8 Edible City

Kaie Kuldkepp


Globally, more people live in urban areas than in rural. 54 per cent of the global population was living in cities in 2014. It is estimated that by 2050 it is 66 per cent who resides in urban areas. Continuing population growth and urbanization[1] will add 2.5 billion people to urban population by 2050, nearly 90 per cent of the growth is concentrated in Asia and Africa[2].

Urbanization uses up millions of acres of productive farmland. Pressuring also natural habitats urbanization results in the degradation of the ecosystem. The urban sprawl creates wastelands like brown fields, roof tops, etc[3].

Therefore urbanization challenges sustainable development[4] in urban as well as in rural areas and it is relevant to look for solutions for improving the life quality of rural as well as urban residents[5].


Global diet

Food security and stability has become a major problem. The global diet has been narrowing which makes humans more dependent on few crops that are more vulnerable to climate conditions, pests and plant diseases. Increased growth of monocultures[6] has led to the spread of plant diseases and pests that affect harvest diversity. The higher diversity of plants (polycultures[7]) in an ecosystem reduces their vulnerability towards pests.

According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization the diversity of crops has decreased 75 per cent during the 20th century. Following the same trend by 2050 1/3 of today’s edible plants have supposedly disappeared.

Therefore in order to conserve global food supply it is essential to increase crop diversity and the accessibility to various crops, including traditional local plant breeds as well as their wild versions[8].


Urban farming

Urban farming can be seen as a solution to sustainable urban environment, affecting also rural natural areas. Urban farming is also a key to improve global diet and food supply.

Urban agriculture on SABS school rooftop in Senegal (by Kaie Kuldkepp 2015)


The positive side effects of urban farming:

1. Increased food safety and quality of nutrition.

Urban farming contributes to the decrease of hunger, creating an additional social guaranty and direct access to food supply. Urban farming contributes to better access to fresh and healthy food. Practical experience of growing your own food improves our knowledge of food and our eating habits[9].


Example: In Peetri school that locates in Estonian town Narva students have been involved in the greening of the school. The student competitions for garden design led to the construction of several flower beds. The school involves also othre types of green spaces. 
The “Tropical house” is a space in the school where students brought different plants and made informative signs. Now the area works as a restorative place as well as a nature education classroom. 
Alpinarium is space in the school yard that focuses on teaching students about the specifics of Estonian climate and vegetation. Students made their own personal plantings that they’re now taking care of, learning about the whole process of agricultural produce. 
Peetri school is a great example of giving environmental education through hands on environmental projects in the school territory itself.


Educational permaculture project at SABS in Senegal (by Kaie Kuldkepp 2015)

2. Positive effect on your body and mind.

Growing your own food not only increases accessibility to food, but also changes the relation with the food, the environment and yourself.

Green urban space, agricultural practice and plants have positive effect to your physical and mental health. Urban farming facilitates physical activity outdoors and contributes to restoration from stress. Nature has therapeutic affect for our body and mind[10].


3. Development of the neighborhood and stronger community feeling. 

Having community gardens in cities offers a place for the community to meet and socialize. Urban farming brings various groups of people together, interrupting barriers like participation fee, language, age or education that often stop people from socializing. The synergy encourages people to contribute to their neighborhood in order to make it a safer and nicer place. Person working in community garden is no longer a passive consumer, but an active urban citizen, who influences urban processes[11].


Example: In Estonian town Tartu a group of enthusiastic volunteers established a community garden (Tartu Maheaed) that is based on the principles of ecological farming. They established a contract with the city to freely use the empty urban lots for agricultural practice. Everybody interested in participating can sign up in the waiting list and once there’s open plot one will receive 100 m2 of land where they can grow their plants. The whole agricultural activity has to follow the principles of organic farming. 


4. Reduced environmental impact

One of the principles of urban farming is to think globally, act locally. Urban farming mitigates negative environmental impact, decreasing the dependence on global agriculture that is based on fossil fuels as well as reducing the need to transport the food supply from far distances. Growing crops in cities means growing in smaller quantities and according to permaculture principles[12] which leads to the cut in use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Urban farming practice contributes to local natural biodiversity and urban gardens stabilize local urban climate[13].


Examples of urban farming techniques

Raised beds gardening

Raised beds are suitable for urban farming, because they:

  • increase the amount of food from a small space
  • absorb rain water, releasing it slowly over time, contributing to flood protection
  • use garden waste (leaves, branches, roots, etc)
  • create an educational community space
  • provide a barrier to noise pollution or unattractive urban landscape (heavy trafficked roads, parking lots, etc.)
  • are suitable for growing all sorts of different vegetables[14]


Vertical gardening

Vertical gardening is suitable for urban farming, because:

  • Vertical gardening increases the amount of food from a small space
  • Vertical position allows the plants to dry out fast – advantage to plants susceptible to fungus diseases

Vertical gardening is suitable for vining and sprawling plants, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, beans, etc[15].

