The Contrasting Styles of Urban Agriculture,

By Antoinette WinklerPrins, Director for Environmental Programs, JHU-AAP August 14, 2015

Urban agriculture is the cultivation of crops and other consumable products in urban settings. Although this activity has always been ongoing in cities around the world (often in people’s yards, but also along berms and in abandoned lots), there has been a recent uptick in its popularity, with increasing attention of both policy makers and environmentalists. In terms of ensuring food security in urban spaces, urban agriculture offers the opportunity for city residents to access fresh, locally produced vegetables and fruits, and from an environmental perspective any form of plant growth, including fruit trees and vegetables, in the city can help provide a higher quality of life for residents and provide ecological services.
The development of community gardens has been one increasingly popular way of practicing urban agriculture, but that is just one way of growing food in the city and depends on community organizing and support, including the recruitment of labor to maintain the gardens. Actual urban farms are now also being considered as the scale of production in community gardens and backyards cannot be sufficient to feed the population of the city. These urban farms are often technologically sophisticated enterprises producing at once organic products but in an intensive format. In contrast to community gardens which are organic organizations and non-profit, these newer urban farms are corporate and seek to profit from this new sector of production. This vision of urban agriculture sees little in unity with the small-scale and organic movements of much of what has been considered urban agriculture to date yet sees itself in providing the scale of production necessary to make urban spaces sustainable.
This contrast and contradiction is well illustrated by a recent visit to an urban farm and a community garden in Berlin, Germany. The excursion was a field trip that was part of the Metropolitan Solutions Congress in Berlin, Germany, which I attended as part of the AAP course 470.755.91 ‘Sustainable Cities in France and Germany: Lessons for the United States,’ which I helped facilitate in May 2015. The title of the excursion, ‘Urban Farms and Urban Gardens’ in itself is quite telling, farms and gardens are treated separately and were not placed under one moniker, even though there are both forms of urban agriculture. The excursion exemplified the two extremes of the way UA is practiced and conceptualized. The first stop was to a brand new urban farm, ECF FarmSystems (photo 1) , a demonstration farm for a company that will help others develop high tech aquaponic farm systems (including fish tanks and hydroponically grown vegetables). Not traditionally viewed as the norm of sustainable (urban) farming, highly integrated and technologically sophisticated farming such as this is spreading to both rural and urban spaces. Hydro- and aqua-ponic systems in greenhouses permit year round production in rural areas and permit a degree of intensification in urban spaces that might result in the types of volume needed to farm at volume in the city, something that heretofore was questioned. The second stop was at the community gardens at the abandoned Tempelhof airport (the ‘air bridge’ airport of when Berlin was a divided city), Stadtteilgarten Schillerkiez, a very organic (figuratively as well as literally) and grass-roots effort to reclaim green space in the city and build community. It is a classic community garden, with various groups and families gardening patches and boxes of vegetables and flowers, including the challenges of securing land tenure as the Tempelhof development plans are uncertain at this time and are an on-going tension between the Berlin city government (who want a housing development) and its residents (who want to leave it as open green space). West Berlin, due to its existence as a virtual island during the Cold War, has long focused on being able to sustain itself, and though it is now reconnected with its hinterland, the principles of self-sufficiency pervade urban thinking there. Both the urban and the community garden seek this self-sufficiency in very different ways, and their contrast embodies what is happening in many parts of the world.

Photo 1: An urban farm in Berlin, using glass house technology for intensive and year-round production.

Photo 1: An urban farm in Berlin, using glass house technology for intensive and year-round production.

Photo 2: Photo 2: Suspended hydroponic production of eggplant.

Photo 2: Photo 2: Suspended hydroponic production of eggplant.

Photo 3: Hydroponic production of lettuce.

Photo 3: Hydroponic production of lettuce.

Photo 4: Community garden at Tempelhof, growing vegetables in containers made of salvaged materials.

Photo 4: Community garden at Tempelhof, growing vegetables in containers made of salvaged materials.

Photo 5: Activism and concern over climate and environmental issues is a fundamental part of this community garden (“Here we garden without peat for our moor and climate”).

Photo 5: Activism and concern over climate and environmental issues is a fundamental part of this community garden (“Here we garden without peat for our moor and climate”).

 

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