City farmers are learning to grow food without soil or sunlight
From abandoned warehouses to underground bomb shelters, agriculture is finding innovative ways to grow crops all year round in cities with no green spaces
Growing food in cities became popular in Europe and North America during and immediately after World War II.
Urban farming provided citizens with food at a time when resources were desperately scarce. In the decades that followed, parcels of land that had been given over to allotments and city farms were gradually taken up for urban development. But recently, there has been a renewed interest in urban farming – albeit for very a different reason than before.
As part of a recent research project investigating how urban farming is evolving across Europe, I found that in countries where growing food was embedded in the national culture, many people have started new food production projects.
There was less uptake in countries such as Greece and Slovenia, where there was no tradition of urban farming. Yet a few community projects have recently been started in those places too.
Today’s urban farmers don’t just grow food to eat; they also see urban agriculture as a way of increasing the diversity of plants and animals in the city, bringing people from different backgrounds and age groups together, improving mental and physical health and regenerating derelict neighbourhoods.
Many new urban farming projects still struggle to find suitable green spaces. But people are finding inventive solutions; growing food in skips or on rooftops, on sites that are only temporarily free, or on raised beds in abandoned industrial yards. Growers are even using technologies such as hydroponics, aquaculture and aquaponics to make the most of unoccupied spaces.
Hydroponic systems were engineered as a highly space and resource efficient form of farming. Today, they represent a considerable source of industrially grown produce; one estimate suggests that, in 2016, the hydroponic vegetable market was worth about $6.9bn (£4.9bn) worldwide.