This article was originally published in Garden Culture Magazine UK26 and US24.
With the increasing urban sprawl, food to feed city dwellers must be produced far away from where it is consumed.
Food must be transported to cities by air, rail or truck, generating significant amounts of pollutants and greenhouse gases. According to the Worldwatch Institute, the food that makes up a typical American plate must be transported an average of 1,500 miles before being eaten.
The transportation and storage of food also force farmers to cultivate varieties of fruits and vegetables that are firm and low in juice with a very thick peel. This way, the produce is better able to withstand frequent handling, shocks and temperature differences.
Furthermore, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 45% of all fruits and vegetables produced around the globe are lost or discarded before they can be eaten, partly because of transport, storage, and handling.
Add an increasing fear of GMOs and chemical pesticides to the mix, and young, urban citizens have decided to grow their own food in order to eat it in its most organic form. They have developed very original ways to produce healthy fruits and vegetables, locally, in the heart of cities.
Farms in old buildings
Rather than growing edible plants in the ground as it is usually done in conventional agriculture, urban farmers must be creative and find ways to grow food on rooftops and inside buildings. In recent years, the number of projects for growing edible plants on roofs has boomed in North America.
Some urban agriculture projects involve renovating and insulating old buildings in which fruits and vegetables are cultivated in vertical hydroponic systems under artificial lighting.
This is the case for Metropolis Farms located in a Philadelphia building and for AeroFarms in Newark, New Jersey. Approximately US $30 million has been invested in AeroFarms to transform a former steel mill into a cutting-edge urban farm.
Food inside shipping containers
Another creative way of growing edible plants in urban areas without soil has recently been developed in North America. It involves producing fruits and vegetables in old shipping containers with vertical hydroponic systems. The Boston-based companies Corner Stalk Farm and Freight Farms have had great success with this method.
Recently, Kimbal Musk, the brother of Tesla founder Elon Musk, created a company called Square Roots. This urban farming company grows GMO-free, pesticide-free produce in shipping containers right in the heart of Brooklyn. The produce is sold at local grocery stores around NYC.
This question certainly deserves to be asked: although it is free of GMOs and pesticides, can vertical hydroponic culture – done without soil and microorganisms – be considered organic?