Urban Farming in Australia – Good for the Environment and For You

Urban Farm Plot

With the Coronavirus outbreak making world headlines, there’s widespread anxiety about food security. A lot of people are suddenly thinking about self-sufficiency, or as close as they can get to it. And that means growing one’s own food.

While many experts believe that the virus will “burn out,” the world is learning a lot of lessons about how fragile the things we have always assumed will always be there really are. Simple things like finding safe food in stores suddenly sound riskier and scarier than ever before. 

Beyond Coronavirus: More Reasons why Australians are Growing Veg from Seed

Amidst the current health scare, let’s not forget about global warming, a phenomenon that is making itself felt across Australia and the world. People who have hardly thought of it before are looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint while growing awareness on plastic pollution creates a niggle every time we go shopping and take home those plastic-packed fruits and veg.

Finally, though less in the news than it was a year or two ago, we realize that widespread pesticide use affects us all. With bees and other pollinators dying, we fear that pollination of fruit crops may become a problem in the near future. And there are disturbing health fears connected to pesticide and herbicide residues from foods produced in commercial agriculture.

That’s not to mention the argument about GMOs, another controversy we aren’t sure how to handle. While rice containing a Vitamin A precursor might sound like a good thing, other developments may not be as healthy. 

Finally, there are concerns that excessive hybridization may be removing valuable genes from the gene pool upon which our food crops rely. For example, one plant disease could conceivably create a famine if the plant population lacks genetic diversity. And if those disease-resistant genes have been completely bred out of the gene pool in exchange for higher yields, the consequences could be far-reaching.

People in Australia are Turning to Urban Farming

When you can’t be sure that the systems you’ve always relied on will continue to support you, you begin to make your own plans. And judging from the current spike in seed sales, that’s just what people are doing right now. 

A lot of our clients are “urban farmers,” people who are turning balcony space, rooftop space, and suburban gardens into food-baskets that offer the promise of healthier, more environment-friendly foods

There’s also a trend towards “heritage” and “open-pollinated” varieties that offer greater genetic diversity than the very scientifically-bred hybrids. Yields and uniformity may be lower, but other valuable characteristics such as drought tolerance and disease resistance may be preserved in these “old-fashioned” plant varieties.

But, just how feasible is it to grow food in a limited urban space? What tips and tricks can we offer? We take a closer look at some of the urban farming methods in use today. First up, let’s look at the benefits of urban farming.

Urban Farming in Australia: the Benefits

  • Reduced carbon footprint: When buying food in stores, you may find lots of out-of-season produce. It may have traveled halfway around the world to reach you. Or, it may have gone from a growing country to a processing country and THEN to you. The carbon footprint on these foods could be enormous!
  • Reduced cost: Sure, growing plants isn’t free, but if you grow the smart way, you will pay far less for premium quality food. If you’re sold on organic foods, you will know that certified ones are super-expensive. That’s because the farmers face more losses and must go through an expensive certification process. 
  • Better nutrition and flavour: From the minute when fruit or veg is picked, nutrition is lost. Vitamins go first. Over time, there’s also a loss in hydration (aka juiciness) and sugar content (sweetness). Some of the foods we buy spend a lot of time in cold storage before they’re sold, crossing the country, or even the world, to reach us. As good as when they were picked? Not!
  • Little to no plastic pollution: In manufacture and in disposal, plastics are bad for the planet. Sure, that cling-wrap on your store-bought broccoli doesn’t look like it has much of an impact – now multiply that by a few million because it’s not just you that’s buying it!
  • Little to no pesticide exposure: When you grow your own food, you know EVERYTHING about it. You know what you put into the soil, and if you sprayed with pesticides, you know when they were used and what kind of pesticide was applied. You just don’t know that when you buy commercially. Even the strictest controls may miss certain residues, and there is such a thing as “acceptable” pesticide residue. Would you accept it? Maybe not, but you probably don’t even know about it!
  • Food security: Supply chains CAN be disrupted. The current world crisis illustrates this. Will you always find food in the shops when needed? Possibly not. Will you find food in your garden? Well, that’s up to you.

Urban Farming Tips and Tricks

While some urban farming techniques will require equipment and close supervision, others are pretty basic. Some of the more complex, space-conserving, and resource-conserving methods will require specialized techniques that aren’t for just anyone. However, for the technically-minded, and those who don’t mind investing a bit more, they’re quite attractive.

Intensive methods  include: 

  • Hydroponics: Growing crops in a nutrient solution. Although water is the primary medium, this method actually uses less water than conventional growing methods. However, you will probably be using proprietary liquid feeds, and most of these aren’t “organic” in the strictest sense of the word.
  • Aquaponics: Mooted by some as the solution to food security, even in the most water-stressed parts of the world, aquaponics is growing in popularity. It combines hydroponics (growing veg in a circulated nutrient solution) with fish growing. The fish provide the nutrients, and the plants clean up the circulated water, using fish waste-products as nutrients. Both fish and veg can be harvested.
  • Semi-hydroponics / aquaponics: In these systems, growing in an organic or inorganic medium is combined with recirculated, nutrient-rich water. Some vertical gardens also rely on this principle.

Less intensive methods, more accessible to the “average Joe” include:

  • Standard veggie gardens: It needs no explaining, but it does take a little planning to ensure constant abundance and takes up a fair amount of garden space.
  • Permaculture gardens: In this variation of normal veggie gardening, the focus is on minimal use of resources and organic methods as well as ongoing self-sustainability. Age-old methods are combined to create a self-sustaining food-producing system.
  • Container gardening: It’s perfectly feasible to produce food in pots or other containers outdoors or indoors in good light or plant-friendly artificial light. Water usage is generally lower, and a wide variety of crops can be produced.
  • Vertical gardens or “Living Walls”: For the space-conscious, it makes sense to expand space devoted to food-growing upwards rather than sideways. Systems vary. There are low-cost systems using “upcycled waste” such as old shipping pallets with soft-drink bottles as containers. Some like homemade fabric planting pockets suspended on a framework. Meanwhile, the less cost-conscious may turn to commercial, modular vertical gardening systems. 

Will You Be Self-Sufficient?

For most of us, the answer is a probable “no.” However, it is possible to produce all or most of certain food crops at home. Greens are the easiest. You can even grow them on a well-lit windowsill. If your space is very limited, the larger root crops and sprawling vines will be harder unless you can find compact varieties. 

Having said that, we can go a long way towards growing our own healthy food at home, even when we have very little space. And apart from the benefits we’ve already listed, it’s FUN. It can also be sociable, bringing families and communities together in an exchange of plants and surplus harvest. 

It all Begins With Seeds

At Seeds of Plenty, we know that you’re looking for viable seeds that will result in a healthy, tasty, and environment-friendly crop. We choose the best varieties we can find: tried and tested hybrids, open-pollinated standbys, and age-old heritage varieties so that YOU can choose the food crops that work for you. 

Support your existing gardening hobby, start fresh for the first time, or find those unusual varieties you always wanted but never could find. Visit our online seed store today.

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