In pictures: the many faces of urban agriculture

As the number of urban agriculture projects is on the rise, there is a need to consider economic, environmental, food-related, regulatory and sustainability challenges. This trend comes in many different shapes and a variety of functions that Christine Aubry, research engineer at INRAE and AgroParisTech, defines as “urban agricultures”.

The development of urban agriculture is promoted both by the work of researchers and by the experience of stakeholders in the field. It is this dialogue between scientists and professionals that gives rise to primarily hybrid economic models or a variety of ecosystem-related services (such as biodiversity protection, waste recycling, water management) depending on technical systems and location. According to Christine Aubry, out of the services that agriculture provides in an urban environment, food could be further promoted in agricultural output relocation policies and may potentially meet food inequality challenges. Debates between scientists and frontline employees also focus on a potential application of the rural lease and the status of farmer on urban farms. Another important area of exploration concerns indicators of conditions and sustainability criteria from social and economic (e.g. avoided costs) and environmental (e.g. climate regulation) standpoints. Erica Dorr, PhD student at AgroParisTech, is contributing to this cross-cutting and ambitious field of research and on 1st June 2022, will defend a thesis on the “Development of a sustainability self-assessment tool for urban agriculture stakeholders”.

Paola Mugnier and Fanny Provent also describe multifaceted and multi-purpose production systems. Their practical guide « Urban agriculture: how to implement it on rooftops and terraces? » (from which photos #2 to #5 are taken), as well as the Exp’au urban agriculture consulting company and agriculturalization indicators, feature among the approaches rolled out, based on researcher knowledge, to assist and equip developers when selecting project content, in addition to project implementation and management. Another important aspect for developers is the issue of urban contaminations. The REFUGE methodology has been designed to conduct an assessment of health risks based on a historical survey of the site and ground investigations. This type of assessment reveals a lack of risk or identifies when a site is in a grey area, as is often the case, which may be used by rolling out a health control plan or through farming methods that do not use the ground soil.

The prospects for the development of urban agriculture are set to be extensive and varied. Many flat roofs represent untapped high-potential land resources. A number of new requirements are emerging in relation to the analysis of soil bearing capacity, an improved integration of greenhouses in buildings, optimised management of flows and uses and lastly the incorporation of urban agriculture in circular economy scenarios.

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Christine Aubry
Senior Associate Researcher and Consultant Professor
Erica Dorr
PhD Student
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