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Taking Urban Farming to the Next Level23
by Betsy Mikel

Dig deep through the produce section of a typical city supermarket and you might notice a disturbing trend.

Okay, not the crazy guy who’s whispering sweet nothings to the tomatoes, but the tomatoes themselves. Like the majority of the fruit and vegetables on the shelf, those tomatoes have probably traveled great distances to get to you, and that can have a devastating effect on the environment.

Ideally, urban grocery stores would stock locally grown food, but securing large plots of real estate in major cities is not a financially sustainable option. Or is it? Many believe that vertical farms may be the solution to this challenging issue.

Vertical farming uncovered
The building blocks of vertical farming already exist. Hydroponics uses nutrient-rich water instead of soil to feed crops, and leftover water is recycled back into the system. This growing system is free of pesticides and herbicides, which are common in conventional farming.

Because vertical farms are stacked structures, they require less space than conventional farms while still producing a high quantity of food. Still, each square foot of real estate in an urban area is more expensive than its rural counterpart, which means vertical farms must ultimately produce a high yield of crops in a small surface area.

By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas.

Though not all agricultural scientists accept that vertical farms can work, the rapid growth of urban populations could accelerate the technology, and many believe vertical farms could eliminate food deserts in inner cities.

By 2025 almost 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, according to the United Nations Population Division. By 2050, it’ll be 70 percent. If conventional farming in rural areas continues to produce the food needed for our growing urban population, the cost of transporting it will continue to rise.

Improved access to fresh, local produce year-round is more than a matter of convenience; it’s also a matter of health. If these urban farms can successfully grow a regular harvest of organic crops, the food produced has the potential to match inexpensive fast food prices and revolutionize urban eating habits for the better.

Betsy Mikel is a freelance writer living and biking in Chicago. From salvaging recycled clothing to getting creative with ingredients from her CSA box, Betsy supports sustainable living and enjoys writing about others who do the same. She writes for Chicagoist and Threadless. 

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