Even if you happen to be living in a cramped house or apartment, there are a few simple things you could try to grow some of your own safe, healthy, and cheap food.

Though it sounds like a 21st century concept, urban farming has been around since the days of Machu Picchu and the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

What is urban farming?

Urban agriculture is the growing of food for urban markets in close proximity to where communities of people live. More rigidly, urban agriculture refers to food grown in whatever way (just use your imagination…) in or around the perimeter of cities and towns. If you happen to be cultivating tomatoes in a pot at home, you’re an urban farmer!

For some people it is a hobby that also yields fresh food and exercise. For others, it is a creative use of the immediate environment to aid in their survival. Urban farming allows people who barely have access to fresh, high quality vegetables to grow their own food.

Urban gardens in ancient times

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

One of the 7 wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is documented to have been built approximately 2,500 years ago. Though no ruins have been found to prove the existence of this structure, very detailed documentation has been discovered which explains how these gardens were built. The gardens were planted along a hill and had many different levels with amazing flowers and plants. In an era when electricity and motor pumps were not yet invented, plants were being grown in buildings!

Machu Picchu Southern Agricultural Terraces

Waste from the town or city was used in ancient Egypt as manure for urban farming. In Machu Picchu, Peru, a series of stepped terraces were used for agriculture. The unique design of the terraces, made of small and large stones, and gravel and mud, help conserve water, while also allowing water drainage.

What could you do?

If you are living in a city and probably in an apartment, you may be wondering if this is something you could take up.

Apartment dwellers with no yards to speak of can grow vegetables in bags on a balcony or a thin strip of land. Even something like a waste banana plant can be used. Make a hole and fill in the mixture of compost. Just sow some seeds, and in a little while, you’ve got fresh natural vegetables at home.

A natural fertilizer called Panchagavya – a blend of cow dung, cow urine, milk, ghee, and curd –can be made at home if these materials are available. Household compost can also be excellent manure for plants. Additionally, a paste of turmeric and neem keeps pests away. Once planted, these gardens require no more investment.

Urban farming has always been popular in areas dominated by low-income households. It promotes increase in entrepreneurial activities and creates job opportunities. The system reduces food costs and improves health and nutrition, as well as ensuring food security within the household and community. There are several projects worldwide that seek to enable cities to become continuous productive landscapes through temporary or permanent kitchen gardens, and networked cultivation of vacant urban land.

If you’re thinking of giving urban farming a try, you’ll be glad to know that its benefits are two-fold – personal as well community-wise. On the personal level, it ensures that your food is fertilizer and pesticide free. On the community level, you reduce your carbon footprint by using homegrown vegetables and fruits.

For more tips, facts, and interesting tidbits about the environment, trees, and ecology, check out Project GreenHands facebook page.