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From container to table – the rise of urban farming

Circular production, reduced environmental impact and locally sourced strawberries are just a few of the benefits of urban agriculture. The relentless urbanization and globalization of the modern world comes with a range of social, economic and environmental issues, some of which could be comprehensively addressed by burgeoning urban farming practices. If continuously scaled, urban agriculture could become a $160bn industry and generate up to 180 tonnes of food annually - but where and how is it implemented and what does it implicate?

Urban farming encompasses a diverse set of practices including vertical farms, communal allotments, permaculture, waste re-use. Its proponents do not aim to replace traditional farming, rather they claim that it presents a holistic approach to issues of food sovereignty, climate change and even economic instability, and may very well provoke a paradigm shift in the food industry.

Urban agriculture initiatives have been prospering in smaller cities with rural ties, but metropolitan cities can adopt urban agriculture just as well, as exemplified by current practices in Paris. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, aims to turn 30 hectares of France’s capital into urban farm plots by 2020. To this end, Hidalgo is incentivizing local agricultural businesses by leasing them public land at reduced rates.

Among such businesses are Agricool, a company growing pesticide-free strawberries in a controlled environment – namely, containers placed within the city. The advantages of such an enterprise seem obvious, ranging from a higher quality of produce to a reduction of food miles. The founders also promote the freshness, an exponentially higher yield than farmland agriculture, sustainability and economic equity of their product.

Vertical farming, which essentially consists of growing crops in buildings, is particularly appropriate for densely urbanized areas and has good potential for alleviating poverty and has even been promoted as a reinforcement of national security through food security. As for environmental benefits, allotments and rooftop gardens can soak up carbon emissions as well as lower summer temperatures in cities and provide insulation for buildings, reducing the usage of electricity.

Citizens involved in urban farming initiatives are benefiting from lower food costs, social cohesion and greater control over the quality of their food. Upon the assumption that these initiatives empower individuals and strengthen communities, urban farming and permaculture principles are being used as inclusionary and rehabilitative methods, with initiatives available for ex-offenders and disadvantaged groups in cities such as Detroit. A Silicon Valley project combines urban farming and senior housing, and a host of programmes are being implemented in schools and daycares in the Philippines.

It is important to anticipate pitfalls. Critics point out that vertical farms, for instance, may have a much higher carbon footprint than traditional farming due to high electricity use, but proponents such as the founders of Agricool counter by using renewable energy. They claim that the added sum of socioeconomic and environmental benefits outweigh such costs. Another issue lies in the high

cost of advanced technology such as hydroponics and aquaponics, but although sophisticated agricultural technologies are garnering investments, many initiatives prove that urban farming can be implemented in low-tech and accessible ways.

All in all, urban farming may well be the key for social empowerment, food sovereignty and a bottom-up shift into a circular economy model.

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Hussein Dib

Passionate about social-environmental justice and improving lives of most vulnerable groups in society.

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