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:

  1. 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.
  2. Fur­ther­mo­re, it is unclear what influ­ence urban farms have on the deve­lo­p­ment of ren­tal prices.
  3. The poten­ti­al impact of noi­se and odors on resi­dents must also be taken into account in the concepts.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.