Urban Farming – Food for Thought

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As the 'buy local' movement and our desire to connect with nature grows, we’re starting to see novel ways to make local agriculture an integral part of urban life. Let’s take a look at why roof top gardens, planted façades, inner city allotments and even underground farms are springing up in cities all over the place.

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From country to city

Indeed there are plenty of examples of urban agricultural schemes sprouting up around the globe. Some noteworthy initiatives include Gotham Greens in New York, Lufa Farms in Montreal, Growing Underground in London, and the rather post-apocalyptically named UF002 De Schilde in the Netherlands – Europe’s largest urban farm.

One particularly inspiring example is Pasona’s HQ in Tokyo, Japan, a nine-storey office building that doubles up as an urban farm. Nearly 20% of its 20,000 (or so) square metres is dedicated to growing hundreds of species of plants, fruits, vegetables and even rice. In fact pretty much every corner of this building has something growing on it – from fruit trees that serve as partition walls, to vine-covered meeting rooms and beans sprouting under benches. Here people really engage with and respect the natural world. All of the produce can be enjoyed at on-site cafeterias, making the Pasona Urban Farm one of the most direct farm-to-table office schemes in the world.

Benefits across multiple dimensions

Studies show that employees at Pasona and others like it, are much more likely to be healthier and happier. But of course, the other real gain is the ‘feel good’ factor that comes from knowing you’re eating fresh, nutritionally dense food – grown just around the corner.

There’s a social upside to this, too. Schemes like these give workers and residents alike a chance to grow collectively and be part of a movement while also connecting with nature and being physically active at the same time.

How to feed the world?

Aside from enhancing urban life, there’s a much bigger problem that local growing schemes could help fix. At a global level, food shortages are becoming a big concern.  The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) warned that the world’s future food security is in jeopardy due to a combination of intensifying pressures on natural resources, a growing population and the impacts of climate change. It called for more productive and sustainable farming systems, which make more efficient use of land, water and energy; protect biodiversity; lower carbon and reduce waste.

Cities part of the solution

While cities might not be the main solution, they can help. Even in old and built up cities such as London, some estimate rooftop agriculture alone could produce over a kilogram of fresh fruit and veg for every inhabitant a day. This would go some way to boosting local food supply while increasing our food production without adding to the agricultural footprint. It could even help combat rising levels of food poverty London is currently experiencing.

What’s more, some types of urban growing techniques can be surprisingly efficient. They can better insulate a building, blanket it from extreme hot and cold weather, soak up surplus storm water, and even boost ailing urban wildlife. And the journey from farm to plate is far more efficient since it’s eliminated almost entirely. Once property owners and developers get a clearer picture of these benefits, we’re bound to see more of these schemes and facilities popping up.

Article written by Miriam Abbott and Laura Jockers, in JLL’s Upstream Sustainability team.

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