Urban agriculture is often touted as a solution for food insecurity and inequitable food access, but the productivity of urban farming compared to rural farming has remained largely unknown. However, a recent study by researchers at Lancaster University published in AGU’s journal Earth’s Future sheds new light on this topic.
The study compiled data from 53 countries to identify which crops grow well in urban areas, what growing methods are most effective, and what spaces can be utilized for growing. The researchers found that urban yields for certain crops like cucumbers, tubers, and lettuces were two to four times higher than conventional farming.
Many other urban crops studied were produced at similar or higher rates than in rural settings. The study also included “gray” spaces, such as rooftops and building facades, in addition to green spaces, such as private and community gardens, parks, and field growing operations.
The research found that there were few differences between overall yields in indoor spaces and outdoor green spaces, but there were clear differences in the suitability of crop types to different gray spaces. Certain crops like lettuces, kale, and broccoli are more naturally suited to be grown vertically in indoor spaces than others.
Hydroponic environments were found to be particularly effective for watery vegetables (e.g., tomatoes) and leafy greens, while crops grown in fully controlled environments can be grown throughout the year, leading to higher annual yields.
Despite the promising findings, scientists will need to continue studying these systems to plan cost-effective agriculture solutions. The lack of comprehensive data on urban agricultural yields has prevented government agencies and local councils from supporting the development and implementation of urban food growing.
Once scientists have accurate estimates for urban crop yields, they can map out a city’s potential growing areas and calculate how much food could be produced there, which could help make the business case for investment in urban agriculture.
As cities aim to become more self-sufficient in terms of food production, it will be important to consider the environmental cost of growing food in urban areas. Researchers are studying how foods grown in cities might be impacted by pollution and whether urban agriculture has a smaller or larger overall carbon footprint than conventional agriculture. Future studies could also explore cities’ potential to meet future food demand and the likelihood that cities could be self-sufficient in terms of food production.
Lessons for Urban Dwellers
If you live in an urban area and are concerned about access to fresh, healthy food, consider exploring urban agriculture as a way to supplement your diet. You don’t need to be an expert gardener to get started. There are plenty of resources available online and in your community to help you learn the basics of growing food in small spaces, such as rooftops or balconies.
Research which crops are well-suited to your area and which growing methods are most effective. You may be surprised to find that you can produce a significant amount of food in even the smallest of spaces. Even if you’re not able to produce all of your own food, every little bit helps in reducing your reliance on industrial agriculture and supporting a more sustainable food system.
Not only does urban agriculture provide fresh food options, but it can also help to build community and improve the overall health of the environment. By participating in urban agriculture, you can connect with other like-minded individuals and contribute to the greening of your city. So why not give it a try? You might just discover a new hobby that has a positive impact on your health and the planet.