  • Monitoring and controlling pests is easier because they are right in front of your eyes!
  • Harvesting is easier, because there is no hunching over
  • No waste because of overripe veggies and fruits hidden under lush growth
  • Vertical gardens are better accessible for gardeners with disabilities who can pick from a chair or garden seat[16].

Container gardening

Container farming is suitable for urban farming, because

  • it is flexible in its spatial use. One can create an urban garden in vacant city lots, brown fields, parking lots, roof tops
  • it allows maximum utilization of limited space
  • it allows planting variety of plants in one container, which ensures the health of plants due to diversity
  • it saves water and soil as containers hold the run offs of soil and water
  • it uses up urban wasteland[17]


Square foot gardening

Square foot gardening is suitable for urban farming, because:

  • it is compact and increases the amount of food from a small space
  • it does not take a lot of work
  • it reduces the spread of pests and plant diseases[18]




  1. What are the new definitions you learnt in this chapter?
  2. Research on possible urban farming projects in your home country/town/neighborhood. 
  3. Research on local plants suitable for urban farming practice in your home/school. 
  4. Find out about additional urban farming technique that is not listed in this chapter.

  1.  Urbanization is a population shift from rural to urban areas that predominantly results in the physical growth of urban areas. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urbanization. Accessed in February 2015.)
  2.  Source: http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/Highlights/WUP2014-Highlights.pdf. Accessed in February 2015.
  3.  Source: http://www.telegram.ee/toit-ja-tervis/pollukultuuride-mitmekesisuse-langus-on-suureks-ohuks-maailma-toidulauale#.VLjcj1pK594. Accessed in February 2015.
  4.  Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.(https://www.iisd.org/sd/. Accessed in February 2015.)
  5.  Source: http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/Highlights/WUP2014-Highlights.pdf. Accessed in February 2015.
  6.  Monoculture is the agricultural practice of growing a single crop species over a wide area for many consecutive years. It’s implementation leads to large harvest from minimal resources, while at the same time reduces the quality of the soil and biodiversity of the field. Monocultures lead to quicker spread of pests and diseases.Corn, soybeans, wheat, and to some degree rice, are the most common monocultures. Also coffee beans, bananas and cotton are common monocultures.
  7.  The opposite of monoculture is polyculture which is the mixing of different crops in the same space at the same time. Polyculture imitates the diversity of natural ecosystems. Polyculture often requires more labor, but has several advantages over monoculture. The mixing of diverse crops leads to resistance to disease as well as increases local biodiversity while offering habitat for more species. 
  8.  Source: http://www.telegram.ee/toit-ja-tervis/pollukultuuride-mitmekesisuse-langus-on-suureks-ohuks-maailma-toidulauale#.VLjcj1pK594. Accessed in February 2015.
  9.  Tint, Sander. 2009/2010. Söödav Linn I. MTÜ Linnalabor, Tallinn.
  10.  Tint, Sander. 2009/2010. Söödav Linn I. MTÜ Linnalabor, Tallinn.
  11.  Tint, Sander. 2009/2010. Söödav Linn I. MTÜ Linnalabor, Tallinn. 
  12.  Permaculture (permanent culture) is an agricultural practice that observes ecosystem and imitates natural processes according to local context. Permaculture relies mainly on ecology and relations between various ecosystem components in order to create a wholesome self-acting system where all the components (incl. humans and social aspects) complement each other. Permaculture seeks to minimize waste, human labor and energy input. Organic farming is the agricultural practice that restores, maintains and enhances ecological harmony. Promoting biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity organic farming relies on biological pest control, compost, crop rotation and green manure. It strictly excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, human sewage sludge and genetically modified organisms.Organic farming is based on use of various crops in the same places during consecutive years. Instead of synthetic fertilizers organic farming uses agricultural waste like manure (=green manure). Biological pest control is based on using natural mechanisms to limit spreading of weeds, pests, plant diseases. 
  13.  Tint, Sander. 2009/2010. Söödav Linn I. MTÜ Linnalabor, Tallinn.
  14.  Source: http://www.permaculture.co.uk/. Accessed in February 2015.
  15.  Source: https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-335/426-335.html. Accessed in February 2015.
  16.  Source: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/vertical-gardening. Accessed in February 2015.
  17.  Source: http://www.technologyforthepoor.com/UrbanAgriculture/Garden.htm. Accessed in February 2015.
  18.  Tint, Sander. 2009/2010. Söödav Linn I. MTÜ Linnalabor, Tallinn.


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