The central challenge of modern industrialized has been maximise production in order to respond to the nutrition needs of a rapidly growing global population. Though the large-scale monoculture farms that account for most of the world’s agriculture have largely succeeded in this mission, the hidden costs–soil degradation, excessive pesticide and fertilizer use, and the high carbon footprint of food transport—have taken their toll on the environment.
New ideas about farming—emphasising small-scale operations, organic growing methods, and local markets—aim to reshape farming’s relationship to the environment and to alter consumer habits.
A major trend in recent years is the rise of community gardens and urban farming plots. More than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities, yet most or all of the food consumed by city-dwellers comes from elsewhere. Many cities around the world are aiming to change this through both garden campaigns and the allocation of green space within cities to farming.
London boasts a number of city farms, which offer fresh produce and free, publically funded gardening classes. The UK based Local Food initiative is a £60 million program aimed at promoting local food around Britain, including community growing efforts for schools and housing projects.
In the US, urban farming often coincides with urban renewal projects. The city of Chicago is in the process of realising an ambitious green space development plan on its South Side, which has fallen into disrepair in recent decades due to changing demographics and shifts in industry.
The Era Trail project, running the length of a disused railroad track, would initially turn 100 acres of urban wasteland into farmland and bicycle trails. The goal is to develop all 800 acres of what are now vacant lots into green spaces, with a significant allotment set aside for farming. Project managers hope the initiative will spark an interest in farming while providing healthy and affordable food to the immediate community. The farms will also turn a profit by supplying produce to high-end Chicago restaurants. A handful of small training farms are already operative in the district, with a fourth expected in Spring 2013.
Partly as a result of publically funded and not-for-profit gardening and urban farming campaigns, more city dwellers have taken to growing their own herbs and vegetables, either in community plots or in their own homes and back gardens. Shamengo pioneer Britta Riley designed a simple, elegant solution for indoor gardening in small spaces with her vertical, hydroponic Windowfarms which allow users to maximize window space and grow organic lettuces and herbs. To encourage as many people as possible to use the technology, Riley has released both a DIY instruction kit and a ready-made Windowfarm model.
With the rise of greener farming technologies, farming education, and the increased availability of home-grown and local produce, the environmental impact of agriculture and the reliance on fossil fuels could be significantly reduced in coming years.