Imagining the Future of Sustainable Urban Agriculture

867595_closer_look_2Take a great leap forward. Move forward a few decades, and imagine the peak oil and low carbon living are here. There’s less oil available and it is more expensive. One of the most profound changes has occurred in agricultural areas. Agriculture has been transformed. Without cheap fuel to use to power farms and import food, farming has changed to become more sustainable.

How has agriculture changed? First off, it has moved from those urban fringes into the urban areas themselves. We see the transformation beginning now, with organizations like Growing Power changing urban wastelands into fertile teaching farms. People cluster around sustainable food centers and visit teaching hubs to learn how to grow food and collect water on balconies, rooftops, and urban and suburban gardens. There are networks of produce growers in the cities, true urban agriculture on what used to be front lawns. Now these lawns support local farmers’ markets and restaurants feature local produce when it is in season.

Root cellars and pantries abound too, although these do not look like the root cellars and pantries of centuries gone by. They might be a shelf near the coat closet or an old freezer in the basement. People are learning how to save food again by preserving it. Delicious apple sauces, salsas and jams fill the shelves, and root crops like potatoes and squash fill the root cellars. Sustainable practices like gleaning have also become more common. Those who have fruit trees hold community parties to harvest the fruit and turn it into sauces and jams.

Attitudes towards gardening have changed too. Since gardening has become agriculture and has moved from a decorative activity to a subsistence one, people have started to implement more intensive agriculture around their homes. Gone are the pesticides and chemical fertilizers. People work to keep their compost rather than throwing out food waste or recycling it, because they want to create fertile soil for the garden. Food forests and the ideals of permaculture are something that people study, learning from neighbors how best to grow the most food in the least amount of space, while creating a healthy and thriving ecosystem.

At the moment, the rise of interest in sustainable food, food security and organic and urban agriculture seems to indicate a turning point of sorts. In the City of Vancouver, there are beehives on the rooftops now, urban fruit tree gleaning, and food security organizations that work with and for those in need of fresh produce. Community gardens and even urban farms are growing. Is the growth of sustainable urban agriculture a plausible and probable future?