Farming Upwards: How to Address the Rising Demand for Food with Urban Agriculture


Timothy RJ Eveland

2014-11-30 (As this topic is being discussed more often, I felt obliged to release a paper I wrote in 2014)


The global population has been estimated to reach over 9 billion by the year 2050 (Ash, 2013). Within thirty-five years, global food demand is also estimated to increase by 70 to 100 percent (Koscica, 2014). So in a world where farmland is disappearing and urbanization is increasing due to rising populations (Koscica, 2014), how will people manage to grow enough food (vegetables) to feed the world and maintain a sustainable supply after the year 2050? To answer this question, I will first explore two ways in which people are already trying to grow more food, farmland preservation and garden sharing. Then I will disclose how urban agriculture can combine these two already thoughtful ideas into the ultimate solution for feeding a rising population.

Lori Lynch and Wesley N. Musser, authors of “A Relative Efficiency Analysis of Farmland Preservation Programs,” analyze the benefits that farmland preservation programs can allow us; however, the data does not look pleasing. Lynch and Musser explain, “…agricultural land preservation programs seek to maximize the number of acres, to preserve productive farms, to preserve contiguous farms, and to preserve threatened farms…” (2001). But states like Maryland in the USA have lost half of their total farmland despite the inauguration of preservation programs (Lynch and Musser, 2001).  “The Maryland Office of Planning predicts that if the current trends continue, 500,000 more acres of farms, forests, and other open spaces will be developed over the next 25 years” (Lynch and Musser, 2001). This means that farmland preservation programs need to be better enforced by governments if they wish to stop urban growth. But is urban growth really the problem? I will get back to that question shortly.

Let’s look at another way in which people are currently attempting to increase food supply. Analisa Blake and Denise Cloutier-Fisher, the authors of “Backyard bounty: exploring the benefits and challenges of backyard garden sharing projects,” explore the benefits that backyard garden sharing projects can allow the world. Similar to community gardens, backyard sharing projects allow landowners to share their gardens with people who do not have their own land to grow things (Blake and Cloutier-Fisher, 2009). Rather than growing food for the sake of selling it, backyard sharing projects grow food for the sake of sharing it with others. But even though garden sharing projects grow healthy food for people to share, the sharing only happens within a community. Therefore, garden sharing projects may impact individuals but would need to be implemented around the world in order to fully combat the rising demand for food.

Now back to that question. Is urban growth the problem that stops farmers from growing enough food? The answer is no because farming in urban environments is easy and convenient. Backyard garden sharing projects are just one example of urban agriculture. But if all the wealthy people in the suburbs shared their gardens with poor people from the city, would this be enough to feed the world population when it reaches 9 billion? Ken Ash, author of “Solving the food crisis,” warns us that “…the world as a whole is unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the world’s population who suffer from hunger” (2013). Therefore, recent strategies to combat lack of food have proven to be inadequate because hunger is still an ongoing problem. This means that new techniques must be implemented if the old ones don’t work.

I believe that combining land preservation and garden sharing with urban agriculture can create a sustainable system to produce enough food for everyone. ‘How?’ Allow me to explain.

Preserving huge  fields to grow a single crop is in itself a waste of land because contemporary farmers are not harnessing the full potential and possibility that technology can provide us. For example, contemporary farmers use greenhouses with only one level while technology, more specifically a design of my own creation, allows us the ability to make greenhouses that have eight levels of crops. ‘How?’ Mist watering systems, mirrors, ladders, light bulbs, and organic fertilizers would easily allow greenhouses to have more than one level of crops. Even adding just one level (vegetables above vegetables) to each greenhouse could double the production of food. And greenhouses do not necessarily need to be on farms to begin with. Imagine if rooftops on cities were all covered in greenhouses. An eight level greenhouse on the roof of a skyscraper can protect the vegetables against pollution and allow people in the building to have a more convenient way to get their vegetables.

Community garden sharing projects would work superbly well if people who owned golf courses would only buy into the idea. Instead of hitting a white little ball around a big empty field, hungry volunteers could dig holes, plant seeds, and harvest crops. Besides golf courses, backyards and front yards in Canada also mostly consist of grass. Rather than wasting Canadian backyards to grow grass, community gardens could be grown so that hungry people in the area would not need to starve. So much land is wasted by grass in Canada that farmland preservation techniques would not even be needed if Canadian families just agreed to plant kale seeds instead of grass seeds. And to go even further, imagine if instead of gardens in Canadian backyards, families used their land even more efficiently by maintaining eight level greenhouses. Essentially, the world food surpluses could generate to the point of ridiculousness if urban/suburban agriculture was the norm. Western traditions of getting everything from the store seem futile after exploring urban agriculture possibilities. If people could only look at space in a different way, feeding the futures growing populations would become a jovial community project rather than a political and scientific debate because with organic fertilizer, you can grow vegetables essentially anywhere.

All we need to do is begin to farm upwards rather than farm outwards, crops above crops rather than crops beside crops. There are enough sustainable types of vegetables on Earth to feed our growing population many times over if we just start to plant seeds in places where we usually don’t. Imagine if you could eat breakfast by picking vegetables during your walk to work. To create sustainable food supplies, proper use of space and land must be legally inaugurated and codified (for example, government funding for growing tomatoes in school classrooms). Indeed, farming outwards is ineffective. Farming upwards (on roofs) is the answer for solving the future’s rising demand for food.


Work Cited List

Ash, Ken. “Promoting Inclusive Growth.” In OECD Yearbook 2013, 54-5. Paris: OECD, 2013.

Blake, Analisa, and Denise Cloutier-Fisher. “Backyard Bounty: Exploring the Benefits and

Challenges of Backyard Garden Sharing Projects.” Local Environment 14, no. 9 (2009): 797-807.

Koscica, Milica. “Agropolis: The Role of Urban Agriculture in Addressing Food Insecurity in

Developing Cities.” Journal of International Affairs 67, no. 2 (2014): 177-86.

Lynch, Lori, and Wesley Musser. “A Relative Efficiency Analysis of Farmland Preservation

Programs.” Land Economics 77, no. 4 (2001): 577-93.