and poor soil.
Urban Farms of Central Ohio (UFCO)
A nonprofit organization formed by the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, UFCO transforms vacant or under-utilized land into community gardens to generate a sustainable source of food stability for underserved communities.
WYG is a community garden that teaches science, environmental stewardship and nutrition to youth in Washington, D.C. through hands-on gardening experience.
These are just a few examples from a cornucopia of urban agriculture projects happening in these cities. To learn more, read the full lists here:
- Mexico City
- New York City
- San Antonio
- San Diego
- San Francisco
- Washington DC
Check out The Good Stuff's video on urban farming:
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>