Urban Update 15 Jan 2016 - Urban Farming Special

Download Urban Update 15 Jan 2016

Urban Farming Special

Brooklyn Farmer - Event report
The world’s largest rooftop farm


Brooklyn Farmer is a documentary style production that tracks the establishment of a roof-top urban farm on the top of the Brooklyn Navy Yards – a perfect building: roof built to cope with high loadings, and water tanks ready to use. We see a layer of crushed shale being air-hosed onto the roof, followed by 8 inches of soil.  The plants are then introduced, watered and sold.  We see large healthy looking crates of freshly cut rocket being taken to nearby restaurants.  It all looks wholesome, healthy and appetizing.  


Does it make money? – the reckoning was yes it does.  The group hope to start to pay investors a dividend soon. However there are provisos – the products grown are high value and people are prepared to pay premium prices in part because of their novelty.  The roof space is also let out for weddings, photoshoots, and also receives school parties.  New York has a system where run-off is taxed, but conversely where storage is provided there’s an allowance paid.  This adds to income.   


Roof Loading – not all flat roofs are suitable.  Former multi-story carparks would be ideal.   

Water supply – this is obviously critical

The style of development:  In New York, there are plenty of large flat roofs, in London buildings tend to have a much smaller footprint, and relatively few have flat roofs.

Other forms…

-       Hydroponics – Gotham Greens - gothamgreens.com/

-       Aquaculture + Hydroponics –having fish swim in the water used to irrigate the crops

-       Vertical Farms

-       Public space – eg edible bus stops

Thanks go to Paul and Liz Reynolds for running the event.


How much of an input can urban agriculture make….?

A new University of Washington study finds that urban crops in Seattle could only feed between 1 and 4 percent of the city's population, even if all viable backyard and public green spaces were converted to growing produce.  In order to meet the nutritional needs of an adult eating a vegetarian diet, only about 6,000 people (1 percent of Seattle's population) could be fed if all single-family backyard space were converted to farming. That number rises to about 24,000 people (4 percent of the population) if all additional public green spaces were converted. “A city can grow tons of tomatoes, kale and lettuce, but it gets more complicated once you factor in other necessary proteins, fats and carbohydrates that often travel from across the county and world.”



But there are benefits from urban farming that go beyond the University of Washington study.  The Urban Farm is a means to meet people, to exercise, to take a greater interest in quality, healthy and sustainable foods, rather than glucose-fructose syrup, starch, palm oil and artificial flavourings.  .


There have also been warnings that low-fibre diets may cause irreversible damage to intestinal flora which can be transmitted from one generation to the next.


The same article exhorts the benefits of not handwashing to expose the body to a wider range of organisms.  And where better to pick these up, than an urban farm.


Food and urban geography

Some of us, through studying geography, will have come across von Thünen model of agricultural land, created before industrialization, which predicts a series of concentric rings around a city in which are grown, (based on market price, transportation costs,yield etc) ,

1 (dairy and market gardening;  (high value perishable)

2 forest for fuel;  (owing to the heavy crops)

3 grains and field crops;

4 ranching/livestock;


It would be interesting to analyse how urban farming fits into the 21st century global food economy. According to a new study, the UK now imports over half its food and animal feed. Between 1986 and 2009, the amount of land used to grow the country’s food increased by 23 per cent, with 70 per cent of it located overseas.   The main countries abroad for supplying the UK's fruit and vegetables are Spain, Italy and incredibly, China. (Journal of the Royal Society Interface,DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2015.1001).