I’m not so sure urban agriculture is going to develop along the lines of the “hipster boutique” model described below. Not only is it far too energy and capital intensive, it’s easily criticized as culturally elitist (with some justification), which also limits its potential to spread. Of course, the Cuban model of urban agriculture is none of those things – but good luck promoting that in America without being attacked as a communist!
Gotham Greens is a 15,000-square-foot hydroponic farm on the roof of a Brooklyn warehouse. It had its first harvest in June, and expects to produce 100 tons of food per year. The crops (mostly lettuce) grow in rows of white plastic tubing, their roots massaged by recycled water, under grow-lights and fans controlled by a central computer system. The system collects data from sensors throughout the room and adjusts the environment accordingly. This pampered produce will eventually end up on restaurant menus and shelves at stores like Whole Foods.
Two years ago, Forbes predicted that by the year 2018, 20 percent of the food consumed in U.S. cities will be grown in places like this. It’s safe to say that’s almost certainly not going to happen. Right now, urban-grown produce represents a minuscule slice of the food system. But there are several plausible scenarios that could make such food more commonplace in the city kitchen of the future.
Several of these scenarios are growing more likely by the day. If energy prices spike, your average grapefruit’s 1,500-mile journey to your fridge could make local food seem cheaper by comparison. Droughts are becoming more common, and soil-free hydroponic agriculture uses a fraction of the water of conventional farming and can easily be set up in urban environments. And there’s always the unforeseen Black Swan event: World War II “victory gardens” made urban farming a temporary reality for millions in the early 1940s.