Today, half of the world’s population already lives in large metropolises. The desire for locally sourced produce causes more and more urban farming approaches to surface. Let’s take a look at four projects from the US and Europe.

Swale (New York City)

What to do if there’s no scope at all for urban gardening or farming? New York City faces this problem, as a 200-year-old law prohibits the harvesting of fruit and vegetables on public land.

Artist Mary Mattingly found a cunning way to circumnavigate this outdated legislation: She switched her efforts to the city’s coastal areas, right at the inlets of the Hudson and East Rivers on the Atlantic coast.

The Swale floating platform, a rental barge financed through donations, has been anchoring near the shore since late July (see header image). Here, Mattingly and an artists’ collective raise up to 100 different plant species.

The project does not charge admission and visitors are invited to pick their own raspberries, beets, leeks, or artichokes free of charge. At the same time, Mattingly aims to persuade the city’s administration to rethink its obsolete, two-centuries-old legislation.

In a next step, Swale plans to raise fruit and vegetables on public land to prove that the global food production chain can indeed be disrupted – and that cities can become truly self-sufficient, with food grown on both land and water.

Urban bees (Berlin, Germany)

Johannes Weber shares his Berlin apartment with five friends – and with 30,000 bees on the balcony. Yep, that’s right. Two years ago, the student founded “Stadtbienen” (urban bees), an association dedicated to spreading our buzzing friends to urban areas – an issue of increasing importance.

After all, the world’s bee population has been shrinking for years, signaling dangerous damage to our fragile ecosystem.

In the wild, the busy insects pollinate 75 percent of all plant species – without this pollination, we can wave good-bye to our fruit and vegetables. Reasons for the steady decline in bee populations include the prevalence of agricultural monocultures and pesticides – which are not an issue in the city. Here, bees actually enjoy better conditions and access to great plant diversity. In parks, green spaces, and allotments, on traffic islands and balconies, they encounter all kinds of different blooms.

To ease amateur beekeepers into their new hobby, Weber has developed a special bee box. Around one meter in length and 40 centimeters high, this future hive also contains frames for the honeycomb.

You can buy your own colony from a beekeeper – and the industrious insects will take care of the rest. According to Weber, all it takes is around 20 hours of work a year. The tasty reward: 15 kg of pure honey. And knowing that you’re contributing to the city’s biodiversity.

Beekeeping on the balcony – with Stadtbienen.
Beekeeping on the balcony – with Stadtbienen.
Photo: Stadtbienen e.V. / Johannes Weber

Fleet Farming (Orlando, Florida)

In the US, any food you buy travels an average of 2,400 km before it reaches your table. At the same time, millions of hectares of arable urban land lay fallow in the United States.

Alarmed by these facts, the team of Fleet Farming decided to do something about it all.

Their solution: a mobile take on urban gardening. Relying on a fleet of volunteers, they turn unused urban green spaces into fields, using bikes for transport. The property owners are welcome to get involved in the process of sowing, maintaining and harvesting.

They receive ten percent of the harvest, while the rest goes to market. Any proceeds from these sales flow straight back into the project, reinvested in fertilizer or seeds. The city, in turn, enjoys obvious benefits – each plant and plot adds a piece of nature back into the metropolis.

Organic waste can be used for fertilizer, while the plants enrich the air with moisture and capture rainwater that would otherwise flood the sewage system. Larger areas or allotments can even help to improve the city’s climate.

What’s more, the gardening efforts draw residents out, bring people together, and create a new sense of community.

People working on a patch
A fleet of volunteers turns unused urban green spaces into fields.
Photo: Fleet Farming
Fleet farming patch
Photo: Fleet Farming
Man picking radishes
Photo: Fleet Farming
Fleet farmers talking
Photo: Fleet Farming

Farmbot (San Luis Obispo, California)

For urbanites, the dream of homegrown vegetables often ends with a lack of time. You need to sow, water, and weed your treasures, which takes a lot of time, effort, and commitment.

If this sounds familiar, check out Genesis by US start-up Farmbot – it’s a robot installed above your plants that promises to take all this off your hands. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sounds incredible – until you see the Farmbot in action, in this video.

Feel free to use the app to plan your virtual flower or vegetable bed, then sow your bounty as you would in a simple computer game.

If you make any glaring mistakes – like getting the distance between plants wrong – the app sends you a gentle reminder.

Now, just tell Genesis how often your plants need watering, and you’re all set: The farmbot will do the rest. It will even weed for you! This might be the simplest way to add more green to our cities and add some supermarket independence.

However, this convenience doesn’t come cheap: Expect to shell out around €3,500 for this high-tech gardening robot. If one believes the start-up’s projections, however, your household should recoup this sum within three years of gardening due to the impressive savings on your produce bill.

Cultivation of lettuce with a Farmbot
Plant a virtual patch via an app and let Farmbot do the rest.
Photo: Farmbot
Farmbot highbed
Photo: Farmbot
Close-up of a highbed
Photo: Farmbot
Farmbot sowing
Photo: Farmbot
Farmbot seeds lettuce highbed
Photo: Farmbot
lettuce patch in front of a house
Photo: Farmbot
lettuce patch created by a Farmbot
Photo: Farmbot
Lights of a Farmbot
Photo: Farmbot
fresh lettuce
Photo: Farmbot
home grown lettuce
Photo: Farmbot