Urban Farming and Its Benefits

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” – John Keats

Mother Nature is beautiful and bountiful. For centuries and more, she has bestowed upon man all the fruits she bore. Like a selfish son, man has only been demanding more and more from her, while there is no thought of giving it back. Rapid industrialization and urbanization has created a huge need for space and resource that has lead to barbarous destruction of forests and pollution of natural resources.

As civilizations flourished in size and number, so has the need to create more facilities for dwelling and farming; the end result being agricultural encroachment of forest land and depletion of precious flora and fauna that help in maintaining the ecological balance. The endless territories of concrete jungles have stripped the atmosphere of its oxygen content and fresh air is a rarity in the cities. According to the CIA World fact book, the rate of population growth in India is estimated to be 1.578% (year 2008). With 1.15 billion mouths to feed and another 18 million adding up every year, mere destruction of forest resources to provide land for cultivation and housing purposes would be absolutely ridiculous. In times of such exponential population growth, ‘urban farming’ seems to be a logical solution in solving the twin problems of feeding the teeming millions and developing greener cities.

Urban farming or urban agriculture is a term used to indicate the cultivation of food and flowering crops in an urban or a peri-urban area. The mission behind these farms is to create extra produce for people in need and supplementing income by cropping unused open spaces of land. In western countries, urban farming is becoming another trend now and is taken up by several people for recreation and relaxation purposes. Communities and housing localities engage in urban farming to encourage greenery in the vicinity.

Urban agriculture is a sustainable method of food production. Farming is carried out in a controlled environment that would lower the usage of pesticides, weedicides, and fertilizers and will not result in any agricultural run-off. Urban farming is very energy efficient as most of the work is done manually and moreover, the produce is readily available to the neighboring communities and the dependency on fuel for transportation is greatly reduced. These urban farms can be used as a recycling point for organic kitchen wastes into manure thereby providing nutrients to the farm. In larger farms, provisions can be made for methane gas digesters and the energy from the agricultural waste from the farm can be used to light up the farm or for other purposes. These farms will greatly help in controlling and storing rain water. The water table in the area can be improved by catching the surface runoff during periods of heavy rainfall.

Roof gardens, stacked greenhouses, vertical farms and other methods of urban farming would require lesser space than the traditional farms. Vertical farms can also help in treatment of wastewater. Roof gardens not only have an aesthetic appeal, but would also help in controlling the temperature of the building.  The amount of solar radiations absorbed is greatly reduced and the plants help in maintaining a cooler temperature within the building. In study conduction by the National Research Council of Canada, it was found that roof gardens reduce the urban heat island, which would in turn help in decreasing the smog episodes and heat stress apart from lowering the energy consumption of the building.

Urban farming has a lot of social benefits too. Apart from being a sustainable source of food production, it will help in creating jobs and income for the local people.  It will facilitate in improving the community social life. It will not only bring children and adults closer to nature, but also provide them with some physical activity and would act as a stress buster. These farms can be platforms where poor and rich, young and old, men and women, disabled and handicapped people can work together and help in social integration.

The socio-economic and environmental benefits of urban farming should not be underestimated. With many people preferring organic and locally grown food to genetically modified and industrially produced food, the local farms are bound to create an impact in the market. Urban farming will not only aid in cleaning and greening of the city, but would complement the strategies to alleviate urban poverty issues and also provide food security.

Trent University, Canada has a rooftop garden that caters to the need of the student café and local residents. Educational institutions should be encouraged to indulge in farming activities and should encourage students to take up agriculture as a career option. The government should provide benefits and subsidies to individuals coming forward with green initiatives. By using derelict and vacant spots for farming, not only is the greenery in the city enhanced but also the crime rate can be brought down.

“Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given. But up to now he hasn’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life’s become extinct, the climate’s ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day”

– Anton Chekhov

Arpita Soma

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