Earth first

7 Alternative ways to grow food and community

Over the course of generations, farms have become bigger, more industrialised and more efficient, but growing and distributing our food in novel ways - or simply going back to the old ways of doing things - can help bring communities together and bring people closer to their food. Here are 7 alternative takes on farming that are helping to build communities and bind people together - and growing sustainable produce to boot.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) schemes allow local communities to share in the responsibilities and risks of farming, and in exchange claim a share of the rewards. CSAs can take many forms: for example, citizens might invest and take a small ownership stake in a local farm, or contribute their time as volunteers in exchange for a share of the harvest. These schemes aim to bring consumers closer to their food and how it is produced, whilst also helping farmers integrate with their local communities and insulate themselves from the risk of lost income due to bad harvests.  

Urban rooftop farming 

Space might be limited in cities, but where there’s a will there’s a way - and in recent years urban citizens have taken to rooftop gardens and balconies to grow their own food in record numbers. The number of registered beekeepers in London is now at an all-time high - in fact, some scientists are concerned it’s becoming so popular that the city is running out of nectar. Meanwhile, the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles now plays host to the world’s largest urban rooftop farm, which produces several hundred kilos of fruits, vegetables and spices every day right in the heart of the French capital. 

Beekeeper and Chairman of The London Beekeepers Association John Chapple installs a new bee hive on an urban rooftop garden. Photo: Getty

Community-focused reforesting 

Reforesting the Amazon rainforest is a huge task on its own - but Camino Verde took things one step further by looking to rejuvenate Amazonian communities along with the forests. This Peruvian organisation planted a variety of valuable local species of seedlings and then brought local farmers into the process by offering training in how to harvest products from the forest sustainably and by connecting them to new markets - creating new opportunities for local communities as the forests are restored.

Allotments & city gardens 

From the great to the small, people everywhere have decided that farming is no longer just for the countryside. City allotments are now a common sight, but some have gone a step further: CultiCuidad’s ‘Huerto Tlatelolco’ programme, for example, transformed a neglected and disused pocket of Mexico City into a thriving urban farm. Now they run visits for schoolchildren to help them learn about farming without having to leave the city and training workshops for those looking to develop their own urban farms elsewhere in the city - as well as (of course) operating a market selling their produce!
Direct Trade

In theory, having fewer actors in the supply chain should mean farmers see more of the price paid by consumers. Some organisations are therefore embracing ‘direct trade’ by only buying their raw ingredients directly from farmers with whom they have an established relationship - which can result in higher quality food and a better deal for farmers. Coup de Chocolat is one such (chocolate) company, sourcing all its cocoa beans from Colombian farmers directly without using any intermediaries - and getting it all from Colombia to their factory in Belgium by carbon-free sailboats and bicycles for good measure!

Farming with refugees

Refugees can be left reliant on handouts from aid programmes and relief agencies to put food on the table - but a UNHCR-supported initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken a different approach by bringing South Sudanese refugees together with Congolese farmers to till the land together, harvest and sell fresh produce at local markets, and share the final profits. 

Urban aquaponics

From Berlin to Singapore, urban farmers are bringing together plants and fish to create urban aquaponic farms. The waste produced by the fish (along with any uneaten feed) acts as a fertiliser for the plants, which in turn clean the water as they absorb the nutrients they need to grow. The resulting clean water can then be recirculated back into the fish tanks, creating a circular production system that’s perfectly suited to urban settings where sourcing fertiliser and disposing of wastewater can be far more challenging than on traditional farms.

Listen to how this Singaporean University manages its own aquaponics system.

How Aquaponics Work- Infographic by Cait Mack

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