Why we believe vertical, urban farming can help save the planet!
Updated: Apr 29
Increasingly, we are all becoming aware of the negative impact of our food system on the environment. As individuals many of us are taking action to reduce the environmental impact of our diets, whether we’re reducing our meat and dairy consumption by trying out ‘meat-free mondays’ or ‘veganuary’, buying zero waste foods, trying to buy more locally produced food or even growing our own.
Ultimately, we are looking for ways to minimise the negative environmental impacts of our food system. At Square Mile Farms, we believe that urban farming can play an important role in building a sustainable food system. Not only can we reduce food miles and prevent natural habitats from being converted for growing, we can also re-engage people to help them understand how food reaches their plates, which we believe is essential to enact real change going forward.
How does the current food system negatively impact the environment?
Conventional industrial farming contributes significantly to issues such as deforestation, biodiversity loss and the release of carbon emissions. According to the Food Climate Research Network, the global food system is responsible for around 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions. The WWF notes that food is responsible for 60% of global biodiversity loss and the UNFAO records that food production accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals.
The clearing of forests for livestock or growing crops is doubly concerning: not only do these practices have their own environmental impacts, e.g. methane emissions and issues related to fertiliser run-off, but they are also destroying forests which are important ‘carbon sinks’, absorbing approximately 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide yearly according to the UN.
Clearly, our current food system is flawed and this is only set to worsen as demands increase.
Infographic from: FCRN, ‘What is the food system’s contribution to the global GHG emissions total?’
Growing pressures on the food system
By 2050 the UN predicts the world population will grow to 9 billion: this is expected to require 60% more food and increase demand for water by 20% in the agriculture sector alone. So we need to find ways of making the food system more sustainable. We need to increase food production, while minimising the environmental impact, or ideally making it negligible.
How can hydroponic farming in offices lessen the environmental impact of our food system?
We believe hydroponic, vertical farming is part of the solution to this issue. This method of growing food uses around 90% less water than conventional agricultural systems and can increase crop yields by up to 500%. So we can tackle two key problems in our current food system, the demand for water (by using considerably less) and the spatial impact (growing vertically allows a much more efficient use of space). By using existing urban spaces, such as workplaces, we can grow veg and herbs without converting more land for agricultural purposes.
Growing in offices also has the benefit of reducing food miles. By bringing food production to population centres, and further to that, by bringing it to people’s workplaces we are able to provide fresh produce where people are. If you’re taking home fresh produce once a week from work, there are virtually no food miles involved as you’d be travelling to and from work anyway!
Our office farm installations.
Another important way in which office farming can help improve our food system, is by re-engaging consumers in cities. Writing for the World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur, a champion of Circular Economy, emphasised the important role cities will have in achieving a sustainable food system, especially because “80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050”. She notes that cities should source food locally where possible and that they should avoid being “passive consumers” and instead, use their demand power to reward responsible farming practices. Office farming allows us to bring food production to the forefront of people’s minds, driving engagement and encouraging conversation around our food system. We believe this is vital in order to educate and to inspire the change that we need to secure a sustainable future.
We believe that individual action is important when it comes to enacting change, but to achieve this we need innovative ideas that make it achievable for consumers to make such changes a reality. That’s why we bring urban farming to offices. We install farm walls and displays to improve employee wellbeing, drive engagement and of course, provide fresh, nutritious produce. If you’d like to find out more about our offering click here. You can also sign up to our newsletter to receive weekly tips and advice on sustainable living, as well as a round-up of relevant news.
Bradley, P. and Marulanda, C., ‘Simplified Hydroponics to Reduce Global Hunger’, Acta Hortic. 554, 289-296.
Innovate UK, ‘Predictions - The Future of Food’.
MacArthur, Ellen, ‘Our food system is no longer fit for the 21st century’.
UNFAO, ‘Water Use’.
UN News, ‘Climate Change’.
UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, ‘The United Nations world water development report, 2016’.