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Former Extension Educator, Horticulture
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Today, consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of local food. Local produce offers a multitude of benefits. Buying local produce can help keep small businesses running which ensures job security for employees. Buying local can also reduce the impact that agriculture has on the environment by eliminating the need for long distance transportation of food. Local produce may even offer lower prices for the same reason. Another fantastic benefit of buying local is that it allows for the opportunity to get produce from farm to plate quickly due to less time spend on transport. Finally, buying local can have other positive effects such as helping to bridge the gap between the consumer and farmer. Feeling connected to one's food source can result in increased respect for farmers and concern for their wellbeing.
That said, the definition of "local" produce varies widely. Local can mean anything from "anywhere in the continental United States" to "from the same state" to "within 300 miles." For the purpose of this article, I am describing local as produce grown within the state.As local produce became more in demand, larger cities such as Chicago began trying to tap into the market. This resulted in the birth of many urban farms in Chicago. So, what does that mean? That means that new and interesting methods of growing and growing systems are being deployed throughout the city to make it possible to profitably produce local food.
When the term urban farm comes up in conversation many people tend to think of small vacant lots turned into gardens but urban farms can be much more than that. Sure, it is certainly possible for an urban farming to be traditional and utilize a vacant lot or farm area. However, it is more likely urban farms are indoors. Often times, these farms are retrofit to existing buildings. This has pros and cons. Pro – the cost of building a greenhouse or other type of site for the farm is negated. Pro – heating cost is less than in a greenhouse. Pro – underutilized space in the city can find purpose. Cons – natural light is very limiting. Con – the structure itself may be limiting.
Controlled environments are being utilized along with various growing systems such as: hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, roof top gardening, vertical walls, and container gardening, etc. In order to be profitable, this must be done on a large scale using the most efficient technology possible to light and cool the crop. If growing outdoors, season extending tactics must be used such as starting seeds indoors and hoop houses.
Lastly, urban farming is not limited to commercial growers. Do you live in an urban area? You can utilize tactics from commercial urban farmers in your own yards and homes. In later posts, I will show you how!