Urban Farming as the most environmentally friendly method of food production
Living in the city and at the same time shop for regional, fresh products within walking distance: That sounds like an ideal that would have a lasting positive effect on our environment. This kind of food supply is still largely a dream of the future, but there are already some exciting and realistic concepts. „Urban Farming“ is the generic term for primary food production in urban agglomerations or the adjacent region, in simple terms it means agriculture in the city.
More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities and no longer in the countryside. This urbanization requires timely and appropriate solutions to ensure that these people can be fed safely and healthily in the future. However, since there is an enormous shortage of space in many cities, alternatives for possible food cultivation must be considered – for example in the form of city gardens. Some municipalities in Germany have already implemented initial concepts (e.g. Berlin’s Prinzessinnengarten or Nuremberg’s Stadtgarten). Here, residents can harvest and even grow their own fruit and vegetables. But also the agriculture on house roofs is becoming more and more popular. The largest Urban Farming project in Europe has been launched in Paris: an urban farm with 14,000 square meters of space on the roof of the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles. The whole thing is considered a pioneering project of vertical farming and is to become the largest rooftop farm in the world.
Why is Urban Farming important and useful?
Humanity is growing continuously and yet there is still a food shortage and malnutrition in many countries. Mainly due to climate change, traditional agriculture is increasingly reaching its limits. Severe drought and lack of rainfall are causing yields to fall, while at the same time more and more forest areas are being cleared to create new arable land for growing crops (for fodder production). These are all reasons for the urbanization of food production. In addition, the need of consumers for regional supply is growing strongly in society, not least due to the corona pandemic. Transparency and supply security are becoming more important again. There is also a clear trend towards healthy nutrition, environmental awareness and sustainability in affluent regions. Consumers would prefer to shop regionally and learn more about where, how and by whom their food is produced. Unfortunately, global imports often make this difficult to understand. Another important criterion for urban city farms is the reduction of transport distances, both from an environmental point of view and with regard to the freshness and shelf life of the food. In addition, the beautification of city centers through attractive green spaces is a goal of urban farming projects.
Challenges in implementation
The concepts presented may sound attractive and sensible at first, but there are special requirements regarding the design of food production in cities:
- The problem of limited space could be partly solved by building on roofs, but not completely. Cultivation systems would have to be verticalized in order to be able to produce in an area-efficient manner.
- Furthermore, it is unclear what influence urban farms have on the development of rental prices.
- The potential impact of noise and odors on residents must also be taken into account in the concepts.
- In addition, unlike agriculture, urban farms often cannot work with sunlight; instead, artificial light sources are needed to promote growth. As a result, the electricity consumption of such systems is high and there is still a great need for research and development to make urban food production as energy-efficient or energy self-sufficient as possible (coupling with renewable energies).
- In order for food production in local supply areas to be profitable, higher prices must be demanded for the products. A corresponding appreciation and willingness to pay on the part of consumers still needs to develop on a broad scale.
Aquaponics: fish and plant breeding in one
Aquaponics is a „special case“ of aquaculture, in which the process water from the fish farm is additionally used for the nutrient supply of plants (dual use of water). Here, the breeding of fish is combined with the hydroponic cultivation of crops in one production system. How exactly does this work? The excrements of the fish living in the tank first get into the water, which is cleaned mechanically and biologically. The fish water contains ammonium, which bacteria convert into nitrate. By adding other minerals, the water is transformed into an optimal nutrient fluid for plants, which is finally fed into a greenhouse. There are already some attractive pilot projects here and we also have this research topic on our agenda.
What will happen in the future?
The main focus of Urban Farming is to harmonize living, working, production and ultimately consumption in an urban area. Ideas are plentiful, but so far there are few concepts that have been put into practice. So, there are still several issues where there is a lack of clarity regarding the spread of Urban Farming. Consumer and technological developments and the way forward by policymakers will determine in the coming years how quickly innovative Urban Farming concepts will become competitive.
Investors are also increasingly interested in the topic of Urban Farming and are investing in attractive projects. We ourselves are currently in the planning stage for a realization at the Saarbrücken location. With the SEAWATER Cube, we have created a compact and sustainable solution for regional fish farming, which is particularly attractive for supply in large cities due to its small space requirements. In addition, people can convince themselves of the breeding and quality of the fish on site and buy a product which is freshly fished and sold unfrozen on order. All in all, we offer a revolutionary concept for which we have already received a lot of positive feedback. We continue to work energetically on our vision of a regional fish breeding, in order to make a valuable contribution to an environmentally friendly and future-proof food supply.
— Image source: City of Edmonton, Blatchford redevelopment | https://blatchfordedmonton.ca