Urban Farming

Future of Food

Posted on Jan 16, 2023 by Prakash Kini (PK)


In 2008, globally the number of people living in cities exceeded the number of people living in rural areas for the first time in history. The number of city dwellers is expected to continue to skyrocket, and the UN predicts that urban populations will grow by more than one billion people by 2025.

Did you know that urban farms already produce over 20% of the world's food?

Although urban farming might have originated out of a “darker” past, and has definitely scaled past being a side hobby practised in balconies; today it is a thriving industry and multiple mainstream food types are being produced in urban farms ranging from:

  • Herbs such as cilantro, basil, parsley and microgreens
  • Spices such as chili, saffron, sumac
  • Leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, spinach, bok choy, and mustard greens
  • Vegetables such as tomatoes, gourds, zucchinis, beans, squash, beets, peas
  • Fruits such as strawberries, kiwi
  • Mushrooms, Algae / Seaweed
  • Seafood such as fish, shrimp/prawns, and yes even, crab and lobster
  • Flowers, both edible and decorative
  • Urban Apiculture (Backyard Beekeeping)
  • Urban Animal Farming: eggs, dairy, meat and other protein forms

A variety of setups and techniques are being utilised that include:

  • Hydroponics, Aquaponics, Aeroponics
  • Electroculture / Magnetoculture, Vermiculture
  • Basic rooftop and backyard farming all the way to climate-controlled greenhouses
  • Vertical Farming and Tower Gardens
  • Street landscaping and subway pillars

Family-run businesses, startups, community farming, cooperatives and clubs further this growing art.

Several universities, schools, corporate campuses and hotels have also adopted urban farming to supply their own cafeterias and in-house restaurants, which partially reduces their sourcing needs from otherwise far rural locations, essentially shortening the food-to-table distance.

Urban farms also help with experiential learning for urban kids who otherwise do not have such access in their concrete jungles.

"Green Schools Society" Greens Up Marblehead High School

Modern city planning now allocates dedicated spaces for urban farms and vertical gardens are now an integral part of urban landscaping.

Interior decorators and architects are now using microalgae. Edible landscaping is fast becoming the norm.

Urban farming techniques also support higher food production in regions with scarcity of arable land and water.

This aeroponics farm could be the future of food in Jordan

Reuse of plastic bottles, dust bins and other containers, and the use of composting, vermiculture, urban organic waste and worm juice for fertilisation, and limited water usage required also address the sustainability aspect.

Urban farms also come as a breath of fresh air and help in improving the green cover of highly urbanised and densely populated cities.

Application of automation and IoT sensors using AI based platforms such as BoweryOS helps in optimising and streamlining operations.

However, urban farming does come with its own drawbacks. Urban farming does require power and hence becomes an increased load on the already strapped city power supply, quite similar to EV; although many urban farms have invested in renewable energy as well.

Moreover, urban water and soil might be more contaminated with urban waste such as paint, plastic and lead which might pollute the produce.

That said, food grown in urban farms can be as nutritious and perhaps even fresher (due to short delivery distances) and cleaner (no soil) and always available (as opposed to seasonal). Many cater to hyper-local needs and are non-GMO, and chemical pesticide-free. Additional nutrients in the form of supplements or fortifications can also be added.

Here is a deeper dive into some of the related areas …


Hydroponics is a gardening method that allows for plants to be grown without the use of soil. This is done using techniques such as Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Drip, Ebb and flow.

Nutrient film technique (NFT) is a hydroponic technique where in a very shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth is re-circulated past the bare roots of plants in a watertight gully, also known as channels.


Aquaponics involves growing fishes and plants together within the same environment.

Techniques such as NFT, Media Bed, and Deep Water Culture (DWC) are utilised.

The Media Bed form of aquaponics uses containers filled with rock media such as gravel or expanded clay (hydroton) to support the roots of plants. The bed is flooded and drained of nutrient rich water to give the plants the nutrients and oxygen they need. Media Bed technique is considered best for small scale, but can get challenging to scale, and has a clogging issue with high fish densities.

Deep water culture (DWC) is a hydroponic method of plant production by means of suspending the plant roots in a solution of nutrient-rich, oxygenated water.

Here is a comparison between these techniques:


Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in the air or mist environment without soil or an aggregate medium. It is a subset of hydroponics.

Vertical Farming and Tower Gardens

Top 10 Herbs to Grow in the Tower Garden

Urban Fish Farming

A variety of fish such as Tilapia, Catfish, Perch, Carp, Hybrid Striped Bass, Trout, Salmon are grown in urban fish farms, along with prawns, crabs, lobsters.

Types of farms include hybrid aquaponic farms and dedicated fish farms.

Electroculture Farming

Electroculture / Magnetoculture is the practice of applying strong electric fields or other sources of small air ions to growing plants (faster).

It accelerates seed germination rate and it also has a positive effect on plant growth.

Urban Apiaries

Bees have always played a major role in the food chain, in being expert pollinators.

However in the recent past, bee populations across the world have dwindled. So anything that helps conserve bees is critical.

Urban Dairies, Poultries and Meat Farms

Urban and peri-urban farms are attempting to supply the local dairy, eggs, poultry and meat needs.

Then there is urban snail, cricket, rabbit farming … and caviar.

Urban Agriculture : Cricket farming is the latest money code.

Future of Food

“Some leading urban agriculturists envision city skyscrapers filled with floors of vegetable patches and orchards. Glass windows would let in optimal natural light, and conveyor belts would ensure that the plants have equal time in the sun. Others imagine cities with gardens on every rooftop. Plants would be watered naturally, and could beautify the skyline as an added bonus.” Source: GlobalCitizen.org

As new regions such as South East Asia, Africa, Middle East adopt urban farming and new urban farms are being setup all over, existing ones are scaling up as well.

These ideas are now extending to gardens at sea as well as into space.

The Urban Farming market is forecasted to grow at a brisk CAGR to reach $236 billion by 2025.

Although urban farming is not without its drawbacks and challenges, it contributes significantly to solving the global food puzzle and making the world a greener place.