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Urban Farming

Four good reasons it could and should flourish in today's new world.

Since lockdown, public interest in growing fruit and vegetables at home has soared. The seeds of enthusiasm for home-grown food may have been sown, but sustaining this would be very good news for several reasons.

Urban farming has much to offer in the wake of the pandemic. It could help communities boost the resilience of their fresh fruit and vegetable supplies, improve the health of residents and help them lead more sustainable lifestyles. Here are four reasons why food growing should become a perennial feature in our towns and cities:

Growing greener towns and cities

Weaving food growing into the fabric of urban life could bring greenery and wildlife closer to home. Lockdown helped reawaken interest in growing at home, even for those without a garden, as rooftops, balconies and walls have been creatively modified for plants. Thankfully, the opportunities for urban farming extend beyond these, to rooftops. For example, the world’s biggest rooftop greenhouse has just opened in Montreal and can now feed 2% of the city. Meanwhile, in Paris, the world's largest urban farm has recently opened and will soon produce 1,000kg of organic produce every day.

A beneficial side-effect of urban farming, both large and small, is that they also provide natural cooling for buildings and streets, and help reduce air pollution.

Resilient food supplies

Diversifying where and how we grow our food helps spread the risk of disruption to food supplies. Growing fruit and vegetables in towns and cities would help resist these shocks. The harvest labour shortages seen during the pandemic might not have been felt as keenly if urban farms were growing food right where people live.

Vertical and underground crops are more resilient to extreme weather or pests, indoor growing environments are easier to control than those in the field, and temperature and humidity is more stable underground. The high start-up costs and energy bills for this type of farming has meant that indoor farms currently produce a small number of high-value crops, such as leafy greens and herbs. But as the technology matures, the diversity of produce grown indoors will expand.

Healthier lives

Getting out into nature and gardening can improve your mental health and physical fitness. Research suggests that getting involved in urban food growing, or just being exposed to it in our daily lives, may also lead to healthier diets.

Urban growers may be driven to make healthier food choices for a whole range of reasons. They have greater access to fresh fruit and vegetables and getting outdoors and into nature can help reduce stress, making people less likely to make unhealthy food choices. Urban food growing can also help change attitudes towards food, so that people place more value in produce that’s sustainable, healthy and ethically sourced.

Healthier ecosystems

While urbanisation is regarded as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, growing food in towns and cities has been shown to boost the abundance and diversity of wildlife, as well as protect their habitats. A recent study published in Nature found that community gardens and allotments act as hotspots for pollinating insects, because they tend to contain a diverse range of fruiting and native plants.

A peer-reviewed open access scientific journal (based in San Francisco and Cambridge, UK), makes it clear that gardens, parks and roadside verges in towns and cities have an essential role in protecting and increasing bee and other pollinator numbers courtesy of their diversity of blooming plants and absence of pesticides.

If designed and implemented properly, allotments and community gardens can really benefit biodiversity. Not only should barren spaces be converted into green and productive plots, it’s also important that there are connections between these environments to help wildlife move between them.

Canals and cycle paths can act as these wildlife corridors. As we begin to diversify the spaces used to grow food, particularly those on our rooftops and underground, an exciting challenge will be finding novel ways of connecting them for wildlife. Green bridges have been shown to help wildlife cross busy roads – perhaps similar crossings could link rooftop gardens.

All these reasons and more should compel us to scale up food production in towns in cities. Covid-19 has given us cause to re-evaluate how important local urban green spaces are to us, and what we want from our high streets, parks and pavements. Judging by the garden centre sales, allotment lists and social media, many people have decided they want more fruit and veggies in those spaces. The opportunity is there for urban planners and developers to consider what bringing farming to urban landscapes could offer.

Original source: The Conversation

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