Urban Agriculture

The necessary components for green food production are found in flows of urban resources as nutrients, water, CO2 and energy in heating, certainly in cities.

Without photosynthesis there is no life. The cyclic processes behind photosynthesis are an important link between humans and the technical systems that deliver services in cities (waste water treatment, heating, waste handling, energy production etc.). Therefore urban agriculture (UA) is a solution as long as people are urban. As modern people we must strive to find good solutions in food production that use synergies in the hinterland between technology and everyday life. In urban agriculture as well as in rural area based businesses there are too many uncontrolled flows of endless resources. One of all problems in our modern society is “peak phosphorous” that points out the need of solutions that capture phosphorous before entering rivers and seas. Phosphorous is not endless. Urban agriculture close to urban resources can integrate production to these flows of resources. Only the possibility to use these locally produced nutrients is a reason for UA by itself.

Food has been an urban product since long. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimated that UA delivers up to one fifth of the food produced today. UA is more than just old habits following farmers as they migrate into urban areas, UA can emerge wherever there are needs. For city planners that do not understand the link between the resources (energy, water, sunlight, carbon etc.) urban agriculture and livestock keeping it is easy to stop developing UA. Farming in general has been considered as a risks factor. Therefore planners argue that unsolved questions on e.g. dangerous bacteria, different zoonosis or the leakage of nutrients imply an advantage to rural (far away from cities) agriculture. These short notes below try to capture the arguments behind Urban Agriculture as a phenomena and Plantagon as the Solution making its way through an ever-increasing urban market, as that is where people live.

In short:

UA is a concept that restores our common knowledge of a cyclic system of life and its necessities.
We cannot distance ourselves from the resources we need or the waste we produce.


By 2050 up to 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. Until then human population will increase by about 3 billion, applying conservative estimates. If food is to be consumed and produced in as inefficient way as today we will need further arable land the size of Brazil by 2050. Over 70 % of land area suitable for farming is used for crop production (sources: FAO and NASA). Most of this production is for fodder for animals not for human food, this happens in a time when grazing on natural land is more and more rare even though it produces both biodiversity and a landscape with high nature values 1.

An effective land-use solution that embraces the market and the infrastructure is the only solution.

Modern agriculture, not least field production of vegetables, uses a multitude of pesticides or different chemicals in the production system. Many products will meet its consumer after a global tour by boat, by road or by air leaving climate gases in traces and chemicals on plates. Urban farming is safer, more local and with less/no input of unnatural pesticides. The market of fair-trade products, organic, environmental eco-labeled products are getting stronger. It is clear that values that are added to food brands are reflected on the price.
It will of course take time until all on the market understands ecocertified products. Products from UA are in most cases probably already ecologically sound in some perspectives.

There are of course always agricultural products that need to be transported on a global free market with many positive effects on a global integrated market that also embraces local culture, local food production from countries that earn their only economic resources from good, integrated production systems that of course can be rather large scale systems.

Urban farming supports the market with products that do not need to be transported.

If products are grown in closed urban agricultural systems using the best available environmental techniques, risks for both plants and consumers will be minimized.

Urban Agriculture if controlled will result in less spoilage (food) since locally produced crops can be sold and consumed relatively short after harvesting.

Urban modern farming needs a new work-force with new employment opportunities in production and in local logistics. Urban farming helps urban areas make use of abandoned lots and buildings.

Growing crops in a controlled environment has benefits such as: no animals to transfer diseases to plants through untreated waste; no massive crop failures as a result of weather-related disasters; less likelihood of genetically modified “rogue” strains entering nature. And, without herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers agricultural runoff is not of the same importance as if it is produced in rural water catchments where people and grazing animals are bound to one fresh water source. In UA water from production is close to water treatment plants, meaning it is less risks for destroyed water bodies.

“Cities already have density and infrastructure needed to support vertical farms, and super-green skyscrapers could supply not just food but energy, creating a truly self-sustaining environment.” 2

  • Mega Cities need food production within to avoid paralyzing congestion.
  • Especially important is demand for organic food close by.
  • Cities need to be green to keep up biodiversity.
  • Many cities have grown organically from farming villages; local history is important for city-dwellers identity. Farming should be tangible.
  • Cities need a diversity of jobs and competencies to have a sustainable labour market with low unemployment; farming jobs add a new dimension.
  • Farming in an urban environment can give impetus to develop new methods for agriculture through all the competencies, research etc embedded in a city environment – compared to traditional rural ways or “industrial” large scale ranches.
  • Sustainable waste management and water treatment can give good inputs and nutrients for urban agriculture, which can become a part of an ecological system.

1 Almost 15% of the arable land is destroyed by poor management practices. (Dickson Despommier, Prof. Department of Environmental Health Sciences. Columbia University
New York News and features, by Lisa Chamberlain Published Apr 1, 2007 http://nymag.com/news/features/30020/