Some of the most densely populated cities across the globe are tackling population growth and food shortages by establishing more rooftop farms. Vertical farms are popping up on unused rooftops in cities across the globe and the outcome is extremely positive.
Farming for the Future
Rooftop farms could be the future of agriculture in growing cities. New York City, for example, might not elicit thoughts of agriculture, yet it is leading the way in rooftop farming and setting examples for other dense cities to follow.
Tokyo, Singapore, Montreal, Berlin and London are also successfully operating large-scale rooftop farms to feed residents. In Australia, there are currently proposals for a rooftop farm on top of the 2.5-hectare car park at Queen Victoria Markets.
No one seems to be able make a case again rooftop farming. The practice cuts out greenhouse gas emissions, makes use of unused space, cuts transportation costs and gives residents fresher food. Food grown on rooftop farms is grown in optimal conditions where weather, temperature and hydration are monitored.
“You harvest in the morning, you sell in the afternoon, you don’t refrigerate, it tastes better…We pick everything ripe and ready to eat,” says Eli Zabar, who owns the Vinegar Factory delicatessen in Manhattan and grows food on the roof of the factory he purchased in 1991.
Reasons for Rooftop Farms
The United Nations predicts the global population will exceed 9 billion by 2050 and the agriculture industry is already struggling to feed the current population. Since urban areas are set to account for 70 per cent of the population in 2050, making use of unused rooftops makes perfect sense.
Petrol prices continue to rise while land available for farming continues to decrease as suburban sprawl engulfs farm land. Consequently, the price of fresh food continues to rise and the environmental continues to be degraded. Agriculture needs to take place closer to the people who need it, and rooftops are an excellent solution to the lack of available land in urban jungles. Not only do they make use of under-utilised space, they are the least occupied areas of a city and have plenty of rain and sunlight, all of which are necessary for successful agriculture.
Brooklyn Grange – The World’s Largest Rooftop Farm
Brooklyn Grange in New York City is the largest rooftop farm in operation and is an example of a thoughtful and highly successful use of public space. Using over two acres to cultivate crops in Brooklyn and Queens, Brooklyn Grange has sold more than 40,000 pounds of vegetables to Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) members, restaurants, and public farm stands.
On top of vegetables, it has a commercial apiary to produce honey and keeps egg-laying chickens.
The farm is used on a regular basis for educational tours and workshops for New York’s youth.
Persuading Policy Makers
It seems inevitable that rooftop farms will be a ‘must’ in the future, and not just a possibility. Moving forward, rooftop farms will need to be incorporated into old and new developments and government tax cuts and planning policies could be implemented to encourage developers to include rooftop farms on proposals. The benefits include:
- Income from local food production
- Increased health and well-being
- Increased community engagement by residents caring for the farms
- Reduction in environmental impact by eliminating food transportation to city centres
- Educational programs to provide jobs and farming skills passed onto others
- Reduced rainwater run-off as water is captured in garden beds or in tanks for use during dry summer months
- Seasonal apprenticeship programs for volunteers to gain experience
- The farm could host a composting system for residents in the building below
Increasing rooftop farms in the Western world and teaching developing countries how to build an urban farm can provide a solution to the ongoing food crisis.
Dickson Despommier, a retired Columbia University professor of microbiology and public health, believes the increase in rooftop farms stems from consumers becoming more aware of where their food is coming from.
“It’s the I-want-to-know-where-my-food-is-coming-from movement. And with urban farming, everything is the way you want,” Despommier said.