With a growing world population, farming and sustainability are boundlessly intertwined and at the heart of global issues. How can we feed all of the hungry people on earth? How can we maximize arable land? When considering such daunting questions, addressing one facet of the matter is essential in moving forward.
The concept of urban agriculture encompasses a wide range of activities and outcomes. Its goal is to grow plants and raise animals in a city setting. It entails a complexity of interconnectedness between residents and resources, while aiming to achieve self-sufficiency.
My favorite type of urban agriculture is rooftop gardens. These include an array of individual, community, and institutional initiatives, but all work to utilize otherwise lost space and harvest fresh local produce. But I want to think bigger than rooftop gardens. Lately, an innovation, also known as vertical farms, has caught my attention.
For a city to become self-sufficient, vertical farming is key. Vertical farming is the usage of a skyscraper greenhouse to grow crops and raise animals in an urban area. This is an expanding idea, as the global population is increasing and our available cropland is dwindling. Therefore, vertical farms use skyscrapers as new area capacity, which we can create for our growing global food demand.
Vertical farms create and exemplify a closed loop system. For example, there would be no more agricultural runoff, as the water would be reused; and the amount of water used in the first place would be significantly smaller than on an outdoor farm. A vertical farm can use 70% less water than a traditional farm, through the use of technologies such as hydroponics and drip-irrigation. Furthermore, the waste from the farm can be composted, and then used as very nutritious soil. Vertical farms enable year-round crop production, protected from the outside cold, while using sunlight as part of its heating system. Furthermore, there are no crops lost to severe weather events.
Since vertical farms are in an urban setting, the produce is fresh, with minimal food miles. Countries like Iceland or the United Arab Emirates, for example – with a lot of people, and little cultivable land – would benefit enormously. Finally, the uses of abandoned city properties, as well as the creation of new jobs, add to its economic sustainability. The advantage is that food production could take place anywhere, providing healthy, fresh food to areas that may not otherwise be able to produce them.
To learn more about vertical farms, watch Dickson Despommier’s TEDtalk “The Vertical Farm.”
This is only one aspect and one possibility within sustainability. What really is sustainability? This buzzword has been used, manipulated, overused, and worn out. In its primary sense, sustainability is the ability to sustain, uphold or maintain something at a certain rate. Sustainability is social, economic, and environmental; it is an idea and a mentality, while also representing adaptability and efficiency. Although its essence is at the heart of human nature, with the recent surge in climate change awareness, its popularity has emptied it of its true meaning. There is always a new ‘green’ trend, but we need to concentrate on making a fundamental shift away from superficial words, to an essential understanding that all human actions have an impact – let’s make it a positive one!
Written by Claire Bouillon, Environmental Services Intern