When was the last time you stopped to think about the food you were eating — where it was grown, how it was handled after being harvested and how far it traveled to reach your favorite restaurant or local market?
Here in the United States, the ingredients for a single meal can journey up to 2,500 miles before reaching your plate, during which time the energy expended to transport those ingredients far exceeds the energy acquired from eating the actual meal.
What does that tell us?
For as much as the Industrial Revolution has benefited our food system, it has also brought every new generation further away from growing the food it consumes. Especially in large cities, where most fresh produce and other staples are grown and packaged elsewhere, humans have been all but removed from the equation. Recently, however, things have started to change.
In the last decade, we have seen the rise of the “farm-to-table” movement, which focuses on shortening the journey from food cultivation to consumption, improving traceability along the food chain. When you consider some of the many advantages of consuming locally grown foods — higher nutrition value, less impact on the environment, a stronger local economy and fewer food deserts nationwide — it is easy to understand why more and more people are turning to urban farming.
What is urban farming?
More than 80 percent of U.S. inhabitants live in urban areas. Urban farming, also called urban agriculture, refers to the practice of growing, harvesting and distributing food within the boundaries of a metropolitan area. Because space is limited in heavily populated cities, urban farmers are often forced to get creative. Crops may be grown in vacant lots, on rooftops and in similarly underutilized spaces.
Unlike community gardening, which involves small-scale gardens intended for personal use, urban farming is primarily done for profit. Fruits, vegetables and other food items are grown and sold to local retailers and restaurant owners or directly to individuals at seasonal farmers markets or similar venues.
The role of hydroponics in urban agriculture
Not surprisingly, many urban farmers look to hydroponic technology as a highly efficient and cost-effective alternative to growing plants in soil. Hydroponic systems conserve water by providing only what the plants need and recirculating any unused water back into the system. They also offer more control over the growing environment and allow farmers to increase their yields in less time. Finally, hydroponic technology greatly reduces the risk of pests, fungus and disease.
Many fruits, vegetables and herbs grow well in soilless systems, including lettuce and other leafy greens, beans, peas, broccoli, berries and tomatoes. People are often surprised to hear that root vegetables can also be grown hydroponically with a little extra care and maintenance. Smaller urban gardens may want to stay clear of vining and climbing plants — such as squash and corn — as they may monopolize the available space.
The long-term benefits of bringing agriculture back to U.S. cities
Becoming more involved in the growth and distribution of the food we eat is just one of the ways in which urban farming is transforming our relationship with the natural world.
In addition to the obvious benefits of opting for locally grown produce and other food items, urban farming contributes greatly to the “greening” of U.S. cities, which has been linked to better air quality, noise reduction, cooler temperatures and more.
The cities and towns where we live and work have a tremendous impact on our health and well-being. At Sagegreenlife, our mission is to bring nature into the built environment wherever possible for the benefit of our planet and its inhabitants. Contact us today to find out how our living wall systems can help bring your next project to life.