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Urban farming sows the seeds of tomorrow

From inner-city gardening to vertical farming, here is a glance at the growing trend that aims to change and refresh our conception of food and urban lifestyle.

Urban Roots in Polmadie, from above (photo credit: Stuart Patterson)

Urban farming is a growing trend. It involves setting up farming beds in dedicated allotments close to and within urban areas.

Cities are expected to continue the tremendous demographic growth that began in the 20th century. By 2045, the world's urban population is expected to increase by 1.5 times, to 6 billion.

This trend is already leading to the apparition of megacities, as well as increasing public transportation and healthcare issues. Sustainable urbanisation is a major concern for the world’s populations and governments. We can also expect to see a massive shift in our daily habits, including our eating habits.
In recent years, food habits have changed significantly.

Perhaps above all else, it has been impacted by the increased global awareness of climate and environmental issues. An increasing number of consumers are seeking fresher and healthier food. This shift is also pushing urban people to reconnect with nature and soil.

Urban agriculture provides key advantages, such as proximity, seasonality, sustainability, and freshness. Buzzwords like “slow food” or “proximity food” are thriving on social media and on the shelves of dedicated sections of supermarkets, perfectly illustrating the growing trend.

To find out more about urban farming, our editorial team visited some of the key actors in Scotland, which vary in size and scale of production—from a small allotment in Easterhouse and a community garden in the Southside of Glasgow to a vertical farming research centre based in Edinburgh and Dundee.

Lochend Community Allotments: a magic garden for children

Based in the Easterhouse neighbourhood in the East End of Glasgow, the Lochend Community Allotment is a 500-square-metre garden, with many randomly dispatched farming beds and plenty of items used either for farming or for decoration.

Susan Wilson is the Community Engagement Lead Gardener for FARE Scotland. Passionately dedicated to the small and dynamic allotment, Susan also monitors the visits from neighbouring primary school children, who track the growth of seeds they have previously planted. The allotment provides an important connection to the soil as well as a breath of fresh air for children who live in densely populated areas with few green spaces.

As well as providing important urban farming knowledge to the schoolkids, Susan believes that hands-on experience can help in many areas of their lives—especially diet. “It’s great to see their wee faces, especially when they are harvesting,” said Susan. “Hopefully it will lead to them eating more vegetables.”
She recounts how one teenager, upon pulling out a stolon of around 15 potatoes from the ground, shouted, “I’ve struck gold!”

The allotment from above (Photo: Stuart Patterson)

Urban Roots: A community garden in Polmadie, Glasgow

Urban Roots is an excellent illustration of the ongoing shift among consumers. It is a community-led environmental charity working across the Southside of Glasgow. According to Selina Boyack, Volunteer Coordinator at Urban Roots, the structure pursues mainly two objectives: community gardening and protecting green spaces.

To tackle the healthy nutrition issue, the community promotes “a six-week set of workshops” as a capacity-building programme focusing on healthy and nutritious food. Dozens of farming beds are dedicated to the growing of seasonal fruits and vegetables, thanks to the commitment of more than 100 volunteers, and even more than 900 who are or have already been involved.

Selina says what makes her smile most when working is seeing “the children playing in the woods." Urban Roots is also a community with woods and gardens accessible to any Glaswegian willing to enjoy a quiet moment in green spaces.

Through projects like Women in the Woods, the community also seeks to appease and heal traumas through collective therapies within quiet adjacent green spaces. “We see ourselves as a kind of educational and sharing knowledge community rather than an exclusive urban farm producing enough to feed,” says Selina.

However, the task is not easy, Selina explains, although the land is provided by the city council. “Vandalism, stolen crops, and antisocial behaviour are some of the main daily threats to deal with, and it is not always possible to find people to keep an eye on the place,” she says, stressing the fact that “the biggest complaint is people steal our crops, and we are despondent.”

The business model is also complicated, as Urban Roots “is financed by almost 40 different funders, from the Scottish government to the national lottery," implying a tremendous amount of fundraising.

Urban Roots’ farming beds in Polmadie (Photo credit: Stuart Patterson)

Intelligent Growth Solution: The crop research centre

Vertical farming is a farming technique consisting of optimising space by growing crops vertically on several superposed layers. Vertical farming allows controlled environment agriculture and allows the farmers to control the intrants and full environment of the crops in order to maximise the yield.

Vertical farming has already been deployed in Scotland. Founded in 2013, Intelligent Growth Solution (IGS) is a company based in Edinburgh with a research centre based in Dundee. The company aims to develop patented ‘plug and play’ vertical farming products that will enable other urban farms to display their ready-to-use solutions.

The centre comes up with new solutions for sustainable and functional urban farming. In the centre, several growth towers allow “an indoor ecosystem where plants thrive through automatically generated and applied growth recipes." Indeed, the facility offers smart lighting and smart indoor climate control, with a high energy efficiency level allowing low energy costs and a good yield.

FARE Easterhouse allotment interview ( Voice-over and video credits: Stuart Patterson)


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