There’s no point beating about the bush: growing five tonnes of lettuce a year – enough to supply more than 1,000 French people – is hard work. All the more so when your “fields” are more easily accessible by helicopter than by tractor because they’re on the roof of a building. City farming is clearly both an appealing and eco-friendly way to reduce transport and feed an increasingly urban population, but it faces many obstacles: lack of space, lack of constant care, and pollution.
almost half of the root vegetables from gardens in New York City contain potentially dangerous levels of leadFrom tablet to tableCalifornian company Cityblooms has come up with a solution that adjusts to the needs and demands of urban spaces and brings a touch of technological wizardry to ancestral practices. It has designed greenhouses called Growbots which are capable of adjusting to local demands and requirements. They have a closed-loop hydroponic system that saves between 70 and 80 per cent of water and light enough to be installed on the roofs of most buildings.
As the raised, soil-free shelters are connected to the Cloud, urban farmers can control the growth of their seeds, humidity level, watering and nutrition remotely using their tablets. All they have to do is plant the seeds and harvest the produce. The automatic system takes care of the bulk of the work. It could inspire budding gardeners to take up micro-farming. “We’re using proven commercial agriculture technology and reformatting it to be more compatible with the nuances of urban development,” explains Nick Halmos, founder and CEO of Cityblooms.
Cityblooms’ system grows vegetables in a kind of microclimate, so the produce is healthy and protected from the city air. This is vital because, according to a study carried out by Cornell University in the US, almost half of the root vegetables from gardens in New York City contain potentially dangerous levels of lead. Citybloom’s produce will be certified by an independent food safety agency.
An initial experiment is currently being carried out at a corporate campus in San Francisco Bay. “The employees love it! There’s a human element that people want to reengage with their food … they’re always coming out to see what we’re growing,” Halmos claims enthusiastically. According to initial tests, 16 Growbots can grow up to five tonnes of salad a year.
Cityblooms does not see urban farming replacing traditional agriculture any time soon, but the company believes it can play a vital role, especially for growing green leafy vegetables that degrade quickly. “I see real potential to start moving some of the production of these highly perishable foodscloser to urban centres to reduce food waste, food miles, and ultimately deliver a more nutritious, higher quality product to consumers,” says Halmos. And there is urgent need for this: according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), agricultural production will have to grow by 70 per cent by 2050 to feed at least nine billion people.
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The fruit and vegetable market on the roof
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