The Future of Sustainable Agriculture: Urban Farming
By Dylan Fox: Dylan is a student from the University of Western Sydney and we are delighted to carry this story
As more people become interested in their food they become more conscious about the farmers they support. Thus, a growing trend of urban farms is developing to satiate the demand for highly-nutritious fruits and vegetables. With the misnomer that people must own land to farm profitably, urban farmers are proving that any amount of land can be productive.
Curtis Stone, a Canadian farmer and owner of Green City Acres has utilised the SPIN farming method which promotes intensive multi-locational farming in dense urban areas. Over five backyard leases totalling 1/3 an acre, Curtis manifests that small-scale urban farming is profitable, sustainable and regenerative, emphasising the sense of community around his farm and neighbourhood.
His farm alone cannot compete with the mass-production and monocultures of the predominantly unsustainable industrial agriculture and he challenges people to realise the value of urban farming.
To remain profitable, Green City Acres is largely reliant on the production of microgreens – a small immature plant, such as sunflowers or peas which are harvested at about five centimetres. The crop can be grown in a modular system, harvested around 30 days and is worth around AU$20 a flat. As the demand continues to rise and more varieties become popular, the value of microgreens will skyrocket. Within his heated greenhouse, microgreens can be produced at scale all-year, allowing Curtis to effectively maximise his small backyard to make a living.
In the field, quick growing crops — including cut-and-come-again lettuces, radishes, salad turnips, kale and spinach — allowing him to produce four crops per bed per season. His polytunnels also house specific demand-driven tomato varieties including cherries and romas, markets that are not yet dominated by industrial producers. By tailoring his farm towards the needs of his local customers, Curtis is more likely to sell his produce and develop social equity within the community, further generating a large customer base and wider demand for locally-grown produce.
Green City Acres is not certified organic, however, they utilise ecologically-based farming techniques to ensure their small farming plots remain productive throughout the season. Most notably, Curtis does not cultivate his soil to excessive depths before planting, rather relying on specifically-designed market-garden tools such as the broadfork or the tilther to prepare the top five centimetres of soil, whilst preserving soil micro and macro-organisms. During Autumn, every bed across the five plots is top-dressed with a locally-sourced compost, often Curtis’ own, and amended with organic poultry manure. During winter, most of the plots are covered with tarps to reduce soil erosion and encourage microorganisms to decompose crop residue, fuelling active nutrient within his soil.
Urban farming has the potential to stimulate the local economy by driving more money into local businesses, entice more people into sustainable agriculture by educating how the consumer’s choices affect the industry, whilst also regenerating our soils through holistic management with the ambition of building sustainable farming systems for global replication.
Curtis Stone has proven, not only that farms of any sizes can be profitable and that sustainable agriculture is feasible, he manifests the benefits and outcomes of farming soil biota, rather than plants. Once the ecosystem is in balance, plants can thrive. Green City Acres is a significant step towards ecologically-based farming systems which, at their core, have an inherent respect for the earth and natural resources. It is clear our current farming system is approaching collapse, as once fertile landscapes are degraded through human neglect yet Curtis proposes urban farming as a viable solution for sustainable food production. With plenty of room for expansion and innovation, it is merely a matter of time until urban farms become the cornerstone of city living.