Report Synopsis

More Food, Less Earth. Investigating emerging methods to grow more horticulture produce with less space and fewer inputs

Jan Vydra

With global population estimated to reach 10 billion people by 2050 (United Nations, 2017) and an industrial food system that is continually scrutinised, a select group of companies and associations have emerged which have started developing green cities, based on concepts that produce more food utilising less earth.

On the outskirts of many Australian and global cities there are traditional market gardens producing many of the vegetable and fruits that the nearby city dwellers require to consume at the kitchen table or at a nearby restaurant.

The idea of cultivating food has been in our culture since humanity decided to no longer be hunter gatherers. In the beginning, cultivating food was a community activity, getting people involved in the process and reaping the rewards of the fresh produce that provided nourishment required for the community.

Since the industrial revolution, big food companies have won our hearts and minds as we all opened our wallets to purchase the new, well designed, marketed and advertised food items with all the right artificial preservatives and flavourings. These companies, fuelled by the modern consumer’s desire for more variety, have removed the natural seasonality of food products and resulted in produce travelling up to half way around the world before it is consumed (Kowitt, 2016).

Coinciding with the industrialisation of our food, was the commoditisation of our agricultural food source, which has challenged farmers profitability for decades as productivity was the measure for survival, not value or nutrition. This commoditisation has further disconnected urban societies from engaging and pursuing careers in farming.

However, in recent years the trend has been changing, as the modern consumer is seeking information about the food items that they are putting in their bodies, as health and wellbeing extends the traditional consumer-choice drivers of price, flavour and convenience (Deloitte, 2016).

This backdrop of industrialised food, the commoditisation of the farmer and the evolving trend in consumer preferences has created an opportunity for a new type of high value farming that is commonly referred to as urban farming.

Urban farming is one of the oldest methods of farming, in fact, it is where it all started. The resurgence of urban farming varies from the simple community gardens that are reconnecting urban societies and encouraging our younger generation to learn how to cultivate plants for consumption, to more sophisticated farm systems utilising new growing methods, such as vertical and factory farming. These new developments utilise modern technology and “big data” to try and cultivate plants more efficiently.

This study evaluates four globally emerging concepts and frameworks for urban farming and discusses five business cases, with a particular focus on leafy green vegetable production, highlighting five key recommendations which would generate more food using less earth.

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