The Future

Urban Farming | Grow Your Own Food

When we think of farming, we imagine rural landscapes with huge fields extending as far as the eye can see. For the most part that's true, but it's not the only way: urban farming in and around cities is on the rise.

What is urban farming?

Urban farming is an umbrella term that covers all sorts of farming in and near cities, including growing plants and raising livestock.1 From growing salad leaves in disused railway arches or herbs inside supermarkets, to people growing tomatoes on their balconies or keeping chickens in their backyard, urban farming can take many different forms.

In Berlin, for example, one company grows herbs and salad leaves right inside supermarkets and restaurants, cutting down the miles that food has to travel to reach you to zero.2 And in London, rooftops are used by beekeepers to produce honey specific to individual postcodes that is sold in shops throughout the city.3

While all forms of urban farming come with challenges, they also bring benefits that can help make our food systems more sustainable. A 2007 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for the UN says that, on the whole, urban farming complements rural agriculture, and helps increase the efficiency of national food systems.4

The benefits of urban farming

With 2/3 of the world’s population expected to be living in cities by 2050, it makes sense to grow food closer to where people will actually eat it. Researchers estimate that if cities around the world took full advantage of opportunities for urban agriculture, we could produce as much as 180 million metric tons of food a year—just from urban farms alone.5

Though it’s unlikely that any city would be able to produce enough food to entirely sustain itself, the practice also has plenty of other benefits: adding greenery to otherwise grey urban landscapes, helping us cut down on food waste because there’s less chance of crops going bad while in transit, and creating jobs in cities.

One of the other big advantages is that growing locally reduces food miles. But while cutting food miles is an admirable aim, transportation only accounts for a small percentage of carbon emissions from the food we eat, so food grown in your city doesn’t necessarily have a smaller carbon footprint than food that’s shipped in from further afield.6

Indoor farming: increasing food security

High-tech indoor growing systems designed specifically for indoor urban farming mean that we can produce fresh food year-round, not having to rely on the weather outside, which is a good thing for food security as climate change brings more extreme weather events.7

But while outdoor and rooftop farms can make use of natural sunlight, indoor farms need electricity to power artificial lights and grow their crops, increasing their environmental footprint. But technology can help keep this footprint to a minimum: for example, instead of mimicking the full spectrum of sunlight, indoor farms often use pink LEDs that include only the red and blue wavelengths of light that plants actually need to stimulate growth, using less energy.8

Another big challenge facing companies setting up farms in cities is the cost of land. High land costs can lead to high prices, which means produce would only be available to those who can pay the most, not poorer communities who are most in need of affordable fresh food.9

What fruit and veg is easy to grow on a terrace?

If you live in a city, you can start urban farming too, and you don’t need lots of technology to get started! All you need is a terrace, a balcony, or even just a windowsill. Once you get the hang of it, you could be producing a serious amount of food. The FAO estimates that a garden plot one square metre in size can produce 20kg of produce each year – equivalent to around 160 tomatoes, or 18 cabbages.1

It’s best to start small and grow food you know you like to eat. Tomatoes and chillies do well on balconies, and herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage will cope there too.10 If your garden doesn’t have room for a full vegetable plot, beetroot, broad beans, and carrots will grow well in containers.11 And if you only have a sunny windowsill to play with, basil will appreciate being inside sheltered from the wind.

Do you grow vegetables on your balcony or terrace? What have you found works the best? Let us know in the comments!

Related articles

Most viewed

The Future

Cheap Seafood | The Social Cost of Production

Madhura Rao

Many workers employed onboard offshore fishing vessels have been subjected to unsafe working…

The Future

Farming The Food Chain | Low Trophic Aquaculture

Oliver Fredriksson

If I said ‘seafood’ to you, what springs to mind? Chances are ‘low trophic’…

The Future

Should Milk Alternatives be Taxed Differently? | Opinion

Angelika Schulz

Plant-based milk alternatives are growing increasingly popular across Europe. From soy to oat, many…

Earth First

5 Reasons to Use Edible Utensils

Jane Alice Liu

You ordered take-out and the restaurant forgot to give you plastic utensils. Maybe that wasn’t…

The Future

Using Honey as a Medicine

Tim Angeloni

This liquid gold delicacy and common sugar substitute can do far more than sweeten your coffee.…

Human Stories

Food and Place | Does Where You Live Influence Your Eating Habits?

Luke Cridland

Where food is sold is not decided randomly and there are many factors that go into determining where…

The Future

Holy cow! Beef without cows?

Luke Cridland,Meghan Horvath

Did you know that scientists have found a way to grow meat in a lab? It may sound crazy, but…

The Future

Perfectly Ripe Fruits | How Do They Do It?

Kelly Oakes

There’s nothing like biting into perfectly ripe fruits, like a peach or a juicy apple. But how…

The Future

Shareholder Activism: Can Cattle Ranching Investors Help Stop Deforestation in Brazil?

Erasmus zu Ermgassen

The expansion of agriculture is the leading driver of deforestation in the tropics. But can…

The Future

Transforming Our Food System | The UN Food Systems Summit

Aran Shaunak

Food is an issue that not only affects us all, but that all of us have a role to play in solving.…

Human Stories

Expanding The Gaze Of Modern Fisheries Management

Oliver Fredriksson,Dr Andrea Reid

Dr Andrea Reid is a citizen of the Nisgaꞌa Nation, an Assistant Professor of Indigenous…

The Future

Why We Need Open Innovation For Our Food System

Jane Alice Liu

Have you heard of OI – open innovation? If you think it means openly sharing ideas and…

Keep updated with the latest news about your food with our newsletter

Follow Us