Vertical Gardening- the answer to Urban Farming and Food Security

Posted May 6th, 2015.

When I was growing up in the UK many years ago, ‘vertical gardens’ wasn’t even a keyword.

 Google- what's that? However, I was lucky enough to live in a small village and to spend many happy hours with my grandfather discovering the wonders of his veggie garden, watching insects skate around on top of the water barrel and eagerly exhuming new potatoes as they mooned their milky white bums up through the black soil. To my way of thinking, my city dwelling friends missed out (I know- I dipped out on fun city stuff too) a few lucky ones had parents who stoically worked an allotment several miles away from their terraced houses but most of the others had to settle for supermarket veggies that struggled to stay fresh in the fridge. My friends were blissfully unaware of what they were missing by not ‘growing stuff in dirt’ and slobbering over those delicious, buttered spuds. Does this matter? I think it matters a lot – on so many levels.

The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history

 It is estimated that by 2030, 60% of the world’s population will be living in cities – this will have a huge impact on our lifestyles – on the space to grow food, on food security and food miles, on our sense of well-being¹, on our social activities, and the air we breathe will be more polluted than it is already.  City temperatures will be several degrees higher due to the urban heat island effect. Sydney’s urban temperature may rise by up to 3.7C by 2050². Apartment blocks and shopping malls will swallow us up and our ‘fresh’ food will be worn out by the time it reaches our plates. Maybe we’ll end up with Food Pills after all? Soil – what’s THAT for?

How can VERTICAL urban farms play a vital 'rescue' role here?

By maximising unused, vertical real estate (walls and rooftops) and establishing vertical gardens and Greenwalls as urban farms on our doorstep, we can support fresh food production and combat pollution by harnessing the amazing capacity of plants to clean our air. Fresh produce, from as many vertical gardens and roof gardens as is viable, will improve our health while soothing us with their lush aesthetic beauty. The benefits of organically grown produce, picked from your vertical garden minutes before it lands on your plate gets the gold award for both taste and nutrition. Did I mention that children eat what they grow? Do we need to address childhood obesity?  Oh and don’t forget that ‘messing about in real dirt’ bonus. ‘Nuff said.

Vertical Gardens and Greenwalls are ideal for residents and businesses

It doesn’t matter who you are, there’s an urban farm system for you. Systems that provide large soil volumes, like the Garsy® systems available through eden  NOW, also cut down on water consumption which at present is dominated by agricultural users (then we waste 30% of food)  Urban foodie, Sally, in apt. 403, the Primary School on the corner, the tiny courtyard at the back of Pete’s restaurant or the Aged Care chef desperately trying to feed his residents on $9 a day, they all have many types of vertical garden systems from which to choose – many come in DIY kits. We’ll pay a high price if we don’t pay attention to growing UP in our cities.

The use of vertical gardens for urban farming can involve a whole community AND save money

– and I’m not talking about grand scale projects on the roof of a car manufacturing plant. An official audit of a project³ which involved bringing gardening joy back to just 46 older people in a single borough in south London, has concluded that it could have saved the taxpayer as much as £500,000 ($1,042,318) a year in just one area. The potential savings were calculated using standard estimates of the cost of NHS care for reduced medications, visits to doctors, A & E and decreased number of hospital admissions as well as fewer visits from health and social workers.

I believe that the installation of vertical gardens and Greenwalls need to be supported on every scale, in shopping malls, on rooftops, on balconies, in courtyards, Aged Care facilities, hospitals, restaurants, schools and even in public city spaces where, with a little smart planning, an option to participate will see young and old thrive from a life enriching activity and from the luscious harvests of urban farms that are literally ‘off the wall.’

¹Studies by Kellert, Heewagen & Mador 2003)  ²ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, Dr Daniel Argueso, 3 “Garden Partners” project in Wandsworth – run in 2009 by Age UK, Sarah Jackson and funded by the local NHS trust