When people visualize a farm, most come up with a similar image: sprawling tracts of land in an isolated, rural area. To be fair, for most of history, this has been a fairly accurate assumption. However, agriculture and agrochemical technologies are always changing. Thanks to new advancements in the science of growing food, it’s now possible to operate a legitimate farm in a major urban area.
This isn’t mere speculation. Startups like Edenworks have already demonstrated the concept’s viability.
Edenworks Farms in Brooklyn
Edenworks’ headquarters isn’t an expansive farm out in the middle of nowhere. It’s an 800-square-foot greenhouse adjacent to its office in Brooklyn, New York’s Bushwick neighborhood. The startup shares the building with a metalworking shop below.
Leafy greens thrive in the greenhouse, packed together and stacked vertically. Eventually, Edenworks will harvest these plants and sell them to a nearby Whole Foods grocery store. In the United States, the vast majority of leafy green produce comes from the deserts of California and Arizona. Though these two states have excellent climates for growing fruits and vegetables year-round, water is not abundant, and climate change will only increase water scarcity throughout the region.
In addition, because conventional produce must be shipped long distances, farmers must choose types of plants that have been bred to travel far without becoming damaged. This emphasis on durability means that there’s less focus on growing the varieties that taste the best. A head of lettuce from a traditional farm in California may be able to travel across the country tightly packed in a crate, but it might not be very flavorful.
Companies like Edenworks are striving to change this paradigm by using innovative agricultural techniques to convert large urban spaces, like factories and warehouses, into indoor farms in the middle of the city. Instead of trying to grow durable, travel-friendly produce, their goal is to grow high-quality, great-tasting, nutrient-dense produce for consumers in the area.
This approach doesn’t merely benefit city-dwellers. It’s good for the environment as a whole. The produce no longer needs to be shipped to the city from far-off farms, reducing the carbon footprint of the industry. In addition, Edenworks’ facility uses aquaponics—the plants are grown without soil, in a solution of water and nutrients. These nutrients are provided by waste from tilapia fish kept in tanks on-site. In this way, aquaponics leverages the natural relationship between aquatic animals and plants in the wild.
Aquaponic farming uses less water than traditional farms—in some cases, as much as 90% less. This is due to the fact that the plants are grown in a highly controlled, indoor environment in which evaporation is minimal. Produce grown using aquaponic methods also typically grows faster, allowing farmers to produce more food more quickly.
An Urban Agricultural Revolution
Although the new urban agricultural revolution is still in the early stages, it’s reasonable to assume that it will have a major impact on the agricultural and agrochemical industries on the future.
For example, if this movement gains traction, for essentially the first time in human history, people who live in cities will have easy access to farming jobs without needing to relocate. Because young college graduates often move to cities in the early stages of their careers, this may help to attract more talent to the field of agriculture.
Major universities based in these cities might also expand their agricultural programs.
Universities generally offer academic programs based on major industries in the surrounding areas—doing so ensures that students have opportunities for internships and relevant professional experience during their time in school. In cities, where farms are rarely accessible, universities are less likely to prioritize their agriculture departments. As urban farming becomes more common, their attitudes might shift.
Urban farming could also have a major impact on the agrochemical and precision agriculture markets. In order to more efficiently grow crops in urban environments, farmers must rely on greenhouses, aquaponics, and other methods that differ from those employed on conventional farms. If urban farms do become common, there will be greater demand for products and technologies tailored to their specific needs—such as agrochemicals specifically formulated for commercial greenhouses, or the pumps and tanks that are needed for aquaponic systems. Professionals in the agricultural industries would be smart to pay close attention to the development and growth of the urban agriculture movement. Those who monitor the trend closely will have a better opportunity to address the growing needs of urban farmers early, before the market gets crowded with competition.
As always, the agriculture industry is evolving. For people currently working in the field, it’s an exciting time. For those considering a career in agriculture, it’s perhaps even more exciting, with a whole new set of potential job opportunities waiting to be claimed.