There are 7 billion-odd people living in the world today, with an estimated rise to 9 billion in the next 40 years or so. Earth is 71% water and 29% land, and of that small percentage of land, 57% is uninhabitable and 3% is highly developed urban areas. What does this all mean? Simply put, the world population is too much for the Earth’s land mass to accommodate, with its potential rise only highlighting the urgency of the situation.
The issue of overpopulation and area density notwithstanding, there is an even more pressing and immediate concern with food – pertaining to supply and also to quality – being faced by the world right now. In order to properly sustain the population’s food supply, farm lands the size of South America are required, and that is only for crop lands. More land the size of Africa would be needed to raise livestock.
We live in a world of multi-million dollar-dealing businessmen, crime-prosecuting lawyers, cancer-healing doctors, and genius tech moguls. That is all well and good, but in the face of food shortage problems, farming is becoming more and more of an afterthought instead of being a viable occupation or business proposition.
You might think, “yeah, easier said than done.” and you would be right to have doubts. Farming is an arduous process which involves multiple factors such a fertile land to support it, necessary resources and manpower to manage and tend it, and of course, time and patience for it to bear fruit(pun intended). Urban farming was developed in order to circumvent these hurdles and limitations and while the concept behind it is not new and can be traced back as early as ancient Egypt, it’s becoming a popular practice with today’s urban farmers and would-be hobbyists.
Urban farming or urban agriculture is basically the cultivation, processing, and distribution of food in or around a village, town, or city. The scope is not just limited to crops but can also refer to animal husbandry, raising different types of aquatic creatures and plants, or just to reinvigorate an empty plot of land into something full of plant life.
The aspect that makes urban agriculture so different from traditional farming methods lie primarily on location – the area where cultivation is to take place – and how best to grow anything from plant, fruits, vegetables there. As was mentioned at the beginning, in order combat the global shortage of food, one would need farm lands the size of entire continents. While huge hectares of farm lands do exist across the world today, it is not nearly enough, considering that a third of all the world’s food supply inevitably becomes waste.
Location is, at the same time, the main appeal of this type of practice as it can literally be done anywhere. It can be a vacant lot, your backyard, your front porch, as long as soil is available, growing something is possible. Being in an urban area, the soil is subject to all manner of pollution and waste which makes it less viable as a farm site but this is where food waste comes in and is utilized in a more effective way rather than being discarded as is.
A third of the world’s food supply become waste due to multiple reasons, some of which are essentially inevitable such as commodities going bad during transport from farm lands to urban cities for processing. Then there are food waste due to improper handling and treatment such as grocery stocks that are deemed “unsellable” based on visual appeal that gets thrown out while in fact, are perfectly fine and edible.
Traditional farming methods have always had a great system for dealing with food waste, and that is to convert it to compost which can then be used as a fertilizer or soil conditioner. This can be especially beneficial in urban cities where the soil is subjected to all kinds of pollution and heat from energy emission as this compost can treat and enrich the soil to better grow crops.
Resource Center, a non-profit organization based off of Chicago, founded by Ken Dunn has been at the forefront of environmental education specifically in the field of recycling and reuse of wasted resources and how to better utilize them for other applications and purposes.
One initiative born out of this ideal is City Farm, which aims to take all the city’s food waste and put it back into the soil which in turn, will aid to enrich the soil and in the growth of crops.
Encourage Community Involvement And Work Towards Sustainability
Chicago, where the organization operates in, has 12 thousand acres of vacant lots throughout the city that is not being fully leveraged. City Farm aims to change this by applying the same principle of recycling and reusing waste to inspire the farming of locally grown food on these potential farming spaces and in doing so, create jobs for the local neighborhood, and encourage broader community involvement.
There is also the issue of health and nutrition that needs to be addressed. Majority of the commodity crops in the US are being produced as processed food, which contributes to the overall food waste and is not ideal for our daily diet. The shift towards organic food would be more beneficial and nutritious for our health and well-being in the long run.
Agriculture is one of the oldest professions in the world and it is a difficult one. It takes a great amount of hard work, time, and patience, and even then, the end result may not always be favorable or what was expected. What Ken Dunn and similar-minded people across the world have done with urban farming so far, is a great start towards a sustainable future. One where we are able to become self-sufficient in the production of our food by utilizing methods that have worked for centuries and by leveraging the power of technology to come up with better techniques to achieve that end goal.