Quantcast
Food

3 Creative Solutions Emerging in Urban Farming

The world’s current food system is flawed. With so many mouths to feed, western society has resorted to intensive agriculture that relies heavily on petroleum-based technology, like tractors, plows and seed drills. With increasing population and advances in technology, farms are now competing on a global scale. Food is often flown in from all over the world, the emissions contributing to global climate change.

Providing food for our future mega cities will not be an easy task, but it can be sustainable. Photo credit: Worldwatch Institute

Because a growing proportion of food is not grown where it is eaten, city dwellers often fall victim to “food deserts” where they have little or no access to affordable, high-quality, fresh food. By the year 2050 close to 80 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban centers. With the growth of mega cities, our current farms mandate a paradigm shift to environmentally friendly and efficient urban food systems to support the population in a sustainable way.

Urban farming presents a unique opportunity to grow crops on land that is vacant or unused. These crops can also be grown in huge skyscrapers, abandoned lots and even in used shipping containers. It is up to the farmer to be as creative as s/he wishes.

One of the largest benefits of urban agriculture is the reduced distance of shipping crops from farmer to buyer. Often produce in the U.S., especially during winter months, is grown in far away places where the weather is still warm enough to support fruits and vegetables and is then shipped to grocers throughout the U.S. The amount of gas-guzzling delivery trucks and airplanes that deliver all of this food could drastically be reduced with a shift to urban agriculture. City farms could provide urbanites with easier access to fresh and local produce.

Container Farms

Old metal shipping containers from cargo ships are converted into mobile farms. Photo credit: Freight Farms

One of the most unusual examples of urban agriculture has the potential to provide Boston with fresh produce even when the city is blanketed in snow.  Founders Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara started Freight Farms in 2010 with the goal of cutting down on the number of miles it takes to get greens from farm to table. The pair converts old metal shipping containers from cargo ships into mobile farms.  These “smart farms” are insulated, completely digitally controlled and have even been installed with Wi-Fi so that farmers are able to check on things without leaving the comfort of their home when there is snow on the ground.

By growing food indoors, these containers eliminate the need for pesticides and herbicides. Indoor plants are able to produce food year round instead of seasonally, reducing the amount of fruits and vegetables flown in from other countries.

Freight Farms sell their containers to urban farmers looking for a new business endeavor for about $76,000 each. Shawn and Connie Cooney, two Bostonians, have taken advantage of this opportunity and have begun growing greens like kale, cilantro, mustard greens and wild mint, which they sell mostly to restaurants via wholesale distributors. They currently have four freight containers and claim to be able to grow as much produce as four acres of land could produce in a shorter amount of time and year-round.

Vertical Farms

The Plantagon has tracks that allow plants to travel up and down the building to maximize sunlight exposure and to make harvesting much easier. Photo credit: The Plantagon

Other urban farms, like vertical farms, use height to maximize growth space in cities. Many use hydroponics—growing crops in a medium other than soil, like in water—or aquaponics—using a symbiotic relationship between fish (for their nutritious waste) and plants (for their waste filtration) to grow food. These alternative growing techniques eliminate the need for soil. This new idea for a farm was first proposed by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of Microbiology and Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia, in 1999. The idea has been gaining steam quickly with proposed buildings underway all around the world, like in Japan and Wyoming.

There is a vertical farm going up in Sweden called the Plantagon. This futuristic building, expected to be finished by the end of 2015, has tracks that allow plants to travel up and down the building to maximize sunlight exposure and to make harvesting much easier. The building will produce between 300-500 tons of food a year in a 400 square meter space. The CEO, Hans Hassle, envisions his business as not only environmentally responsible because of its commitment to corporate responsibility, but also as a way to get young people interested in becoming farmers.

Another vertical farm is underway in Chicago called The Plant, which is trying to resolve Chicago’s food desert problem that has left some city dwellers without access to grocery stores or fresh produce. The building was once a meatpacking plant and has since been converted into a closed loop system where nutrients cycle between fish, plants and even Kombucha tea, a fermented drink. The facility even includes office spaces for local businesses to lease.

An anaerobic digester takes any waste products unable to be used and converts them into a sludge used to make fertilizer. The anaerobic digester combined with a proposed heat and power system will eventually run The Plant on net-zero energy and run completely off the grid.

Personal Farms

Garden Pool combines solar power, water conservation, poultry farming, aquaculture and more to convert water-intensive swimming pools into food oases. Photo credit: Garden Pool

On a smaller scale, one family in Arizona converted their backyard swimming pool into a closed loop food production system and has since started a non-profit to help others learn about sustainable food production and how simple it can be. Garden Pool combines solar power, water conservation, poultry farming, aquaculture and more to convert water-intensive swimming pools into food oases. The concept is simple and allows a family with an average-sized swimming pool to produce their own food 365 days a year.

Moving Forward

Though innovative and unique in their technologies, these ways of growing food have their drawbacks. Freight Farms shipping containers are climate controlled and do not use natural sunlight, increasing the amount of energy needed to power them. They are also relatively expensive and may not be a viable option for providing large amounts of food to urbanites, especially those living in lower-income neighborhoods with low access to fresh foods.  The Plantagon may reduce any need for chemical pesticides and herbicides, but it requires the construction of a whole new facility and has a large energy demand to maintain climate settings. The Plant and Garden Pool are nearer to a sustainable system, using pre-existing structures, closed resource systems, clean energy sources and community networks.

