Urban farming

Urban farming is a simple and effective idea.

Not long ago the allotment used to be an institution. It was a place where men could go to escape their wives and so they went there often. The payoff was peace, quiet and basket loads of fresh fruit and vegetables that they brought back home.

Men could also complete, as they want to do, to grow the biggest and the best veggies. The winning marrow would feed a regiment.

If there was not an allotment at a distance beyond earshot of the missus, then whatever garden was available would suffice. Until quite recently many urban dwellers grew at least some of their own food.

That all changed when men could escape their wives by turning on the television.

the average US citizen will watch a staggering 5 hours of television per day | this is roughly 9 years of television in their lifetime 

Steadily urbanites spent more and more time indoors, or in their cars staring their kids to soccer practice, and converted a veggie patch into low maintenance yards.

Most urban centres today are cultivation free zones. Farming stays in the countryside and food comes from visits to the supermarket.

most western consumers get all their produce from the supermarket

Urban farming in Cuba

During the Cold War that lasted more than 40 years following the end of the Second World War, Cuba received economic support from the Soviet Union. Most important in this aid were imports of food, oil and fertilizer for the agricultural production.

When the strategic alliance with the soviets ended so did the cheap imports and Cuba struggled to maintain food production for the population.

Almost immediately people chose to grow their own fruit and vegetables close to home. They cultivated any patch of land that was available from gardens to vacant plots.

In 1994 the government established an Urban Agriculture Department that helped to secure land rights for these new plots, provide more land for those who wanted to grow food and provided education on how to grow organic produce.

By 1995 there were more than 26,000 ‘popular garden parcels’ and even though the immediate food crisis was long passed, the number of parcels and people involved in urban agriculture in Cuba continues to increase.

The environmental issue

The environmental issue is twofold...

  1. How to ensure quality and public health from what is unregulated and rather ad hoc production
  2. Demands on resources of space and especially water

Human health we will just have to wear. On balance growing veggies in the garden is a very good thing. Although there are some who think it too risky given the levels of lead in urban soils from old paint and car exhausts.

In many parts of the world finding water for cities is a huge challenge that would only be made harder if mains water ends up on the veggie patch.

The importance of agriculture tells us that the food demand of 7 billion people is close to 4 billion tons per year.

This is a sobering statistic made even more acute when we factor in population growth and increased affluence. Food production will need to double  in the next 30 years.

Most of this will have to come from

It is risky to assume that agriculture will be able to step up. We know that it has done this before but the task grows in magnitude by the day as we bump up against the problem of diminishing returns.

 Urban farming will have to be in the mix.



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