Urban farming: The green concrete jungle


When you live in a city, there aren’t many opportunities to get your hands dirty. Growing food takes time, energy, resources, and most importantly, dedication, all of which city dwellers do not have at their disposable.

This is how urban and rural settlements became what they are.

Every human settlement begins with the discovery of good hunting and gathering spots, evolving to support modern human inventions of technological advancement, comfort and convenience.

Cities have become human hotspots that are supported by surrounding farmland.

However, there is a great disconnect between these urban and rural communities – but, they have one thing in common: food. Food is grown for people and people need food.

Since cities can’t go to the farm, the farm is being brought to the city in many forms of urban agriculture.

Urban agriculture includes many different ways to grow food in the city, such as: front and backyards, balconies, rooftop gardens, green walls, community gardens, therapeutic gardens, which are healing gardens often found around hospitals and nursing homes, beehives and public orchards, usually found on rooftops or vacant lots, as well as hydroponic and aquaponic greenhouses.

One of the most innovative forms of urban agriculture is aquaponics, the method of growing plants with fish poop. Yes, fish poop. This growing system combines aquaculture: the raising of fish, with hydroponics: soil-less growing.

These farming techniques are combined in a controlled closed-loop vertical growing system, meaning rows of plants are stacked on top of one another in order to grow the same amount of food as a soil-based farm but on 1/4 of the land and using less than 90% water, energy, and labor than traditional farming.

Here is how it works:

Fish, usually tilapia, are raised in tanks. They are fed high-nutrient fish feed, they poop and their wastewater gets converted from ammonia, a toxic compound for plants, to nitrate, a healthy ion that is good for plants.

The plants are grown in sponge plugs, a foam plant holder that is used to support plants, allowing their roots to hang down in the nutrient-filled water. The plants take the nutrients they need from the water, and the rest of the water gets filtered back down to the fish, where the cycle restarts, creating a closed-loop, recycling system.

There are three different types of aquaponic systems:

  1. Raft
  2. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
  3. Media-Filled Bed

Raft system, or deep channel, has the plants floating on styrofoam trays on a deep channel of water.

NFT has long narrow channels, where a small film of water flows continuously throughout the system.

Finally, the media-filled bed is when the growing beds are filled with perlite or other growing media. Media is basically an alternative soil which can be solid, liquid or semi-solid, it is designed to support the growth of microorganisms or plant roots.

Aquaponics is one of the most innovative urban agriculture techniques and should be used in conjunction with other traditional farming systems to ensure that food security is met by providing a variety of healthy, local produce. Aquaponic systems grow leafy greens and herbs, such as lettuce, kale, and basil, really well, allowing soil-based farmers to grow more hearty food such as potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.

These systems can be easily integrated into cities as the systems are indoors and can be used to inhabit old warehouse facilities. The indoor component allows these systems to grow food 365 days of the year in a variety of climates. Aquaponics has a small environmental footprint as it conserves land, water, and energy resources. It has the ability to feed thousands of people with highly nutritious, freshly grown products.

By growing food locally, you are part of the local food movement that supports your local economy and the community, it also helps conserve natural land biodiversity. By building a connected, resilient system of people, planet, and profit (the 3Ps), the farm doesn’t have to be so far away. Learn what it takes to grow food and you’ll gain a new perspective on the food you eat. No matter how much you can or cannot grow, always choose to buy local food grown close to you.

As an urban farmer with a Toronto-based enterprise, I care about the food I grow. I want to be held accountable for the food I supply my community as people will know where their food is from, how it was grown and who their farmers are. I am dedicated to helping foster a healthy connection between people and their food source. I strive to inspire and educate communities on what local food is, why it matters and why it is the healthier option for their bodies, the produce, and the planet.

We can “green” our concrete jungles by bringing the farm to the city one innovation at a time.

What are your thoughts?