Growing Up: The evolution of urban agriculture


What is Urban Agriculture?

Populations are increasing around urban centres. More people are living and working in big cities, leading to the need for bigger food solutions. Every metropolis needs sustenance and now the solution is looking up.

Urban agriculture is essentially doing the things that traditionally happen on a rural farm. Unused urban spaces can be converted into gardens, vertical towers and rooftops can be utilized to grow crops. From farm to table in the highest efficiency possible, with distribution in a matter of a few footsteps, not miles or kilometres.

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Threats to food safety and security can be mitigated. New innovations will lead to a healthier population and environment. If you can farm in the city, then you can reduce the costs of transportation considerably while promoting sustainability.

Urban agriculture is flourishing

Vertical Farming

If you cannot spread out, then you must go up. Buildings have gotten taller to accommodate the scarce land in urban centres. The same principle applies in agriculture. Cue the birth of food skyscrapers: vertically stacked containers forming high rise mega-farming structures.

Vertical Farming uses less chemical additives in the growing process and grants more control. Companies are using aeroponics and hydroponics to increase yields in smaller spaces. Old warehouses and abandoned factories have been brought back to life through vertical farming efforts. What used to be empty buildings are full of coloured UV LED lights producing organic vegetables in the centre of the city.


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  • Vertical farms embrace the principles of recycling, conservation, sustainable farming and environmentally friendly practices
  • They provide controlled conditions year round
  • There are no fluctuations in temperature and no extremes of hot or cold
  • The area is sealed and contained so there is less risk of disease and contamination

This type of focused farming means that each crop space is tailored to meet the particular needs of that species of crop. It yields much more than a greenhouse or an outdoor farm. TruLeaf Smart Systems and their subsidiary GoodLeaf Farms in Nova Scotia are just one of many Canadian companies that use vertical farming to produce herbs and greens indoors1 .

Rooftop Gardens

By using rooftop gardens, individuals and communities are getting increasingly involved in their own food production cycle. They keep buildings cooler and reduce energy consumption in the summer and winter months. Rainwater that would normally be channeled into storm sewers are utilized by rooftop gardens. They also provide food, jobs, generate electricity and youth training opportunities.

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In Montreal, a non-profit organization called the Rooftop Gardening Project is leading the way in designing and developing the rooftop garden concept2 . The Fairmont Hotel and Lufa Farms in Montreal have successful, commercial, urban, agricultural, model rooftop greenhouses.

You can also find food gardens on rooftops in Toronto. Plant Condos has designed their condos with large terraces on rooftop gardens and even an indoor greenhouse for the winter months3 .

Government Bylaws

The government response is to play catch up with those in the private sphere who have taken on urban agriculture projects. They have put in responsible guidelines and regulatory frameworks for operational procedures and best practices in urban farming.

In Vancouver, the government has taken the initiative to replace the practice of planting ornamental flowers and trees with fruit trees in public spaces and parks.


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The City of Edmonton has put in place policy to protect the land bordering its urban areas from development and safeguard it for agricultural pursuits.

Toronto instituted a “Green Roof Bylaw” in 2009. All new buildings (commercial, residential, institutional), must have a green roof once they are over a specific size. Industrial buildings were added to the list in 2012.

Grow your own!


Indoor gardening Towers

Home gardening beds have gone vertical as tall pipes with holes, troughs on a wall, or units in several layers stacked high. Herbs and greens grow together in commercially manufactured garden towers or in homemade containers.

Home backyards and gardens

The popularity of the “Seedy Saturday” (Seeds of Diversity) program all across Canada shows just how much backyard gardening is taking over. People are growing fruits and vegetables in old tires, old bathtubs, boxes, crates and any container that can hold soil.

Communal Gardens

Communities are coming together and reaping the fruits of their labor in communal farms and gardens. They come together out of common interest, or geographical proximity. There are schools, hospitals, churches, businesses, housing or apartment complexes and local governments that join together to operate small food garden cooperatives.

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They’re self sufficient and member operated. Often, they charge a small fee to help with the farm bills. Some community farms are funded by nonprofit organizations. In Victoria, Lifecycles has a project called the ‘Fruit Tree Project’, in Milwaukee, there is ‘Growing Power’ and in Toronto ‘The Stop Community Food Centre’.

All the way up

The desire for freshness and transportation efficiency is being met with urban farming. The future looks bright and the sky’s the limit. Fresh produce can grow in small quantities in your home or in large commercial quantities in your neighbourhood. When ground space becomes our biggest limitation, the next step in the evolution is to go up.

At Signature Electric, we look forward to leveraging the power of urban farming in the years to come. Stay tuned!

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