Cultivated rooftops, shared gardens, exploited wastelands…Major cities around the world are being hit by an unprecedented green wave. This phenomenon, known as urban agriculture, is mainly due to increased public awareness about climate change and various food scandals such as mad cow disease, dioxin chicken or pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. Food production has been questioned and wiser, healthier options have been introduced: shorter food chains, farmers markets, organic labels… The emergence of productive food gardens within the city is simply an extension of the consumer’s desire for greater proximity and quality. From a simple hobby to a commercial activity or even a social project to restore the link between people, urban agriculture can take several forms. Here are a few of them.
Rooftop gardens in Paris
As larger cities are becoming more and more overcrowded and urban soils are increasingly polluted, the city of Paris has decided to develop urban agriculture on its rooftops. Up in the air, fruits and vegetables are less likely to be contaminated by dirt and other debris. The association Paris Under the Strawberries, which specializes in the organic production of food in urban areas, has developed a production tool which enables the cultivation of fruits without chemicals. One of their most successful projects is a vertical strawberry field, planted on the rooftop of the flagship Galeries Lafayette store. Last year alone, several tons of fruit were harvested.
The emergence of rooftop garden in Paris has also given rise to another agricultural activity: urban beekeeping. With over 300 hives spread out through the city, Paris is quickly becoming the urban beekeeping capital of the world. Famous bee hive locations include the rooftops of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Garnier Opera House.
London’s underground farm
London’s first underground farm has been set in an abandoned Second World War bomb shelter. Once designed to accommodate up to 8000 people during air raids, it has now been recycled into a 6000 square feet farm that produces micro greens such as rocket, coriander, watercress and pea shots.
As there is no earth in the shelter, vegetables are grown hydroponically, using 70% less water than traditional farming. The roots lie in a neutral substrate, regularly irrigated with a mineral nutrient solution. The lighting is providing by LED technology, which also allows the temperature to keep to a constant 20 degrees celsius, the ideal climate to grow vegetables.
Located in the very heart of London, in Clapham, the harvest of the underground farm does not need to travel far to reach the restaurants it supplies in Covent Garden. Within 4 hours, the produce can be picked, packed and delivered, ensuring a great way to reduce food miles and consume fresh local vegetables. Additionally, it is also a resourceful solution to make maximum use of unexploited spaces in overcrowded cities.
Farm schools in San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the most innovative cities for farm schooling, created as a means to reconnect students and staff with the outdoors. These schools offer an edible garden where students can learn how to plant, harvest and eat their crops of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Some of them also include a chicken coop or mini farm with goats, sheep or rabbits. The city of San Fransciso is soon to open the nation’s first k-8 urban farm school. This urban oasis will educate preschoolers with an ecology farm curriculum based on Waldorf education, one of the greenest educational philosophies. With seamless interplay between indoor classrooms and outdoor teaching spaces, the school will emphasize on maintaining natural daily and seasonal rhythms.
Community gardens in Rosario
In Rosario, Argentina, many urban agriculture projects emerged with the support of local authorities following the financial crisis of the early 2000s. To achieve this transition, it was necessary to compile an inventory of vacant lands on which vegetables could be gardened, ensure water supply and create gardens and parks in residential areas for both agricultural production and recreation.
Ten years later, the city has more than 800 gardening groups working in community gardens. 65 % of those who farm the land are women and most of them come from backgrounds of extreme hardship and social exclusion. This urban agriculture initiative enabled the most deprived members of the community to be included in the economic and social system of the city. The production is such that it now supplies seven municipal markets. Today, hundreds of families live from urban agriculture in Rosario, making it a successful model to follow for other cities throughout Argentina and South America.
Balcony farmers in Beijing
Following a number of food safety scandals, including an incident where leeks were found filled with toxic pesticides and apples were discovered wrapped in paper bags containing chemicals, the inhabitants of Beijing have grown increasingly worried about the quality of their food. Their response has been to take matters in their own hands and grow their own food, as shown by the market boom for farming tools within the urban population. In order to grow their own vegetables in a very limited space, Beijing residents have adorned their windowsills and balconies with creative gardens. With the help of frames that train plants to grow upward, vertically stacked planters and kits for growing produce on inclined surfaces, they have been able to make the most out of their standard six square meters balconies. In this case, urban gardeners are willing to pay more money to plant their own vegetables and most of the time, the fruit of their humble harvest is offered to those they care most about, their children.
Article by Agriaffaires