Urban Farming Increases Food Resources for Local Populations

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Growing your own food might seem like a daunting endeavor, but it turns out that a lot can be done with the space we already have. New research takes a look at cities’ green and gray spaces, or spaces that are underutilized for development, and estimates what food resources could be grown to increase food stability in urban areas. 

Researchers from the University of Sheffield mapped out urban spaces that could be used to grow fruits and vegetables in Sheffield, a city in England. They found that by transforming just 10% of the existing green spaces into food producing space, they could increase food security and feed about 90,000 people their five a day portions of fruits and vegetables.

Urban Farming

The idea of urban farming is nothing new across much of the world. People have grown gardens on their patios, in their front yards, or on their rooftops. Urban farming is not only a way to grow living things and feed people on a small scale, but to increase the amount of food security that a region has.

Maps showing (left) Current land available and green infrastructure suitable for urban gardening.  (Right) Grey infrastructure with flat roofs potentially suitable for urban farming within the city center. Source: Edmondson et al., 2020
Maps showing (left) Current land available and green infrastructure suitable for urban gardening. (Right) Grey infrastructure with flat roofs potentially suitable for urban farming within the city center. Source: Edmondson et al., 2020

Right now, the UK grows only 16% of its fruit domestically, with 53% of vegetables being grown domestically. Reliance on international trade and food resources coming from other countries can put a nation at risk if those supply lines are disrupted for any reason. By using just 10% of the existing urban green space, Sheffield could feed 15% of their population their recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables. 

The city of Sheffield is about 45% green space, a number that is seen across many urban centers in the UK. 

Urban Farming with Rooftop Spaces and Hydroponics

Flat rooftops also hold potential for growing food without the need for soil. Hydroponics can be set up to grow food using water and nutrients that allow plants to thrive. Heat from the buildings can allow these plants to thrive, even in rainy England. Hydroponics allows for the year round growing of fruits and vegetables, as do greenhouses. Additionally, the rainfall can be used for irrigation purposes. 

The study also looked at existing domestic gardens, many of which were currently being used to grow flowers and other non-edible plants. By transforming some of these gardens into food-producing spaces, food security would be increased as well.


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Grow Your Own Victory Garden

Using urban spaces and private property to grow food isn’t anything new. During the World Wars, resources were scarce and rationing was in effect. Planting a victory garden allowed people to lend a hand in the effort and reduced pressure on the food supply. People planted gardens in their own yards, and community gardens were a place where people could gather with their neighbors and help feed those around them.

There are many uses for urban farming, in the United Kingdom, the United States, and many other areas around the world. Using urban land to grow food helps reduce food scarcity and increases the amount of food resources available in a local area. 

Reference

Edmondson, J. L., Cunningham, H., Tingley, D. O. D., Dobson, M. C., Grafius, D. R., Leake, J. R., … & Stovin, V. (2020). The hidden potential of urban horticulture. Nature Food1(3), 155-159. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0045-6

University of Sheffield. Urban Land Could Grow Fruit and Veg for 15% of the Population. 17 March 2020. Retrieved from https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sustainable-food/news/urban-land-could-grow-fruit-and-veg-15-percent-population

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