Urban Food Production

In urban areas, the amount of energy used to transport food from distant farms to supermarkets is enormous. We burn a massive amount of fossil fuels bringing produce from the farm to the city, storing and refrigerating it at the market, and then driving to buy our groceries and returning home.

Fortunately, many fruits and vegetables are easy to grow in your home garden and in containers. The requirements of fruits and vegetables are of course the same in the city as they are on the farm: the correct amount of water and light, and healthy soil. If you create the correct conditions for healthy plants, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying fresh fruits and veggies from your own garden and reducing our impact on the environment.

Finding a place to grow your plants is the first step. Some options are on the roof, in doorways, on sidewalks, in hanging baskets, on the fire escape, or in window boxes. Use your imagination based on your living space. As a general rule, you’ll need to give your plants a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight a day. Make sure you have a water source close by as well. You’ll also want to consider issues of your neighbors and the owner of the property if you rent. You definitely don’t want water to damage any part of the property and have this come back to haunt you later if you decide to move.

If you’re going to plant vegetables in containers, consider growing shallow-rooting plants which require around 6 inches of soil. These include most herbs and greens such as spinach and lettuce. Tomatoes require at least 12 inches to grow well. You can be as imaginative with your containers as you wish. Check out these excellent urban garden container options from Clean Air Gardening. You can also recycle buckets, cans, etc. However, you’ll want to make sure that you punch drainage holes in whatever container you choose to use.

A very ingenious urban gardening project in Chicago using plastic wading pools claims to have produced up to 28 square feet and 40 pounds of produce in each pool. The swimming pools are extremely cheap and durable.

You should be aware that certain varieties of plants grow better in urban environments than others. Please see our Plant Guide for Urban Gardeners for ideas on what fruits and vegetables will grow well in your city garden.

Want to learn more about Urban Food Production?

Renew Canada  has an interesting piece on urban food production, arguing that growing food in cities can be an important part of securing a safe and sustainable food supply. The article cites the case of Durban, South Africa, where small urban gardens help sustain the more vulnerable residents during the food price riots there.

Fast Company magazine published a great article on the Dragonfly vertical farm concept. The Dragonfly, still in the conceptual stages, would be a 600m high, 132 story farm located at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, along the east river in New York City. It would contain 28 different agricultural fields for growing fruit, vegetables and meat and dairy production. The fields would be surrounded by housing, offices and laboratories powered by solar energy and wind power. At this point it is probably too expensive to build, but the concept certainly brings one food for thought.

The United States Department of Agriculture  has a web page dedicated to urban agriculture. The write up defines and explains urban agriculture and presents a bibliography along with a list of articles and resources relating to urban agriculture.

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