Farming the London way | Global Ideas | DW | 02.09.2015
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Global Ideas

Farming the London way

City farming is big in some parts of the world, but a London-based environmental entrepreneur says the UK has been slow on the uptake. He is doing his bit to plant the concept in the national consciousness.

Time was, London was a mere speck on the landscape - an outpost used by Roman legions as a military storage depot. Granted that was a long long time ago, and its rise to Londinium and importance as a trading site was relatively quick in coming, but the city was once in a position to feed its own people.

Over the centuries, as the English capital has continued to burst its own limits, fertile agricultural land has slipped further from easy reach. Greater London now covers an area of 1,583 square kilometres (611 square miles), and housing, as it does, a population of more than 8.5 million, there is clearly a need for food. And lots of it.

A vertical farming system hanging on the wall

Where there's a wall, there's a way

Being truly self-sufficient in an urban setting is never going to be easy, but vertical famer and environmental entrepreneur Ashley Lydiate says even tight spaces can put food on the table.

After years researching vertical farming and urban agriculture, and convinced of its potential for success in London, he recently set up The Blue-Sky Greenhouse. The idea he says, is to "challenge the perspective on how to view agriculture in the future and how it can be incorporated into urban centers."

Too long, he says, have we blithely accepted the idea that our food has to be grown beyond urban bounds in a typical rural environment.

A woman in a workshop environment making a system for vertical farming

Thinking outside the agricultural box

By teaching schools and community groups the basics of vertical faming, hydroponics and aquaponics – systems in which plants can thrive without soil – he hopes to change thinking.

"Growing food in vertical towers without soil is still a new idea," he said. "The idea has been slow to get off the ground in the UK, so we want to introduce the concept to people's minds."

In workshops, he helps participants build adventurous-looking contraptions, as developed on a creative commons basis by Windowfarms. Made from pre-used materials, they don't even require a ledge to balance on - which leaves ample space for knick-knacks.

Row of plastic bottles with herbs growing in them

It doesn't have to be terracotta to serve as a vessel for home-grown food

"They can be put in the window and be set up easily to grow herbs and small salad vegetables," he said. "They won't provide food for the whole house, but they can serve as a supplement."

He is hoping to see Blue-Sky Greenhouse become a kind of think tank and education provider for the vertical farming and urban agriculture industry. We are watching the space, and hoping to see it fill with foliage.

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