Urban Agriculture – Ready for its Close-Up?

Earlier this year, I had the privilege if sitting on a panel which analyzed a fascinating and innovative proposed urban agriculture development project in the Bronx. The event was very interesting and demonstrated the many benefits of urban agriculture, as well as the growing level of support for the concept.

The panel – put together by the Sustainability Practice Network – looked at one of the responses to an EDC RFP asking for development ideas for a vacant block in the Bathgate section of the Bronx.

The proposal calls for the development of the site with an indoor agriculture facility. The facility would primarily grow leafy greens hydro and/or aeroponically 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. One of the main benefits of indoor agriculture is that the plants are not subject to the external climate. The temperature is always the ideal temperature and the lamps, which function as a replacement sun, can operate as needed (as opposed to rising and setting as the sun does).

Additionally, the development proposes to harvest rainwater, generate on-site energy from solar panels, and perhaps someday even convert the waste products of the agricultural process into energy.

From a planning and development perspective, this proposal specifically, and urban agriculture in general, has great potential. The site in the Bronx is vacant and would benefit from redevelopment.  The easy answer for redevelopment of the site would be a warehousing and shipping facility.  This would create some jobs, lots of traffic, additional pollution, and do nothing to improve the greater community.

The urban agriculture proposal, however, anticipates the creation of 200+ jobs, is designed sustainably and with an eye towards the future, and creates both a wholesale and retail market for fresh produce – something the community is in desperate need of.  The City calls many of these neighborhoods with poor access to quality, fresh fruits and vegetables “urban food deserts”.  Urban agriculture aims to address the needs of many of these communities.

What are your thoughts – Is urban agriculture a passing fad or an industry primed for growth?