Urban agriculture has long served residents as a source of recreation and respite from city hustle and bustle. Urban agriculture can also serve other functions, such as increasing residents’ access to fresh and local food. When using modern techniques, limited urban space can be better utilized, and efficient farming can provide residents with fresh produce even year round.
Over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas nowadays. UN projections indicate that if the current trends continue, the number can increase to as much as 68% by 2050. Feeding such a number of people can become a challenge. Naturally, a growing urban population means higher demand for fresh food. It is a major challenge to the capacity of conventional agriculture, which may not be efficient enough, and can be increasingly unreliable while climate change progress.
Limited space and a warming climate are among the serious problems that cities face. The quantity and quality of crops depend heavily on weather and other uncontrollable environmental factors. Unexpected drought, excessive rainfall, or pest infestation can cause significant damage to crops. That, in turn, cause economic losses for farmers and disruptions in food supply chains. Also, monoculture crops contribute to the degradation of soil and water systems. With agricultural land already starting to become scarce, this is another problem that could affect farmers and consumers, who often must rely on imports.
Transforming the way cities and buildings are planned is necessary to adapt to climate change and create a more livable infrastructure. An important part of this transformation is increasing green spaces and urban farms that can serve local communities. Technological advances are already enabling alternative production methods that can serve to diversify the urban food supply chain and increase urban consumers’ access to fresh and local food.
Creating local, urban farms can have a positive impact on increasing well-being of city residents and reducing the carbon footprint. Close access to fresh food reduces the need for imports, thereby significantly minimizing transport emissions. Additionaly, by using renewable energy sources, urban farming can be fully climate-neutral. Urban food production centers designed in this way create a resilient and reliable food system that contributes to building self-sufficient urban communities.
Another important element of urban agriculture is the positive impact it can have on local communities. In addition to the practical element of growing crops, residents can usefully spend time and raise awareness about healthy eating and conscious lifestyles. Urban agriculture brings food production to the heart of cities, allowing closer contact between people and their food, but also between producers and consumers.
Vertical farming brings many benefits, often beyond those offered by urban agriculture. This is mainly due to greater crop efficiency. Vertical farming requires less space because crops are built vertically rather than horizontally. Using columns, towers, and shelves, growing areas can be significantly reduced without sacrificing production efficiency. This technique makes it possible to build farms in warehouses, vacant buildings, hotels, or supermarkets – even in the middle of the city center! This allows city residents to enjoy a product produced in close proximity to their place of residence. Vertical farming doesn’t use plant protection, which means the food is not only fresh but also pesticide-free.
Depending on the location of the vertical farm and its consumers, the carbon footprint of production can be drastically reduced. It is measured based on how far food travels between its production and end consumers, and by the emissions produced by transportation. A study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that transportation accounts for 11% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Vertical farms are usually located within urban areas. The residents are the main consumers of the fruits and vegetables produced. The locality of production and the short distance between producers and consumers can help lower agriculture’s contribution to emissions.
Examples of successful projects promoting the idea of vertical farming in cities can already be found. Most of them offer the opportunity to grow plants in unremarkable locations to provide the local community with fresh produce in proximity. We’ve collected some inspiring examples below.
1. Underground growing in the London Underground | London, UK
Thirty-three meters below the streets of the Clapham neighborhood in southwest London, Growing Underground has built the first underground vertical farm. It is in a former World War II-era security bunker, which makes it very extraordinary. It uses hydroponic technology and LED lighting, which is powered by renewable energy, to produce fresh vegetables. The crops are being farmed soilless with recycled carpets used as the medium for the plants.
The underground farm can produce up to 60 crops a year, which makes it six times more efficient than a field crop. It also uses 70% less water compared to similar crops in the soil. In addition, it is free of pesticides. The project’s developers ensure that vegetables and herbs produced at the farm get from the producer to consumers’ tables in less than four hours. The company also supplies retailers and businesses that provide food to residents.
2. Urban container farm for local community | York, UK
LettUs Grow, together with the University of York, have jointly created “Grow it York.” This is a community project that has created an urban, community farm. Thanks to its central location, residents can easily get to the site and take advantage of the farm’s offerings. Plants are produced using aeroponics, which uses less water and does not require the use of pesticides. The farm produces and supplies local fresh produce to both local community members and businesses.
The project is intended to be part of research being conducted on the impact of vertical farming in creating positive changes in the food system. The farm is open to visitors, who can see how fresh vegetables are grown, i.e. watercress, garlic, arugula, and basil.
3. Fresh food on a polar island | Svalbard, NO
Can you grow fresh food at the North Pole? The owners of Vertical Agri prove it’s possible! The company has implemented a project on the island of Svalbard, one of the northernmost places in Norway. About 8,000 people live on this remote island. Interestingly, the local community is also often visited by polar bears who freely stroll the streets. Fresh food is mainly imported from the Netherlands and Portugal. Norwegian company, Vertical Agri, build a vertical farm on the island to reduce its carbon footprint through local and sustainable production. More recently, residents have been able to enjoy year-round food production.
4. Seven-meter farms in the center of a crowded city | Sao Paolo, BR
In the center of the crowded city of Sao Paolo, Pink Farms built a seven-meter-high vertical farm. It was meant to respond to the city’s inefficient food system. Inside the building are towers up to ten stories high. The technology, developed by Pink Farm, makes it possible to grow a variety of vegetables, lettuces, sprouts, mushrooms and some fruits.
From the vertical farm, the company distributes produce to the central, western and southern zones of São Paulo, and its products are already present in more than 75 outlets in the city, including supermarkets, grocery stores and restaurants. The startup handles all of its own distribution logistics.
5. Food production open to locals | Wyoming, USA
Vertical Harvest has several vertical farms across the United States. Taking advantage of high-rise buildings, the company builds local, high-margin farms on smaller acreage in urban centers. The company’s priorities are both profitability and integration into the local community. One element of the project is to create inclusive jobs, particularly for people with disabilities. The company’s goal is to create a network of urban vertical farms that operate locally, support each other regionally and operate nationally to bring food production closer to home and keep local dollars in the community longer.
Hydropolis is the first company to offer turnkey vertical farming solutions in Poland. Our systems are well suited for installation in the middle of a city. Hydropolis’ vertical farming technology allows you to:
➤ Reduce the amount of land required for food production, which means that land can be used in a better way for people and the planet.
➤ Utilize brownfields, marginal spaces and urban areas currently underutilized or neglected.
➤ Increase yields from an area, using fewer resources compared to other forms of urban agriculture.
➤ Significantly increases the yield of plants per unit area compared to horizontal(?) hydroponic culture.
➤ Reduce pressure on food supply chains and help address the huge infrastructure shortage for growing cities.
➤ Make food production independent of seasonal changes and insulate it from extreme weather events caused by global warming.