Weather developments-prolonged droughts here, massive flooding there, record-breaking heat, unprecedented temperature extremes...
As human food supply becomes more vulnerable, inadequate to population needs, and subject to transportation disruptions, an important question to ask is: Just how much food can we grow where people live? New forms of community agricultural infrastructure are crucial to improve food security and access. The trend towards urban agriculture doesn't have to stop with the empty lots, green rooftops with rainwater collection systems or plans for new vertical farming construction (growing food in high-rise structures with freshwater irrigation or hydroponics). Existing buildings, in regions around the country, can be repurposed - turned towards sustainable, localized agriculture production.
Adaptive reuse of industrial buildings for indoor farming would involve integrating preservation with new technological, ecological and sustainable innovations. Acres of boarded buildings can become a resource for growing edible plants with the use of artificial lighting and hydroponics. The very dark areas can be designated for mushroom and fungi cultivation. The new advanced LED grow-light systems are smaller, more reliable, and more economic, so they use less energy and last longer than previous light emitting diodes and other conventional grow lights.
Many older industrial buildings lend themselves to agriculture adaptation as they were often constructed with roof light trusses and side windows for daylight illumination and were designed to use natural forces for aeration. Buildings with good natural light would be the most practicable to turn green. These buildings are often situated next to rivers offering additional advantages. Other commercial structures, such as the vacant shopping malls across the country, are also good candidates for agricultural repurposing.
These readapted farming complexes would be more affordable, greener and more sustainable than new constructions, and could also include retail shops and cafes selling local food products. Such projects can provide new livelihoods and often qualify for tax rebates and unique forms of financial assistance. Because many of these properties have ample parking areas, they could also become permanent locations for other local farmers to bring their produce, which would offer locals and tourists an extended experience of regional tradition and lifestyle. Additionally, urban farming projects present opportunities to introduce and centralize composting, as residents of most cities are currently sending food down disposals.
There are many exciting repurposing projects around the world at this time. Many focus on rooftops and building facades. However, much more is out there that can provide frameworks for gardens and technologically aided food production. Without a building to adapt, one can always make good use of a window with container gardening, or experiment with hydroponics.
Horticultural projects and plants not only provide fresh food and materials for sanctuary and clothing- they produce oxygen-- integral to human psychophysical and social-cultural well being. Additionally, horticultural therapy programs for psychiatric and physical rehabilitation, and prison programs, can be expanded to join in community food production.
Over half of the global population now lives in urban areas and that percentage is rapidly growing, and in the U.S. that number is at 79 percent (The Kaiser Family Foundation report). The benefits of close relationships between a person and a plant, and the effects of gardening, in any form, has many social rewards for an urban community's well-being, however, cooperatively growing food also overcomes the powerlessness that separate people feel in the face of threatening forces. The interesting possibilities and scenarios for creating new garden forms in reappropriated architecture not only gives these structures new relevant roles, addresses serious food issues, but also gives us more to love about our cities and towns.