Urban Farms Solve Food Waste

Urban gardening removes the long distances that food typically travels, eliminating waste.

While we visited a variety of businesses and clean technology startups throughout our trip in Germany and The Netherlands, the sites that had the greatest impact on me were the urban gardens. They utilized rooftops and brownfields at a range of scales from personal to commercial projects. Some, like UrbanFarmers in The Hague, even combined growing produce with fish farming. This type of sustainable food in the heart of cities is exactly what is needed to combat the lack of easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables in inner city environments. These gardens also decrease the urban heat island effect, which can make cities miserable to live in. Additionally, they can even increase biodiversity by encouraging different types of birds and insects to thrive in an urban environment. However, one of the least recognized benefits of urban farming is the fact that it impacts food waste in a major way.

In the United States, nearly 40% of all food grown is never eaten. In fact, the worldwide figure isn’t far off, with about one third of food being wasted every year. With the population exploding at unprecedented rates, the pressure is on to build more farms, clear cut more forests, and mistreat more animals for efficiency of production. Issues surrounding the agricultural industry are at the forefront of the most troubling environmental problems of our time. While industrialized countries face waste coming from consumer culture, developing nations waste most of their food by mismanaging it in the earlier stages of the supply chain. Despite this difference in reasons for loss of food, one of the worst offenders in worldwide waste is decomposition in transit. When the United States ships most of its fruit from South America, several tons of it decompose along the trip every year. They simply cannot survive such a long transit without some of the riper fruits rotting. This also has devastating effects on the flavor and quality of the fruits, which are picked much earlier than they should be. Overall, there are certain issues with shipping food around the world that are impossible to avoid.

When investigating the state of the international food trade, it becomes increasingly obvious that local sources of food are advantageous for a variety of reasons. Firstly, transit is kept to a minimum. DakAkker, the rooftop garden in Rotterdam, only ever moves their food by bike, emphasizing the local nature of their project. The fact that they provide edible flowers, which wilt when shipped too far, further displays the advantages of sourcing food locally. This is one example of a crop that would never survive in a shipping container for several days. It is also widely believed that the fresher food is, the better it tastes. That’s why many of the restaurants that buy from DakAkker use the produce the same day it is harvested. This simply is not possible when shown in an international food trade model.

Additionally, by skipping the thousand-mile trip from farm to table, food waste is kept to a minimum. There is significantly less, if any, decomposition in transit when food is grown and eaten within the same city. In general, people are happy to know that their food is sourced locally, and tend to enjoy the fact that it was grown near their homes. By adopting urban farming practices, cities can make a stand against food waste and encourage citizens to eat locally.

Apart from the obvious benefits of farming locally, placing gardens strategically can revitalize rough parts of town and be a smart use for previously wasted space. Rooftops represent a previously untapped resource that could allow the switch to more local methods of farming and eating. In conclusion, one of the best ways to have better food and combat food waste would be to start more urban farms within cities across the globe.

-Jed Higdon