Imagine skipping the busy lines at the grocery store checkout and just walking outside to pick your dinner. For some, this is a reality, but for most of us, it’s not that easy.
But what if you could grow your own produce, even if you live in the heart of the city.
Growing your own produce may be appealing, but not everyone lives in a rural neighbourhood with the space to raise a veggie patch. It is a lot harder for someone in a high-rise apartment downtown to grow their own food, but it isn’t impossible.
Picture yourself standing on the roof of an apartment building. You’re surrounded by thriving vegetation. There are barrels filled with hearty stalks of curly kale, baskets growing a variety of leafy greens, and staked tomato and eggplant bushes. This is becoming increasingly common as the urban jungle continues to grow and urban farmers gain more support.
Urban farming is on the rise, but it isn’t a new concept. The notion of producing agriculture near where you live is an old idea, not a new one. It has merely transformed to better meet today’s urban spaces. Urban farming is found around the world, and continues to grow in popularity.
One of the biggest benefits of growing an urban garden is proximity. There are major benefits of getting your food as locally as possible. The best way to bring good food to the masses is to grow it around (and in some cases above) people. Where are the most heavily populated communities? Urban centres of course. It only makes sense to grow food in our urban sectors.
There are a few main benefits of having food grow in a close proximity to the consumer:
- Transportation takes its toll on the environment. Be it by boat, plane, or truck, imported food has a large ecological footprint. By growing the food close to home you significantly (or completely) decrease the distance food travels before it reaches the dinner plate.
- Produce is going to be a lot fresher when it is grown in your neighbourhood. Buying imported food means it has to be picked, shipped, delivered, stocked, and then sold. If you can cut out those middle steps, and get freshly picked ripe food, you are getting a better product.
- Not only is local food fresher, but it’s also typically more nutritious. Imported food is picked before reaching peak ripeness, to keep it fresh longer. If you’re getting your food fresh from your neighbourhood, it can be when it’s at its nutritional peak.
- Eating local food helps force you to eat produce that is in season. This helps diversify your diet. We aren’t meant to eat the same foods day in and day out all year round. We should be eating in season local food.
There are many community benefits to urban farming too. There are many reasons people may choose to work together to grow an urban farm. It splits the cost, and the work.
There are community gardens in most cities. In some, you have rent your own space. This is great for independent people looking to produce exactly what they want. There are also communal gardens where everyone works to grow one large garden, and you then pay for your share of the produce. This is a great way to learn from others and cuts down on the amount of work you have to put in.
There are also many community groups that have urban gardens for the purpose of ending hunger and feeding the poor. If you have a passion for gardening, you can get involved to grow produce in these community gardens to help supply local food banks with good, local food.
Urban gardens are also becoming increasingly common in schools. This gives kids responsibility, and they learn how to take care and grow plants. It teaches them where food comes from, giving them pride and respect for the food they eat. It also teaches the next generation about good food, showing them it is possible to grow your own food and to eat right.
That doesn’t mean you have to go to a community garden to have your own urban green space. If you have the access to your own outdoor space you can grow your very own urban garden. This could be a few potted vegetables, or a larger raised garden. Another popular urban gardening tactic is to grow a vertical garden. Put your walls to work and make your space work for you.
Another fairly obvious, but important benefit of urban farming is the added greenery. Urban farms and gardens are often planted in rather unsightly areas, be it abandoned lots, patios, or rooftops. This added greenery not only dresses up an unused space, but the added plant life also cleans up the environment.
A lack of agriculture in the urban sector created a new phenomenon known as the urban heat island. The addition of plant life helps clean the air, and reduces this heat, bringing in fresher, and cooler airflow.
Urban gardens also generally have a peaceful atmosphere. They are great places to get away, keep busy, or just relax and enjoy nature in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the urban village.
There are so difficulties that come with urban gardens. Space is an obvious one, but people have found creative solutions to this. One big problem is the cost of the space. Space is valuable in a city so it can in difficult for find real estate for your farming venture. Gardens and green space also tends to result in gentrification and increased prices. It’s great to add value to a space, but it can be difficult to afford urban farming locations.
Some urban farms keep their farms portable to deal with this. Using transportable raised beds can make it easy to pack up and move spaces if the space becomes too pricey.
Another problem some local farms face is pollution. Plants play an important role in cleaning up soil and air, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard on the plants. Urban soils are often too polluted to grow in. It can be filled with lead, arsenic, and other chemicals and toxins. While some plants like shrubs and trees can survive and clean up these soils, you definitely don’t want to try and grow produce in this soil. This means the soil requires remediation or to be replaced. The other option, which goes hand in hand with the portable gardens, is raised beds. Bringing in good soil and compost to plant your gardens in is likely necessary when starting a new garden.
The air in an urban garden may not be as fresh and clean as that on a farm in the middle of nowhere, but at least the food is near by. Also, you need the plant life these dense urban settings to purify the environment.
Other concerns include not getting enough water or sunlight. This isn’t a problem on a rooftop garden. A few rain barrels will provide you with the water you need. It can be a lot harder for balcony gardens though. Some plants can grow in low light, and in small spaces, so you have to do your research before you plant.
Not everyone is going to want to grow their own food though. Not everyone has a green thumb or desire to maintain a garden, or the time it takes to oversee the garden. That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from urban gardens. There are plenty of urban food groups that take their urban farming labours and sell them to people like you. You can buy shares into gardens, earning you access to your share of the produce each week.
Don’t let living in an urban area stop you from eating good local produce.