With space limitations and resources nearly unavailable in some of the world’s largest mega-cities food is almost continuously being imported from some far away supplier. Even with the fastest super transportation device being able to keep up with food demand it is more than the roads and handle.
With five billion people predicted to be living in cities in the next 20 years, is urban food growing just a big fat waste of time? Can it really have an impact? This is a question I’ve pondered a lot recently, particularly following a trip to India in the spring.
India is a country where even the smallest of cities (the ones you’ve never heard of) have millions of inhabitants. The scale of humanity there simply dwarves anything we have here in Ireland, and gives urban food growing a very different context.
Because of space constraints, urban food growing is often dismissed as a waste of time in that won’t help people to become self-sufficient and won’t help the planet to feed billions of hungry mouths in the coming century.
On one level this is of course, absolutely true. One simply can’t grow as much on an apartment balcony as you can in a rural field. That’s the maths of the issue. So, surely urban growing is a busted flush?
Well, not quite. First of all, you can grow a surprising amount of food in small spaces. I met a man in Bangalore who gets a year-round supply of greens from his balcony garden in that vast city of 8.5 million souls.
Also, Mark Ridsdill Smith, a speaker at the GIY Gathering in Birmingham last month told us how he grew £900 (E1,050) worth of vegetables on a London balcony in one year.
Technologies such as vertical growing and aquaponics will undoubtedly help us to grow more in small spaces in the decades ahead.
Secondly, urban food growing assumes an incredible importance when viewed through the lens of ‘food empathy’. This happens on two levels when people grow their own food. The first is the obvious stuff – more exercise, fresh air, better and safer food etc.
The second level is the food empathy level. Growing your own food creates a deeper understanding of food, where it comes from, how it is produced, and the time and effort required.
Acquiring food empathy has a positive impact in all sorts of unexpected places. Food empathetic people make healthier food choices, recycle more and waste less.
A person who has grown a butternut squash for example – having sown a seed in spring, carefully nurtured a plant through the growing season and triumphantly harvested a squash in autumn, will forever know that squashes aren’t in season in February.
And that’s not all. Because they attach a real value to food and understand the effort and time involved in creating it, food growers aren’t always looking for the cheapest food (which should be good news for local food producers).
The simple act of growing some food, and acquiring food empathy, can make us happy, healthy and more sustainable. GIY urban food will feed billions in cities of future.
These colossal cities may double and even triple in the next 2 decades and the only thing that can hold them back is food supplies.Will we be seeing large areas of the earth completely devoid of anything edible and miles of bleached bones of starved out humanity or will we see thriving small scale superfarms using the barest of resources to produce unheard of yields in today’s world.