The urban farm concept is not new but has rarely gone beyond small roof-top gardens and utilizing small plots of inner-city land. Is now the right time to begin investing in urban farms?
Timing can mean the difference between success and failure for any new potentially world-changing concept.
Present timing sees supply chain disruptions, fuel and food price increases, social disruption including war, and extreme weather events that impact food production. Urban farms have the potential to ease these burdens.
An urban farm exists in a city or town setting. Such farms would not be for animal husbandry which requires large land areas. However small-scale chicken and fish farming could be part of an urban farm. The majority of an urban farm output however would be plant-based produce.
Urban farms would provide fresh produce to local residents without the need for large scale storage and transport infrastructure, resulting in lower costs and lower energy consumption. An urban farm would also provide local employment as well as providing a focal point for the local community.
What would an urban farm look like? Due to restricted urban land availability, an urban farm would need to take the form of a high-rise or vertical farm building.
Technology has enabled plant-based agriculture to succeed in relatively shallow, well-maintained planters. These would occupy most of the building.
The building would be designed with open sides along a long-narrow building plan shape running lengthwise east-west, the long building sides facing north-south. The narrow plan shape would allow sunlight penetration into the building.
The long-side north orientation would also allow sunlight to penetrate deep into each floor in winter when the sun is low in the north. Sunlight penetration could also be reflected inside with reflectors attached to the building exterior.
The open sides could be fitted with insect and bird-proof netting to help protect crops. Transparent glass or plastic panels could be used here also to allow winter sunlight in and then keep in the warmth it generates, like a greenhouse.
The land for an urban farm could be on the fringes of public parkland, or on private properties beside parkland purchased for the purpose. Parkland fringes are ideal as the farm would be compatible with the parkland yet would not interfere much with the parkland.
Often parkland exists because it is in a flood zone. This is an ideal location for the farm otherwise it would have to occupy valuable city space suitable for other important flood-adverse uses.
The farm could still operate during a flood with a ground floor dedicated only to parking, temporary storage and market day stalls and allowed to flood when flooding happens. Locating the farm beside higher ground would enable a bridge to be built from the higher ground to the first floor for continued use during a flood.
Chicken coops could be constructed to be attached to the side of the farm but be able to float in event of flood.
Aside from these easily resolved practical issues, communities themselves would benefit greatly from having an urban farm in their neighborhood.
Urban farm market days, namely a Saturday and Sunday, could be a communal focus point. These markets would not only sell the produce of the farm, but could also gain revenue from stalls for local bric-a-brac, arts, and crafts, along with other entertainment and activities for both children and adults.
Urban farms could be built throughout a city in locations and numbers to service the whole city. Even rural and regional centers would benefit from urban high-rise farms.
Urban farms would contribute positively by reducing primary produce storage and transport infrastructure and running costs, and would provide employment opportunities, adding significantly to the self-sufficiency of a community.
This self-sufficiency would help promote a sense of community with people coming together for markets and for other events. This and the psychological benefit to the community of greater self-sufficiency would be a major contributor to community well-being.
Who is going to build the first Australian high-rise urban farm?