Inner City Farming: How Urban Agriculture is Transforming Downtown Rooftops

As this big green Earth is further developed by our ever-growing species, like it or not the urbanization of countries around the world continues on a global scale. Tens of millions of people now co-exist together in vast metropoles. This has over the years created somewhat of an imbalance between our paved paradise and our green spaces, usually with the green spaces losing out.

But thankfully a long-standing ability to grow vegetation of various kinds in these concrete jungles is year-by-year gaining popularity with locavores who want their food grown within a few blocks of where they live. The popular term for this type of activity is urban agriculture and it basically means being an inner-city farmer. More and more cities are getting into this game and the vast array of products being farmed is incredible.

Rhonda Peitel-Payne is the Co-Coordinator of Toronto Urban Growers which is an organization within Canada’s largest city. “We’re a network of people who are growers, organizations, small businesses, academics, all people who are interested in scaling up urban agriculture in Toronto.” Rhonda points out the simple definition of urban agriculture is anything involving growing food or non food products within a city.

Toronto is one of the hotbeds for urban agriculture and the number of people getting into the business is growing (excuse the pun). “It’s funny, when you are actually in Toronto you look to other cities and think wow they are so far ahead, but then when people come and visit us from around the world they are so excited about what’s happening in Toronto.”

Rhonda says that urban agriculturalists these days are growing mainly food products but there are others growing different products as well for public sale, such as flowers for example. A big location for these downtown farms is of course rooftops and most people looking to grow food on a rooftop need to think about the weight of their crops, first and foremost. “People are looking for ways to grow using the lightest medium, the least expensive and the most productive. Most rooftops aren’t built to carry a lot of weight so you can’t have really heavy planters full of soil. So people are trying to find that balance between having enough growing medium that the plants are going to be productive, but at the same time it’s light enough that it’s not going to cause structural problems.”

Rhonda’s definition of technology when it comes to urban agriculture may be different than the traditional one in regards to working with computers and other smart tech, but it is still technology nonetheless. “Watering is of course important on a rooftop, it’s often difficult to get water so having something like a sub-irrigated system, like sub-irrigated containers is a good idea. There’s a compartment underneath that retains water so you don’t need to water as often.”

However, for those of us who like cutting edge technology to do the work there are a number of futuristic creations available today for the modern-day grower.

One of the products making waves in the urban growing industry is the Aeroponic Tower Garden, which is developed by Future Growing LLC.  It’s a plastic, vertical tower that can be used on a rooftop, in your backyard, anywhere you have a little space to grow something.  The tower has a base with a reservoir and pumps and then modules stack on top as needed, pretty darn amazing.

A second invention in urban agriculture that is truly original is from a company in Europe called ViVi who have created a ‘greenhouse in a bag’.  In this method, they use plant matter in water placed in the end packaging and then through a series of conveyer belt stops they prepare the bag to go into an LED lighting system.  After a while what comes out is a fully grown crop in the bag, created in probably the most sanitary conditions known to man, considering nothing has touched the vegetation until you eat it.  This invention could be the start of some incredible industrial developments in sustainable agriculture.

Fresh Square is another company hoping to make some green from the indoor gardening business.  It’s a garden inside your living room or kitchen that allows you to make fresh produce all year long.  The difference between Fresh Square and the other home growing technologies out there is that Fresh Square says other systems use chemicals products for a better yield and their system only uses organic nutrients in the soil.  These are only a few of the many options out there based on individual needs.

One of the huge cities around the world known for their spectacular rooftop gardens is of course New York.  Currently NYC has many different rooftop green spaces including gardens, patios, restaurants with lush vegetation for atmosphere and of course, rooftop urban farms.  Some of the more popular ones include the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm and one of the most interesting is JetBlue developing its green thumb by creating an urban farm at JFK Airport.  This 24,000 square foot space has no soil so it relies on 2,300 black plastic milk cartons attached together to make plant beds.

Whether it’s New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Toronto or any major metropolis, green space is needed and wanted by the people who live there to remind our basic psychological instincts that we are not as far out of the jungle as we think we are.  More importantly to that, if we are going to continue steamrolling the countryside to make room for our species, we better remember to leave systems in place where we can still grow and pack a lunch.