City-grown veggies: farms in all forms

Imagine walking through endless rows of high, neatly stacked shelves where trays boast tightly packed, bright green vegetable goods. Sounds unreal, doesn’t it? It even looks a bit unreal- reminiscent of the spooky labyrinth in Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire, or some sci-fi film where robots lie stacked and dormant, waiting to be unleashed.

But what we are imagining is real, very real. And it’s more of a utopia than a dystopia: what lies dormant are lab-grown veggies which are representative of a bright future.

This is the future of urban farming. It’s kind of what it says on the tin (excuse the pun): city farms which grow fruit and veggies, raise livestock, fish and, in some cases, keep bees. Some farms are massive and very commercial; some are local, small-scale and for the good of the community. Technology and hydroponics have made farming possible in small spaces.

Hydroponics is soil free farming, where a plant – instead of soil – is grown with a nutrient rich water solution dripped into its own individual pouch. Produce grown indoors can be grown without pesticides or chemicals. Making them fresher and healthier and kinder to the planet as travel miles and water use are minimal.

With urban populations swelling and our traditional farming methods becoming strained (soil erosion, soil exhaustion, water shortage), we have to find new, inventive ways to feed a growing population. Urban farms fill this gap and are a very helpful addition to traditional farming.

There is a huge variation in the location, type and size of city farms. They can include people’s rooftops, abandoned tunnels, shipping containers and even air raid shelters. The company Growing Underground, for instance, is a micro-gardening company (rapidly expanding, I might add), which creates sustainable food in farms underneath the streets of London’s Clapham neighbourhood. Above ground, a well-established urban rooftop farm is Brooklyn Grange in NYC. Located on top of a long island city warehouse it has 43,000 square feet of ‘farm-land’ and grows tens of thousands of pounds of greens every year and is a favorite supplier of many of New York’s restaurants.

In the last decade, vertical farms have popped up (literally) all over the world. David Rosenberg, the CEO of New Jersey based indoor agricultural firm AeroFarms, says that “by some estimates we will need 50% more food by 2050. We need transformational changes. Vertical farming does more with less.” The company already boasts 12 stories of farming shelves which grow lettuce, kale and bok choy.

The Indian company Urban Fate Farms, with offices in Mumbai and soon in Dubai, is active in ‘dead space’ activation, helping hotels and restaurant to utilise their dead/surplus space (and older style hotels have a lot of dead space) for growing hydroponic herbs and vegs. Urban Fate Farms so far has created local ‘farms’ in various Hyatt group hotels and in a string of restaurants in Mumbai.

The new start-ups active in this exciting new chapter of farming are too many to mention, but it is safe to say that the great transformation of how to grow food has most definitely started. Most likely somewhere close to you.

Further reading