When I pictured myself on Urban Farm, I envisioned acres of rolling green atop some non-existent Dublin skyscraper. Of course the sun will be shining and I’ll probably be knawing on a raw carrot amidst rows of fluffy lettuces and vine tomatoes. A reality check cuts to a rainy rooftop littered with industrial blue plastic barrels and wooden crates that have seen better days. Despite the aesthetic disappointment, which, in fairness, is hardly justified, as the roof farm isn’t even up and running yet, I am blown away by the concept and its myriad of layers. Beneath me is the workshop where every system on the farm is designed, developed and constructed. Multi-tier beds and tower barrels, made from upcycled waste, that will allow 60 plants grow where traditionally only 5 should fit; tomatoes, lettuces and cucumbers at the sides, topped with strawberries and raspberries. An aquaphonic system whereby fish poo fertilizes and feeds herbs and plants. Your meat and veg in one fell swoop. This is hardcore sustainable living and although my preconceived notion of how Urban Farm should look has not yet been realized. I have no doubt this is an oasis of greenery is the making.
“Urban Farm is primarily an experiment in how we feed ourselves and how we use space,” explains Andrew Douglas. Fifty percent of the world’s population is now living in cities as opposed to rural areas. It makes sense that food production should follow consumers to the concrete jungle. The concept of growing optimum amounts of food from ones direct inhabitance is nothing new. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years. Although the terrain has changed, this is still farming. Just as the hunter-gatherers had to invent and refine rural farming techniques and equipment, city dwellers now must follow in these ancient footsteps. Admittedly 2013’s hunter-gathers have it slightly easier thanks to communication channels such as the Internet and well, linguistics.
Cynicism aside, urban farming is revolutionary. Not only is it putting organic food on our doorstep but also it offers an alternative to dumping durable plastics and woods, one of Urban Farms primary ethoses. It is their refusal to buy purpose made products that sets Urban Farm apart from any other project of its kind. “We’re not felling any trees for wood,” says Paddy and the containers are all factory waste. The rooftop greenery act as a carbon sink, lowering the carbon emissions of the entire city as well as the heating cost of the building by up to 30%. As Urban Farm is still in its infancy, the fruits of labor have not yet been reaped. But, when the time does come, vegetables born and bred in Dublin will be gracing an Urban Farm café as well as businesses choosing to outsource.
The concept of urban farming is not new but it is relatively unexplored.
Its potential is vast and varies from people growing Urban Farm seeds at home and selling them back for a profit to teaching Third World Countries how to build and use systems such as the barrel tower. Rather than claiming to have solved world hunger, urban farming is a radical new approach to agriculture combining eco-friendly engineering and traditional farming with an aim to grow the maximum amount of food in limited space whilst keeping labor to a minimum.