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Urban Farms Are Coming to a Rooftop, Garage, or Shipping Container Near You

by Tim Wenger May 21, 2020

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a resurgence of home and urban gardening that some say harkens to the Victory gardens planted during World War II. An increase in home gardening is positive on many levels, not least because raided store shelves and the panic-buying of chickens for homegrown eggs have exposed how fragile our food systems are.

To sustainably feed the estimated 10 billion people that could live in cities by 2050, however, the world must think large-scale. Decimating rainforests and other biodiverse landscapes to raise livestock and grow crops has never been sustainable and has actually made it easier for disease-causing viruses to spread. To feed a growing population in a warming world, food needs to be grown closer to where it is consumed — and that means in and around cities.

While we have a long way to go to make our food systems more sustainable, modern technology, combined with community-driven and entrepreneurial minds, are moving the process forward.

Freight Farms, a company founded in 2011 in Boston, is one major player in this endeavor. The company retrofits used shipping containers into indoor farms and then sells them to restaurants, businesses, and individuals. The company’s signature product is called The Greenery, which uses vertical hydroponics to grow an optimal amount of food in such a confined space. While the units aren’t cheap — costing around $80,000, according to CNN — they are retrofitted to produce enough food to sell, meaning enterprising urban farmers could stand to make long-term profits.

While not everyone can afford a converted shipping container, many major cities are getting creative with how they grow. Densely populated urban areas with high concentrations of high-rise buildings have the prospect of green walls and rooftop farms, along with other forms of large-scale vertical growing. Bowery Farming has a good model that, with proper investment and interest, could be easily replicated in urban areas around the country — bringing modern technology like LED lighting and remote control operation into compact quarters to grow produce at scale in New York City. The company then sells this produce to restaurants and stores, helping its customers cut down on what they order from the warehouses of major food distributors.

Also in New York, City Growers is working to educate kids on the basics of urban gardening so that they come into adulthood with an understanding of where the food that they eat comes from. The group uses rooftop gardens to teach basic growing skills to inner-city kids, betting that they will use these skills throughout their life. As President Barack Obama advised graduating seniors in his digital commencement speech this week, “If the world’s going to get better, it’s up to you.”

More good news from the green front

Cities using empty space to grow food

The BBC reported this week on cities using empty space — in the case of Paris, France, unused underground parking spots — to grow food. London is even using disused war tunnels as farming space, leading us to believe that there actually is a lot more space in cities for creative solutions than we think. And that’s without exploring the depths of suburban sprawl.

Cheers to that

In the not-so-distant-future, your happy hour toast might have a new ring to it. The Guardian reported this week that renewable chemicals company Avantium has developed a plant-based lining for cardboard bottles. And, not only is the entire bottle made from renewable resources, it biodegrades in a month. Iconic Danish brewer Carlsberg is onboard to give it a go.

Going green in Dusseldorf

Dusseldorf, Germany, just got a green facelift — literally. The city’s Kö-Bogen II office building was wrapped in hornbeam hedges that generate the carbon offset of 80 deciduous trees, according to Dezeen.

Everest visible from Kathmandu

Mt. Everest is visible from Kathmandu, Nepal, for the first time that “almost anyone can remember,” reported the Nepali Times this week. The world’s highest mountain will likely disappear from view once lockdowns in the city have been lifted, but the image of what could be is now imprinted in residents’ minds.

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