Who said you can’t be a farmer in the middle of the city?
More and more people are trying their hand at growing various edibles on balcony gardens, rooftop gardens, sidewalk gardens and vertical gardens in, above and around the bricks and pipes and fences of our city-scapes.
Urban Farming, a way for city dwellers to produce their own food, has in the last few years proven to be an extremely positive and necessary trend. From community gardens to backyard bee-keepers, from growing micro-greens in kitchen windowsills to installing hydroponic systems in tiny spaces, all of these play an important role in a vast and growing community of urban farmers.
According to Wikipedia, Urban Farming (or Urban Agriculture) is “the process of cultivating, processing and distributing food in and around urban areas.” It can also involve “animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping and horticulture.”
1. Health and nutrition
Apart from simply “the love of gardening”, this is probably the most obvious reason for growing your own edibles. Firstly, you can grow your own food (or at least part of your food) organically and without the use of harmful fungicides and pesticides. No more guessing what has been sprayed on your food, or if it has been dyed or covered in a layer of wax! Furthermore, you have more control over your food by selecting heirloom seeds or by purchasing seedlings, grown organically, from heirloom seed. Not only have heirloom seeds not been tampered with, but they will also allow you the opportunity to save your seeds after your harvest (saving you money on more seed purchases at the same time).
Secondly, and also an obvious fact, there are the health benefits of getting exercise while gardening, getting some sun (Vitamin D), and allowing your hands to touch the soil, which has been proven by scientists to relieve depression. On a spiritual level, working with soil (and plants) is also very grounding.
2. Learning opportunity
Especially for those new to gardening, urban farming, provides a platform for learning opportunities. On the lowest level, it will at least give you a better understanding of the growth and life cycles of plants, and from there, it can escalate (depending on your curiosity) into more studies into the fields of either nutrition, food preparation, herbalism, beekeeping, or maybe even textile production or healing.
3. Feeding schemes
Soup kitchens and various feeding projects will benefit greatly from urban farms all around the city. Imagine how much weight can be lifted off the shoulders of those always struggling to get enough funding to feed malnourished children in poverty stricken schools, homeless people in overcrowded cities, orphans, the elderly and the disabled, if communities and individuals could donate parts of their harvests to these organizations.
Furthermore, many schools and churches have more than enough space for vegetable gardens, and apart from assisting a feeding scheme, it also ties in nicely with learning opportunities as school students and religious communities can all take part in learning more about plants and food production.
Another sector that can benefit greatly from urban farming, is the health industry. Healthy food is the very basis of health, so does it not make sense that all hospitals and clinics should either grow their own organic herbs, fruits and vegetables or at least have access to local growers of organic edibles?
4. Innovative techniques
As easy as it is, there are also quite a few challenges in growing food in the city. Not only is space often a problem, but the cost of land and municipal water can easily tip it over into a not-so-feasible venture. Luckily, many of these issues have been overcome by the use of various innovative techniques such as vertical gardens and/or the use of hydroponic and/or aqua phonic systems and drip-irrigation systems. Out of the box thinking by aspiring gardeners have given us things like garden towers made out of discarded drums that allows you to plant quite a number of plants in a very small area; and things like grafting various fruit tree species of the same family onto one root-stock for instance. Innovative thinking also leads to better ideas in saving water, harvesting rainwater, composting and even farming in unconventional spaces. We even see a rise in innovation in architecture as more and more buildings are being designed around a greener theme, allowing for more spaces for plant life within buildings.
5. Reduce carbon emissions
Now, more than ever, planting trees has become one of the most important things to do on our planet today. It is common knowledge that trees absorb CO2 and release oxygen through the process of photosynthesis, therefore playing an important role in the reduction of carbon emissions on our planet. Trees, vegetables, herbs, micro-greens, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you take part in some form of urban agriculture. Every bit helps.
6. Sense of community
Last but not least, urban farming, can provide again a sense of community as it can bring people together when working in community set-ups, either by building community gardens or organizing garden harvest swaps. Bartering with organic herbs and vegetables, heirloom seeds, pickled produce, jams, juices and/or medicinal teas and tinctures, can greatly improve relationships in communities as well as helping people to save money. It can also help add to the biodiversity of produce and plants and is, in fact, quite necessary in small urban set-ups where not everybody can grow an impressive range of fruits, herbs and vegetables. One household might have quite a few peach trees, while another grows beans by the hundreds.
A call for introducing Agrihoods in city planning
How about a challenge? Make a habit of walking (or cycling) through your neighbourhood. How many city spaces can you find where food can be grown or bees can be kept or where a few chickens can maybe roam freely? How about using your knowledge and/or experience (whether it be gardening, city planning, teaching, engineering or plumbing) to assist your municipality in the effective planning of the introduction of Agrihoods in our cities?
Like I said, Urban Farming, is not just a trend, but a new paradigm for healthy, breathing city structures, and just think: it could start with YOU!
Trixie van Niekerk- 074 890 6645
Supplier of all sorts of garden goodies: seeds and seedlings
Urban Farmer – Edible Gardens
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