Urban agriculture, what for?

Vertical farm, collective garden, eco-grazing… You have certainly already come across an urban agriculture project downstairs. What is it exactly? And how can these production methods, which complement conventional agriculture, respond to social and environmental issues? Follow the guide to understand what urban agriculture is.

The origins of urban agriculture

A response to food crises

While the Sumerians already practiced a form of urban agriculture more than 3,000 years ago, its contemporary history has its origins in the 19th century . In Paris, the “ Plaine des Vertus ”, which stretched from Aubervilliers to La Courneuve, was home to the largest market gardening area in France. On these 1000 hectares of land, the "vegetable ploughmen" cultivated en masse cabbages, onions, leeks and turnips , sold in the market halls of the capital. Industrialization and the arrival of the railway reduced this space to to see it disappear with the creation of the Rungis National Interest Market in the 1960s.

However, other forms of urban agriculture have sprung up, like the allotment gardens , created in 1896 by Jules-Auguste Lemire. With these plots of cultivation made available by the municipalities, the abbot wanted to improve the lot of the workers. After the Second World War, the allotment gardens were renamed “ family gardens ”, open to all categories of the population. From nurturing spaces, they have been transformed into places of exchange, learning and leisure .

In the United States, fertile disobedience

On the other side of the Atlantic, it was in the 1970s, with the economic crisis, that large urban wastelands were cultivated for the first time. The inhabitants of New York, led by the artist Liz Christy, have taken over the poorest suburbs to transform them into a place of market gardening and debate .

This “agricultural agora” has spread as far as Europe, with the explosion of the “green guerilla” movement to green urban spaces – even if it means engaging in civil disobedience. Militant urban agriculture was born.

Various production methods

All urban farmers

Today, urban market gardening and livestock areas take on a variety of forms, from rooftop gardens to vertical farms and collective gardens. According to Guillaume Morel-Chevillet, specialist in urban landscape and urban agriculture and author of the book “Urban Farmers” , three forms of urban agriculture coexist:

  • Amateur e, with the establishment of micro market gardening projects on balconies, terraces and city gardens;
  • Collective , with non-profit projects (residential, shared, integration gardens) marked by their own form of governance;
  • Professional , with more complex systems (micro-farms, rooftop greenhouses, educational farms, eco-grazing) intended for service or sale.

Urban agriculture, necessarily above ground?

Cultivation methods, for their part, vary considerably from one place of production to another. If soil cultivation exists in urban agriculture (and concerns, according to the 2022 barometer of urban agriculture on the agri-city.info site, 44% of professional producers), other above-ground forms coexist with it. These include hydroponics (culture on neutral substrate, associated with water irrigation and nutrient solutions), hydroculture (based on a water substrate enriched with fertilizers), aquaponics (culture system combining the cultivation of plant in hydroponics and fish farming), aeroponics (based on air and water supply)...

These systems offer the advantage of using fewer chemicals and saving resources. At URBAN CUISINE, we have chosen hydroponics to offer you an indoor vegetable garden that produces crops all year round !

Discover the Liv vegetable garden

urban farm

Urban agriculture, virtuous for the planet

An alternative to conventional agriculture

For decades, intensive agriculture has impoverished the soil, with seeds selected not for their nutritional qualities, but for their shelf life. Consequence: fruits and vegetables poor in nutrients , often synonymous with transport and intermediaries.

Production in the urban environment, if it cannot feed all the city dwellers, offers an alternative to conventional agriculture , with hardy and varied fruits and vegetables, and the possibility of going organic - the need for fertilizers and herbicides being very limited. Produced locally , the plants are sold on local markets, from the producer (or harvested at home, in the case of home production). The carbon footprint linked to transport and the energy linked to storage are thus eliminated.

When nature invites itself into our cities

Cultivating in urban areas also means enhancing abandoned spaces by welcoming biodiversity. In wasteland or on rooftops, these “green belts” play a systemic role, in particular offering solutions for recycling organic waste (through composting or methanation) or wastewater.

Greenhouses installed on roofs improve the thermal comfort of habitats and stem heat islands , from which our cities are likely to suffer in the years to come. Finally, urban agriculture, especially indoors, offers great possibilities in terms of water saving . It is estimated, for example, that a hydroponic system, like the Potager Liv , saves about 90% of the water needed for growing in the ground.

Urban agriculture: what are the challenges for men?

Food agriculture?

Urban agriculture, which is booming, also responds to a major challenge: feeding city dwellers . Can she really? According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations),

“Urban and peri-urban agriculture represents a fundamental strategy for building the resilience of urban food supplies.”

If, in theory, this new form of agriculture could ensure a productivity 15 times higher than that of farms in rural areas , it does not, in fact, allow the self-sufficiency of cities . In question: the spaces with too restricted grounds, the roofs which do not all lend themselves to the culture, the reduced access to water. Still, it is a great alternative to stock up on vegetables and berries, with healthy and sustainable productions .

Grow your fresh fruits and vegetables all year round

Urban agriculture, creator of links

It is not for nothing that urban agriculture has taken up subjects such as integration or community life. In community gardens, it acts as a creator of links between neighbours, between social origins, between generations. In associations, it creates jobs and integration . With our indoor vegetable garden, we offer a new gardening experience , to be enjoyed as a family. Urban agriculture also makes it possible to forge a link between the city and the rural world, at a time when a return to the land sounds obvious.

Thus, in an interview for Le Monde , the specialist in urban agriculture Christine Aubry, researcher at INRA-AgroParisTech, argued that the strongest link generated by urban agriculture is the educational link .

“When we city dwellers are three or four generations apart from agriculture, (re)learning how a crop cycle unfolds, how a hen or a bee lives, how a sheep grazes, is an important function for us. reconnect to nature and food production.”

To conclude…

Protean, in perpetual evolution, urban agriculture invites itself today in many of our metropolises . Paris, but also Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille, Rennes, Lille or Nantes are investing massively in agricultural land and farms on their urban territory . They are committed to ensuring that these new forms of agricultural production are preserved and benefit their inhabitants.

So, is urban agriculture the agriculture of tomorrow ? We know that it will not solve the world food crisis . However, its presence remains essential for obtaining supplies of fresh produce and guaranteeing food security in the event of a crisis or shortage. It is an integral part of a range of solutions for the planet and for people , in synergy with traditional agriculture.

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