Providing food for our future mega cities will not be an easy task, but it can be sustainable. Creative minds have come up with ways of turning once-wasted buildings, containers and swimming pools into sustainable farms, capable of producing a large amount of food in our cramped urban spaces.  Conventional agriculture does not have to be the answer to our exploding population and the environment does not have to be at risk to feed us.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

5 Reasons Why Urban Farming Rocks: Apply Today to Win the $15k Gardens for Good Grant

The True Cost of Cheap Food

France Bans Monsanto’s Roundup As Environmental Groups Push WHO for Stronger Safety Standards

Show Comments ()
Sponsored

Dr. Michael Mann on Extreme Weather: 'We Predicted This Long Ago'

You can't go far in the climate movement without hearing the name of Dr. Michael E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University and author of The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars and, more recently, The Madhouse Effect.

Dr. Mann came to public attention back in 1998 when he and two colleagues published the landmark MBH98 paper documenting average global temperatures across the centuries with a line graph whose steep uptick in recent years earned it the name "the hockey stick." The paper—with its inconvenient truth about the consequences of fossil fuels—made him a target for climate deniers, but Dr. Mann refused to be silenced and has become one of America's leading public voices for a scientific and rational approach to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
The Dutch Weed Burger is made from three types of algae. The Dutch Weed Burger

How Marine Algae Could Help Feed the World

By William Moomaw and Asaf Tzachor

Our planet faces a growing food crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people are regularly undernourished. By 2050, an additional 2 to 3 billion new guests will join the planetary dinner table.

Meeting this challenge involves not only providing sufficient calories for every person, but also assuring a balanced diet that includes the protein and nutrients that are essential to good health. In a newly published study, we explain how marine microalgae could be a sustainable solution for solving global macro-hunger.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A Bureau of Land Management contractor's helicopter forces a wild horse into a trap during the recent roundup at the Salt Wells Creek. Steve Paige

Brutal Outlook for Healthy Wild Horses and Burros: BLM Calls for Shooting 90,000

On Thursday, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recklessly voted to approve recommendations that call on the Bureau of Land Management to shoot tens of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros.

At its meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado, the advisory board recommended that BLM achieve its on-range population goal of 26,715 wild horses and burros while also phasing out the use of long-term holding facilities—both within three years.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
www.youtube.com

‘Geostorm’ Movie and Climate Hacking: Are the Dangers Real?

By Jane A. Flegal and Andrew Maynard

Hollywood's latest disaster flick, "Geostorm," is premised on the idea that humans have figured out how to control the earth's climate. A powerful satellite-based technology allows users to fine-tune the weather, overcoming the ravages of climate change. Everyone, everywhere can quite literally "have a nice day," until—spoiler alert!—things do not go as planned.

Admittedly, the movie is a fantasy set in a deeply unrealistic near-future. But coming on the heels of one of the most extreme hurricane seasons in recent history, it's tempting to imagine a world where we could regulate the weather.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. Wikimedia Commons

GOP-Controlled Senate Paves Way for Oil Drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Senate Republicans' narrow passage of the 2018 budget plan on Thursday opened the door for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR).

But Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups criticized the GOP for sneaking the "backdoor drilling provision" through the budget process. Past proposals to drill in the refuge have consistently failed.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
iStock

Corporate Fleets Making the Switch to Electric Vehicles

By Gina Coplon-Newfield and Sung-Jae Park

Recently, 10 major transnational corporations launched EV100, a new global initiative to slash emissions by increasing the number of corporate fleet electric vehicles (EV) on the road. EV100 companies, including Ikea, Unilever and HP, are committing to, by 2030, integrate EVs into their owned or leased fleets and install EV charging stations for customers and employees.

The full initial list of companies, many of which operate many thousands of fleet vehicles, includes: Baidu, Deutsche Post DHL Group, Heathrow Airport, HP Inc., IKEA Group, LeasePlan, METRO AG, PG&E, Unilever and Vattenfall. Vattenfall, the Swedish power company that serves most of Europe, intends to meet the campaign's commitments, and then some. "Replacing our whole 3,500 car fleet with EV in the coming five years, working with our customers to deploy charging infrastructure, and building northern Europe's biggest connected charging network, are three examples of actions we are taking to promote a sustainable and climate smarter living for customers and citizens," Magnus Hall, CEO of Vattenfall, said.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
www.youtube.com

Losses From California Wildfires Top $1 Billion, Expected to Rise 'Dramatically'

Insured losses from fires in Northern California have topped $1 billion and are expected to rise "dramatically," state insurance officials announced Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights
Damage from Hurricane Maria. La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica

Puerto Rico's Revival Depends on Empowering Small-Scale Farmers

Reporting by Saulo Araujo

Houses without roofs and trees without leaves is all the eyes could see in the week following the devastation that Hurricane Maria wrought. The Category 5 storm with 150+ miles per hour winds was the strongest to hit the island in over a century, leaving the entire population without water and power. Weeks later 3 million people are still without electricity.

Up in the mountains, small-scale farmers lost their crops, and their ability to feed their families was abruptly leveled. La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica (Boricuá) a grassroots organization of more than 100 families made up of small-scale farmers, farmworkers and organizers across Puerto Rico and the islands of Vieques & Culebra, continues working to communicate with their members in rural areas and to assess the damages. Boricua has made great progress in the last three decades to organize and support farmers, facilitate farmer-to-farmer trainings, and build solidarity nationally and globally. They are helping to fuel agroecology on the island, bringing locally grown, nutritious food to their communities and to market.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox