More people around the world are taking a look at urban farming, which offers to make our food as “local” as possible. By growing what we need near where we live, we decrease the “food miles” associated with long-distance transportation. We also get the freshest produce money can buy, and we are encouraged to eat in season. Another benefit of urban farming is that it can add greenery to cities, reducing harmful runoff, increasing shading, and countering the unpleasant heat island effect. Rooftop garden plots can help people reconnect with the Earth, and gain a greater appreciation for where our food comes from (hint: not from plastic packages).
Urban farming today is no longer a hobby practiced by a few dedicated enthusiasts growing food for themselves. It has become a truly innovative field in which pioneering ventures are creating real, robust, and scalable solutions for growing food for large numbers of people directly at the point of consumption. This is great news not only for urban designers, architects, and building engineers, but also for residents and communities that want to increase food security and want to reduce CO2 emissions associated with the daily transportation of fresh food.
Gibraltar can be an ideal place for urban rooftop farming. With land being in such premium in Gibraltar, there is simply no land available for agriculture. This makes Gibraltar completely dependent on imports for the supply of fruit and veggies. With the advent of Brexit, and the potential worse-case scenario of a “hard Brexit” with restrictions on movements of goods at the frontier, developing locally-grown supply of fresh crops could be a viable solution, even on a small-scale. Imagine going to the supermarket and buying “Caleta carrots”, “Mid-Town tomatoes”, “King’s Bastion Bell-Peppers” and “Vineyard’s Grapes”. Urban farming presents a unique opportunity to grow crops on spaces that are vacant or unused. These crops can also be grown in huge skyscrapers, industrial roof-tops and even in used shipping containers. Indeed, cities around the world are becoming hot beds for urban farming, and there is no reason why Gibraltar should not be part of this growing environmentally-friendly trend. Various techniques have evolved for growing crops in an urban environment, including:
One very exciting urban farming method uses vertical aeroponic gardens, dubbed Tower Gardens, to produce more food quicker, using less space and water (90% less, according to its developer), either as a single unit or with multiple units in a large-scale growing operation. The Tower Gardens, are now being used to efficiently grow food at a number of big venues across the USA, including Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Giants Stadium, and the Google cafeteria in “Silicon Valley”.
This is a method of combined fish and vegetable farming that requires no soil. The farmer cultivates freshwater fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics) in a re-circulating water system that exchanges nutrients between the two. Wastewater from the fish serves as organic fertilizer for the plants, while the plants clean the water of fish faeces and urine. The net result: a 90% reduction in freshwater use compared with conventional fish farming, and a significant reduction in added nutrients such as fossil fertilizers. Because the fish environment is spacious and clean, the system can be run without pesticides and without antibiotics.
Indoor and underground farms
Thanks to smart LED lighting, indoor and underground spaces in big cities are being converted to “indoor farms”. Be it in disused factories, basements and even office floors in skyscrapers, growing crops indoors is now becoming a popular trend. In Japan for example, in what used to be the vault of a major bank, there is a 10, 764 square foot underground urban farm–“The Pasona Urban Farm” consisting of a hydroponic vegetable field and a rice paddy in the basement of a nine story office building in Tokyo’s central business district. Currently, Japan produces less than one-third of their grain locally and imports over 50 million tons of food annually, which on average is transported over 9,000 miles, the highest in the world. As the crops harvested in Pasona Urban Farm are served within the building cafeterias, it highlights ‘zero food mileage’ concept of a more sustainable food distribution system that reduces energy and transportation cost. Similarly, the numerous old tunnels inside the Rock of Gibraltar can be used as indoor urban farms, making good use of unutilised space. With a total length of over 50km of tunnels inside the Rock, growing crops in these spaces can be a viable business opportunity.
This is the process of growing plants without soil; using water to deliver nutrients directly to the crop. Hydroponic farming has seen a welcome resurgence in recent times. As the urbanisation trend strengthens particularly in developing countries, pressure on land intensifies. The opportunity to grow fresh vegetables and fruits without soil is becoming not only an advantage, but a necessity.
Urban farming is no science fiction. It is a growing reality and one which may well suit Gibraltar and fit within its environment. Indeed, Benefit Business Solutions Ltd. is already advising a couple of urban farming technology companies on piloting their solutions in Gibraltar. To make this happen locally, formal acceptance of urban farming as an urban land use and its integration into Town Planning and land use plans is a crucial step towards effective regulation and facilitation of the development of urban farming in Gibraltar. Existing policies and laws regarding urban farming will have to be developed in order to identify and remove unsubstantiated legal restrictions and to integrate more adequate measures to effectively stimulate and monitor the development of sustainable urban agriculture.