Weve been eating a lot of tomatoes lately. My husband planted several varieties in large terra cotta pots this summer. We had plump red Big Boys, petite Green Zebras, and mysterious Black Krims. He put a lot of time into tending them, watering them through heat waves and artfully trimming them as they took over the patio. I cant tell you how delicious our first harvest (one Green Zebra) was! It was like biting into the best of summer. Taste, however, is just one wonderful result.
Youve probably noticed that food prices have been rising pretty rapidly. According to the World Bank, overall global food prices increased by 83% over the 3 last years, and theyre poised to increase further. Price increases are the result of many factors: poor harvests, the use of food crops for biofuels, and rising energy prices, to name a few.
Urban Farming is literally a large growing trend that cost-conscious and eco-centric consumers are embracing around the world. In true Trend/Countertrend fashion, farming is no longer the preserve of the countryside. More fresh food than ever before is being grown in our cities. Urban Farming includes herbs in window boxes, patio tomatoes, backyard or rooftop vegetable patches, and even parkland areas being cleared for crops.
Interestingly, Havana, Cuba, is a role model for the rest of the world when it comes to producing enough food to sustain its population. 90% of all the citys fresh food comes from local farms and gardens within the city. (With the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba had to start producing its food organically, without the fertilizers and machinery it had previously imported.)
Here in the US we have our own Urban Farming role models. The NY Times Magazine recently profiled Will Allen from Milwaukee, WI, describing his Growing Power movement (Street Farmer July 5, 2009) as follows:
Will employs locals to grow food for the hungry on neglected land in the inner city. 14 greenhouses, on two acres, produce a quarter of a million dollars worth of food a year. Every inch of space is maximized to produce exceptional bounty. The healthful, locally grown food feeds 10,000 urbanites and much of the food is donated to homeless shelters.
Urban Farming is a growing trend in Europe, too. Green groups are hard at work on a proposal called Feed the Olympics. They plan to use 6000 acres of land in London to grow enough food for the 14 million meals that will be required during the 2012 Olympics.
The future of Urban Farming looks healthy and bright. Experts predict that 10 million people planted gardens for the first time this year. Community gardens had waiting lists, seed houses and canning suppliers were oversold, and farmers markets are booming across the country.
Im sure youll agree that the benefits of Urban Farming are many. Locally grown, pesticide free food provides a healthier diet, saves consumers money, reduces carbon emissions (transport is minimal), and improves air quality (an increase in vegetation in a busy city will absorb pollution.)
Yes, theres all that. But I agree with Will Allen. He thinks the REAL benefit is re-introducing us to what a tomato really tastes like.