A brief history of urban farms
Despite becoming something of a sustainability trend in recent years, urban agriculture actually dates back over three thousand years. Several of the most advanced ancient civilizations used city-based agriculture on a mass scale to provide a sustainable source of food for the inhabitants of their settlements.
Through a combination of city-wide aqueducts, irrigation, and intelligent civic planning, many cultures achieved what our best and brightest are attempting today with far less technological support. The oldest and perhaps the most iconic example of city-based agriculture would be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Although the site of Babylon has yielded no evidence of these gardens, other sites within the territory of the Mesopotamian Empire have. The Nile Delta of ancient Egypt was also converted into a lush agricultural oasis despite the surrounding deserts.
The Aztec Empire of modern-day Mexico created canal gardens that they would traverse with Gondola-like vessels not dissimilar to contemporary Venice. Interestingly, these vast tracts of farmland would be established within the jungles of Central America and in concert with the surrounding ecosystem.
Returning to the U.K., our most obvious example of urban gardening lies in the extensive allotment projects that exist in many major cities. However, these two have a heritage that dates back several centuries. Allotments first began as a way to combat the extreme poverty of the 18th and 19th centuries in ballooning cities like London.
Alongside our pre-existing allotment culture, gardening in residential districts got a huge boost during the first and second world war with the introduction of Victory Gardens. Born out of necessity, civilians were encouraged and even subsidised in growing their own fruits and vegetables to combat scarcity caused by disruptions to supply lines or farms by the war effort.
Urban farming today
The advance of agricultural technology means that urban farming, both on the macro and micro scales, is now more accessible than ever. In Japan alone, the phenomenon has increased by over 30% since 2010 and some of the innovations that are guiding it are spectacular.
London boasts its own large scale urban agriculture project barely fifteen minutes walk from Canary Wharf – arguably the capital of high finance in the U.K. – Mudchute Farm. Mudchute boasts livestock, a petting zoo, and a variety of different crops across the 70 allotments that it houses. Whether it be rooftop beehives, subterranean gardens, or animal husbandry taking over whole floors of skyscrapers, we are now seeing a true merger between modern cityscapes and holistic agriculture.
The marriage of these cultures could not be better timed either given its potential to aid in the fight against climate change. One of the major sources of carbon emissions within the food industry comes from transport.
Produce might be grown in Spain, shipped to the United States for packaging and then redelivered to the U.K. for sale. This is an insane use of resources, especially given the amount of CO2 that is released during these illogical and unnecessary journeys.
In addition, this type of thinking also encourages the export of job opportunities to allow large food corporations to exploit the cheaper labour market of other countries.
Urban farming removes these injustices and inefficiencies by dissolving the distance between producer and consumer. In a sense, like the farms now merging with the cities, the role of producer and consumer becomes one and the same.
The beauty is that we now have the technology and the opportunity to empower ourselves by becoming more self-sufficient and less wasteful of the earth’s limited resources. Just one more way that a love of gardening, adopted by individuals like you, can help save the world.