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Urban farming

Green oases in cities; does this concept have a future?

A crop of rich red tomatoes on the vine. The smell of fresh strawberries lingering in the air. The gaze wanders to the surroundings; skyscrapers, lively streets. Urban farming is exerting a growing influence on the world's largest cities, at the same time presenting new challenges for the logistics sector.

Silke Wissel

A study by the United Nations predicts that the global population is set to grow. The world's population is estimated to reach 11.21 billion in 2100. The current population is 7.5 billion people. One of the major challenges will be the high urbanisation among the world's population.

According to a World Bank study, urbanisation rate in the European Union was 74.8 percent in 2015. This figure is set to increase in the future. More agricultural land will be needed to feed a growing number of people. However, this would lead to significant environmental damage.

Green oases in cities could be a potential solution. Balconies, rooftops or derelict areas in inner cities are being increasingly transformed into a green, living environment in recent years. "Urban agriculture is not a new idea. Small gardens have always existed in the city. Crises and emergencies have often led to increased use. This topic has become popular again in the last twenty years, giving rise to a new movement," says Silke Wissel, team leader of Stadtnatur (city nature) at the Deutsche Umwelthilfe (German environmental protection NGO).

Professor Dr Gabriela Christmann, head of research department “Dynamics of Communication, Knowledge, and Spatial Development” and deputy director at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, has been researching reasons for such developments. "The gardens not only serve city development, they also promote recreational activities and independence during crises, particularly bearing in mind the world food crisis. People have started asking themselves, where does the food come from?"

Urban farming as an integral element in urban development

There are basic differences among different types of urban farming. In the case of urban gardening, emphasis is placed on the social and ecological awareness of gardeners who often organise themselves collectively, similar to allotment garden 2.0. In principle, the projects are similar to allotment gardening, however, they have a socio-political approach. "The idea of community is more important than food production," says Silke Wissel. The project KÄIF in Nordstadt, Dortmund is one such example of urban gardening. Not only does it promote cultural exchange and cohesion, it also helps to make the city look more attractive.

Professor Dr Gabriela Christmann

This situation is quite different when it comes to urban farming. In his book "Speiseräume" (dining room), Dr Philipp Stierand defines this concept as food production in the city. Individuals or groups living in conurbations use urban areas for growing food. The use of land is closely tied to social life as well as ecological and economic cycles of the city. As a rule, food is grown for one's own consumption. However, whole countries have used the concept of urban farming in the past.

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, according to aid Info service, the Cuban government ordered urban agriculture to improve food supply which was susceptible to disruptions. Two thirds of the vegetables consumed in Havana today are grown in the city.

Professor Dr Gabriela Christmann says, "Anglo-American influences have had the greatest impact on urban farming. Though for different reasons; a well-balanced diet plays an important role here. In Germany, political importance is placed on creating sustainable and resilient cities."

Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, according to aid Info service, the Cuban government ordered urban agriculture to improve food supply which was susceptible to disruptions. Two thirds of the vegetables consumed in Havana today are grown in the city.

Professor Dr Gabriela Christmann says, "Anglo-American influences have had the greatest impact on urban farming. Though for different reasons; a well-balanced diet plays an important role here. In Germany, political importance is placed on creating sustainable and resilient cities."

Food production using vertical farming

A special form of urban farming has gained importance internationally: vertical farming. According to American scientist Dr Dickson Despommier, vertical farming is an agricultural concept where production takes place vertically in and on high rise buildings in order to use urban space sustainably for agriculture. The cultivation of food takes place professionally on multiple levels which are vertically stacked. More food can be cultivated by shifting growing area from the ground to higher areas compared to food grown only on ground surface. Another advantage is that crops can be grown all year round in some cases through vertical farming if artificially optimal conditions are created for these crops.

Design of thje World Food Building © Plantagon Image: Sweco

The company Plantagon, in collaboration with Swedish innovator Åke Olsson, is building a 55-metre high greenhouse with 4,000 square metres of area under cultivation in Linköping Sweden. Construction of the first World Food Building will be completed in the coming year. The company is pooling its knowledge on agriculture and new approaches in the fields of technology and architecture and using it in its construction activities under the term "Agritechture". The solutions offered by Plantagon minimise the need for land, water, energy, and pesticides for urban food production. In its World Food Building, the company will grow its plants in pumice, a type of igneous rock. It has an extremely long service life and offers ideal growing conditions due to its characteristics.

Challenges for the logistics sector

Fruits and vegetables growing high above on the rooftops in cities, and vegetables which grow on the walls of buildings, could become a common sight in the future. The concept could serve as a solution for resource-efficient food production and distribution, thereby providing benefits for both the humans and the environment. Employees of the Eagle Rooftop Farm, a 6,000 square metres organic vegetable farm in Brooklyn New York, deliver fresh produce directly to their customers on bicycles.

According to Silke Wissel, however, it is unlikely that urban gardening as a concept will turn into a serious competitor for logistics. "Growing vegetables for one's own consumption has always existed. Communal gardens are just another aspect of this approach. It is quite rare that people are completely self-sufficient. However, gardeners who grow their own fruits and vegetables may place higher demands on food sold in the supermarkets."

"Compared to urban gardening, urban farming may have an impact on logistics, because it operates on a larger scale, and it is also promoted," says Professor Dr Christmann. "This can lead to negative consequences if logistics ignores this development. At the same time, this concept also offers an opportunity because logistics can positively shape its development with new ideas."

The BMBF research project "Stadtquartier 4.0" (city quarter) is an example of the interplay between logistics and urban farming. It explores ways and solutions with the aim of minimising the burden on cities and city quarters in a sustainable manner. Researchers are observing an experiment in the Holzmarkt area in Berlin where local production, use of bicycles, timings outside normal work hours, or sharing systems for delivery vehicles are being tried out. "The quarter will be completely free of traffic," explains Professor Dr Christmann. How does it work? A distribution system with boxes is used on site as a new logistics system. Deliveries are made to households using these boxes with the help of electric vehicles and delivery vehicles.

You cannot completely eliminate the need for logistics. "Urban farming signifies a change for logistics, which will need to adapt and develop sustainable measures. However, the logistics sector is presented with new opportunities because, with the exception of vertical farming, growing crops is dependent on seasons and is thus subjected to practical limitations," says Professor Dr Gabriela Christmann.

Header: © alisonhancock - Fotolia.com

Gardens of Integration

"Gardens of Integration" demonstrate that urban gardens often have more to offer than just food production. They make an important contribution towards integrating refugees. The Deutsche Umwelthilfe is looking for projects and initiatives whose concepts support work with refugees.

For more information on the project, please visit the website of Deutsche Umwelthilfe: http://www.duh.de/gaerten-der-integration/

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