The world’s population stands at 7 billion today. With seven billion mouths to feed, human agriculture has to be intensive and as such, it exerts a tremendous toll on the planet, from water draws to pollution, and from energy use to habitat loss and resource depletion. But there is also a growing set of solutions; from organic agriculture to integrated pest management.
As demand for food increases per capita, more people around the world are taking a look at urban farming. This offers to make our food as “local” as possible and meet the food demand in households. By growing what we need near where we live, we decrease the “food miles” associated with long-distance transportation and guarantee ourselves of the freshest produce money can buy. This also encourages us to eat in season.
Carbon sequestration is an ecological function paramount in cleaning our air performed by plants. Urban farming can add greenery to our cities and help in cleansing our air, reduce harmful runoffs, increase shading, and counter the unpleasant heat island effect. For our city kids, garden plots can help to reconnect with the Earth, and gain a greater appreciation for where our food comes from. I have heard of city kids who, ongoing upcountry, have mistaken cows for buffaloes.
In some developed countries, this is a tourist attraction. Rooftop and patio gardens create peaceful places for relaxation or contemplation, and they attract tourists. Am told there are booming businesses around New York City’s lush High Line Park. Urban farming can also bring jobs to the youth and women in the under-served and depressed urban areas. In Nairobi’s Kibera slam there are several funded projects that support urban gardening.
Although there are challenges, optimists envision soaring urban farms that will eventually produce most of what we need within a short walk from home in cities and contribute to the global food demand. The challenges here include; land in cities is often expensive, urban soils can be loaded with heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, or other toxins, requiring remediation or replacement before planting can be done safely. Cramped conditions limit yields, and getting enough water and sunlight in these areas in a concern.
Still, despite all these challenges, with right combinations of new technology such as organic farming, community support, and economic incentives, urban gardening is a possibility. An early example is the rooftop garden on the InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel which is a clear indication that yes we can. I have a sack garden on my balcony where I harvest my kales to show for it.
—Hudson Wereh Shiraku