Everything about Urban Farming


What is urban farming?

Urban farming is the act of growing plants or raising animals in or around the city.

Why is urban farming important?

The world's population will reach 10 billion by 2050. With the growth of the population, human habitation patterns have also changed. In 2008, the population of cities exceeded the populations of rural areas for the first time in history. This trend will only become more pronounced in the years to come—in fact the United Nations predicts that by 2030, nearly 5 billion people will be living in cities, mostly in Asia and Africa. With population on the rise, taking advantage of unused urban space will create an important source of food–especially when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Photo:  Wired

Photo: Wired

What are the pros & cons of urban farming?

PRO: Widespread urban farming could have enormous production potential.

By using space efficiently, cities could produce significant supplies of food for the population. In fact, there are 22 countries that could theoretically supply their cities by farming less than 10 percent of urban land. Beyond that, 39 percent of the global population lives in countries that could feed their urban populations by farming less than a quarter of urban land.

PRO: Eating locally is good for us

Local has become the latest buzz word on the tongues of foodies everywhere, and there's a reason for the trend. Local foods tend to be fresher, meaning they not only taste better, but have higher nutritional contents that are not lost during long-distance cold storage transport. With their lack of designated farmland, cities are most susceptible to second-rate produce being delivered from far away. Urban farming creates a valuable alternative.

PRO: Urban farming is good for a city's ecosystem

Urban farming benefits city-dwellers in ways we often don't consider. One example is that adding gardens to streets and rooftops helps absorb water after heavy rains, preventing it from running off into the sewers. This decreases the amount of harmful sediments, chemicals, and pollutants that end up in the water, which often times gets recirculated for human consumption.

Similarly, planting urban gardens can help reduce the number of heat islands in cities. Heat islands are pavements, rooftops, and other surfaces that absorb heat and can be up to 90ºF hotter than the surrounding air temperature. Green roofs (rooftops covered by varying degrees of vegetation) can be 30–40°F lower than their non-green counterparts and can reduce city-wide ambient temperatures by up to 5°F.

Finally, the presence of urban farming means feeding grounds for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. As the bee population has decreased dramatically over the past decade, it is more important than ever to create spaces for pollinators to flourish.

PRO: Urban farming helps rebuild neighborhoods

Urban farming has very distinct social benefits: the presence of urban farms is associated with "improved neighborhood aesthetics, reduced crime, and community cohesion." Furthermore, community gardening projects can increase social bonds and foster stronger networks between neighbors.

CON: Just because you can 'feed' a population doesn't mean you provide people with all their nutritional needs.

Of the 22 countries that can supply their population using less than 10% of urban land, only nine can meet the recommended 300 grams of vegetables. At the same time, 51 countries couldn't meet these needs even if they farmed 100 percent of their urban land.

Photo:  Sciencing

Photo: Sciencing

CON: Eating food grown in cities might not be the best...

Soil plays an indispensable role in the health of plants: it is the greatest source of nutrients and water. When growing food in urban environments, it's important to consider what else might be in the soil other than essential minerals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns urban gardeners about potentially harmful compounds lurking in the certain cities’ soil: lead, arsenic, dioxins, mercury, solvents, cyanides, to name a few.

Photo:  Gessato

Photo: Gessato

CON: Who really benefits?

While urban agriculture creates opportunity for universal access to fresh, local, and healthy foods, it is usually not the people in need who get to reap the rewards. The main clientele for these farms are not soup kitchens or convenience stores, but high-end farm-to-table restaurants, and otherwise privileged consumers who can afford to pay high prices for urban-grown produce.

Types of urban farming

Cercles jardins in Paris Photo:  Urban Green Blue Grids

Cercles jardins in Paris
Photo: Urban Green Blue Grids

Backyard and community gardens

These are the most common types of urban gardens that individuals or groups plant and maintain on their property or in a shared neighborhood space. These are usually meant for personal, as opposed to commercial use. 

Filled in pothole in London Photo:  Little London Observationist

Filled in pothole in London
Photo: Little London Observationist

Repurposed spaces

Whether sanctioned or obtained through guerrilla gardening methods, unused spaces are being reclaimed all over cities. This includes unused lots, medians, or even unfilled potholes.

Largest rooftop farm in the world in Brooklyn Photo:  Pop Up City

Largest rooftop farm in the world in Brooklyn
Photo: Pop Up City

Rooftop gardens

Rooftops are ideal spaces for urban gardens: they are underutilized, have good sun exposure, and there's an endless supply. These are often used to grow on a commercial scale.

Lufa Farms in Montreal Photo:  Green House Canada

Lufa Farms in Montreal
Photo: Green House Canada


While greenhouses are not limited to rooftops, that's usually where you'll find them in urban environments. They create more ideal conditions for plants, but require greater set up.

AeroFarms in Newark Photo:  Mold Magazine

AeroFarms in Newark
Photo: Mold Magazine

Indoor farms

Spanning from shipping containers, to basements, to enormous warehouse farms, indoor farms have the potential for year-round production. They can be used for personal or commercial production.

Vertical farms

Also known as "green walls" or "living walls", vertical urban farms take advantage of tall buildings. These structures are often more aesthetic than practical, but still serve an important purpose.

What role does Freight Farms play in urban farming?

We've created a farm that is ideal for urban environments. It's the Leafy Green Machine, a smart hydroponic container farm that uses vertical growing technology to make a small space (just 320 sq. ft.) incredibly efficient. The farm just needs to be hooked up to water and electricity to put out 2-4 tons of produce every year. 

Thanks to their compact design, Leafy Green Machines have found their ways into the hearts of cities around the world. They can go in unused spaces (such as empty warehouses or unused lots), or on rooftops. They require very little water (0-5 gallons a day!) and protect plants from pollutants in the air and water using state-of-the art filtration systems. The Leafy Green Machine is also completely insulated from outdoor weather conditions, so plants can grow in droughts or blizzards. 

Our farmers use their Leafy Green Machines for a variety of purposes. Some sell to local restaurants and grocers, while others use the farm for rehabilitating adults, or to bring fresh food to underserved communities. 

Explore how just some of our farmers leverage the Leafy Green Machine to make urban farming possible in their city!