As technology permeates the way we farm and grow food, Dr Michael Hardman examines how advancing techniques in urban agriculture may allow greater yield from smaller spaces.
Feeding cities through the idea of urban agriculture – the growing of food in the city – has been discussed for some time amongst those attempting to solve the world’s largest problems (primarily food security in this case). Arguments tend to focus on the lack of yield from conventional allotments or community gardens, with many focussing more on the social value of these spaces. Many believe that whilst these spaces are great, they add little to the typical urban dweller’s diet. Rather they are areas for residents to meet one another and form a more ‘tight knit’ bond within their communities.
Nevertheless, on the horizon are new technologies and pioneers looking to push the limits of urban agricultural practice. Using hydroponics and other systems, these organisations and individuals quash the notion that urban agriculture is merely small-scale and show how we can grow large yields in very small spaces. Projects, such as Real Food Wythenshawe’s ‘Geodome’ (http://www.realfoodwythenshawe.com/projects/geodome/), aim to revolutionise the way we grow food in tight spaces – in this case using a closed-loop high tech system which makes use of fish waste.
A similarly ambitious project in Manchester in Vicent Walsh’s ‘Shroom’, part of his wider Biospheric Foundation venture (http://www.biosphericfoundation.com/); the high tech scheme was awarded funding by Siemens and other firms to explore the feasibility of growing large quantities of food in very small areas. Shroom is taking the high tech urban agricultural sector that one step further, through adopting a model which sees the programme becoming economically sustainable. Walsh is working with some of Manchester’s most prestigious hotels and restaurants who, until recently, imported their mushrooms from as far away as China. Shroom uses the Manchester Museum and other spaces in the heart of the city to grow mushrooms more locally, thus enabling the restaurants to cut down on their food miles and invest in more locally-sourced produce.
There are many other projects, most of which can be found via the research project ‘Carrot City’ (www.carrotcity.org). This project, of which the University of Salford is the only UK partner, aims to raise awareness about radical urban agriculture, with an exhibition showcasing what is being done around the world – all of this can be downloaded for free from the project’s website. Many of the examples feature high tech solutions to growing in a complex urban system, such as vertical growing and even growing underground!
Whether cities can be fed through such high tech examples is yet to be determined. There is usually high start-up costs associated with these projects and space is still difficult to find. However, Walsh’s Shroom and Real Food Wythenshawe’s Geodome shows that there is a thirst for this in the UK – the question is where do we go from here? Are edible skyscrapers the next step for the high tech end of the urban agricultural movement?