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Weekly Trend: The Future of Farming Finds Its Roots in the City

“Buying Local” is taking on a whole new meaning for city dwellers.

In what the industry is calling “Urban Farming  2.0,” gone are the days when buying local meant picking up vegetables at the CSA or tending a small community garden. Instead, startups are working to revolutionize agriculture by repurposing city spaces like roofs and abandoned warehouses into futuristic farms.

“As the popularity of local food has exploded over the past several years, advocates have started pushing to bring the movement to urban areas… small-scale farming can create jobs, strengthen communities, and improve access to and education about fresh, healthy foods,” The Guardian reported.

And tech startups are taking note.

“There are lots of interesting technologies that will come out to automate indoor farming and make it even more efficient than it is now,”  said Chad Sykes, CEO of Indoor Harvest, a company that specializes in building indoor farms. “Companies are getting into it because they see a niche they can fill.”

Gotham Greens is one of those companies. Located in the heart of Brooklyn, New York City, Gotham Greens built the first commercial-size rooftop greenhouse in the U.S. in 2010  and uses hydroponics—a method of farming that allows crops to grow without the need for soil. According to their website, “All products are grown using recirculating irrigation systems that capture all water for re-use and are free of any harmful chemical pesticides, insecticides or herbicides.” Gotham Greens also uses solar panels, LED lighting, thermal curtains and more for their crops.

But Gotham Greens is just one of many startups investing in the urban farming market. The Los Angeles-based Sustainable Microfarms is “taking a systematic approach to disrupting while simultaneously empowering the agriculture industry.” They use a new technology that “automatically monitors plants 24/7  and takes the required actions maximize health and growth.”

Growing food indoors uses 98 percent less water and 70 percent less fertilizer than traditional methods, according to the Association for Vertical Farming. However, critics cite that with “high-tech growing gear” comes challenges like higher operating costs, as many startups are paying to light their crops instead of utilizing the sun. There are also limits on what kinds of plants can grow indoors and questions about demand levels.

But it seems like urban farming start ups are willing to take the risk. Whether they will take root long term in cities is yet to be seen, but Dickson Despomier, a microbiology professory at Colubumbia University, thinks things are headed in the right direction.

“Urban agriculture is a growth industry,” he said.

Katie Thompson

Katie is the editor of Shared Justice, an online journal for millennials published by the Center for Public Justice. A proud native of New Jersey, she now resides in Washington,…