Garden of City: Urban Farming Wherever it’s Possible

Elena Vardanian
5 min read

Urban agriculture rises to serve urban populations during crises. For example, during World War Two millions of “victory gardens” and yards saved urban residents in the United States, supplying a hungry nation with 40% of its homegrown fruits and vegetables. (1)  Last year community gardens, smaller backyard gardens and balcony planters again arose as ‘isles of stability’ during times of uncertainty and an increased threat to human health. At the same time, with supply chains strained, cities have also questioned the importance of urban agriculture to secure food for their populations.

What is Urban Farming?

Urban agriculture, urban farming, or urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas. (2) Usually, urban agriculture assumes a level of commerce, the growing of products to be sold as opposed to being grown for personal consumption or sharing. However, despite lack of commercial activity in community and school gardens, we still mention community gardening as a part of urban farming. (3)

Technological innovations have enabled urban farmers to move beyond traditional backyard methods and expand their operations and growing seasons. These innovations include vertical farms, hydroponic greenhouses (e.g., soilless systems), and aquaponic facilities (e.g., growing fish and plants together in an integrated system). (4)

Benefits of urban agriculture are reducing transportation costs, better air quality, beekeeping and cultivation of native plants, community development and what’s more important — supporting local food producers.

Unusual Cases of Urban Farming

There are different forms of urban farming — from schoolyard gardens to vertical farming. The latter is currently the “superstar” of urban agriculture as it’s getting more and more investment: for example, the market hit nearly $1.9 billion globally in 2020 and almost tripled investment from the year before. This year Bowery Farming raised $300 million in its latest funding round, valuing the company at $2.3 billion. But we talked about vertical farming here, here and here.

This time we will look at less popular but no less interesting cases of urban farming — from a garden in the cemetery and a farm underground.

Nature Urbaine (Paris)
Nature Urbaine 14,000 square meter urban rooftop farm is the largest one in the world and produces up to one thousand kilos of fresh produce per day right on top of Paris Expo’s Pavillon 6. The Farm is providing Parisians with lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, beets, basil, mint, and other fresh and organic fruits, vegetables and aromatics. However, because Nature Urbarine uses aeroponics it is unable to cultivate deep root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots. (7)

Among those whom Nature Urbaine supplies its food are local residents (they can order fruit and veg boxes online), nearby hotels, a private catering firm and restaurant, Le Perchoir, that is located right on the same rooftop. (8)
Brooklyn Grange Farm (New York)
Brooklyn Grange Farm is another world’s leading rooftop soil farming, located in New York City. Their rooftop farms count 5.6 acres with 13,000 square meters of cultivated area producing over 45,000 kilos of organically-grown produce per year. (9) Three rooftops in Brooklyn and Queens produce vegetables and honey for local restaurants, markets, and community-supported agriculture. 
Prinzessinnengarten (Berlin)
Rooftops is not the only green space that the city can provide. The other option is a cemetery. No other European city has more cemeteries than Berlin, an astonishing total of 202 but 38 have already been closed. One of them, The Neuen St. Jacobi cemetery owned by the church and already deconsecrated, became a new home for a mobile urban gardening farm Prinzessinnengarten.

Prinzessinnengarten is a community garden with a great number of members who pay 20€ per year for their membership. Other expenses are covered by the restaurant at the entrance and the consulting work of the founders. (10)
Growing Underground (London)
Growing Underground is a place where leafy greens grow 33 meters below the pavements of Clapham, London. On a 520 square meter of underground growing space herbs like Thai basil, garlic chives, and pea shoots are also produced.

This farm does not require soil – plants are grown on recycled carpets – and it can produce up to 60 harvests a year (conventional outdoor farms produce six times less). Moreover, it uses 70% less water than growing similar crops in soil, it is pesticide-free and the road from the farm to fork takes less than an hour. (11) 
Pasona Building (Tokyo)
Corporate office building of Pasona HQ is the world's first large scale farm-to-desk. It is a 4,000 square meters heaven brimming with fruits, vegetables and even rice (over 200 species!). The building has an eye-catching green facade, offices, an auditorium, cafeterias, a rooftop garden and most notably, urban farming facilities integrated within the building. (13)

The bottom line

Public interest in growing fruit and vegetables at home has soared amid pandemic. Fear of food shortages had motivated some, but others with more time on their hands at home had relieved stress doing a wholesome family activity. And it’s essential to sustain the seeds of enthusiasm for growing food.

Urban farming, both vertical farming or farming on vacant open spaces, can be a favorable way of ensuring food security amid crises in the future. Countries like Europe, the USA, and Japan have already implemented urban farming and are dealing with big projects for future concerns.