When I was growing up in the UK many years ago, 'vertical gardens' wasn't even a keyword as Google didn't exist! However, I was lucky enough to live in a small village and to spend many happy hours with my grandfather discovering the wonders of his veggie garden, watching insects skate around on top of the water barrel and eagerly exhuming new potatoes as they mooned their milky white bums up through the black soil. To my way of thinking, my city dwelling friends missed out (I know- I dipped out on fun city stuff too) a few lucky ones had parents who stoically worked an allotment several miles away from their terraced houses but most of the others had to settle for supermarket veggies that struggled to stay fresh in the fridge. My friends were blissfully unaware of what they were missing by not 'growing stuff in dirt' and slobbering over those delicious, buttered 'spuds'. Does this matter? I think it matters a lot – on so many levels.
The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history – I t is estimated that by 2030, 60% of the world population will be living in cities – this will have a huge impact on our lifestyles – on the space to grow food, on food security and food miles, on our sense of well-being¹, on our social activities, and the air we breathe will be more polluted than it is already. City temperatures will be several degrees higher due to the urban heat island effect. Sydney's urban temperature may rise by up to 3.7C by 2050². Apartment blocks and shopping malls will swallow us up and our 'fresh' food will be worn out by the time it reaches our plates. Maybe we'll end up with Food Pills after all and soil – what was that used for?
Vertical gardens, installed for use as urban farms, can play a vital rescue role by maximizing unused, vertical real estate (walls and rooftops) and by establishing urban farms on our doorstep, we can support fresh food production and combat pollution of our cities. Plants have an amazing capacity to clean our air. Fresh produce, from as many vertical gardens and roof gardens as is viable, will improve our health while soothing us with their lush aesthetic beauty. The benefits of organically grown produce, picked from your vertical garden minutes before it lands on your plate gets the gold award for both taste and nutrition. Did I mention that children eat what they grow? Do we need to address childhood obesity? Oh and don't forget that 'messing about in real dirt' bonus. 'Nuff said.'
It doesn't matter who you are, there's a vertical garden system that you can use for urban farming. One particular steel vertical garden system is strong enough to hold large volumes of soil and thus provide large, dig – in beds in which vegetables and herbs thrive. Water does not evaporate as quickly from large pockets of potting media as it does from small pockets so water consumption is lowered. Extreme temperature swings are reduced in vertical gardens that hold large amounts of soil, lessening root 'shock'. If city dwellers started to grow more produce with vertical gardens, food miles would be reduced, food security would be assured and restaurants and cafes could delight their diners by tapping into a seasonal supply of fresh food right before their eyes! Urban foodie, Sally, in apt. 403, the Primary School on the corner, the tiny courtyard at the back of Pete's restaurant or the Aged Care chef desperately trying to feed his residents on $ 9 a day – all these people have a range of vertical garden systems from which they can choose to produce an abundant harvest – many come in DIY kits. Food prices will keep rising if we don't pay attention to growing UP in our cities.
The use of vertical gardens for urban farming can involve a whole community AND save money – and I'm not talking about grand scale projects on the roof of a car manufacturing plant. An official audit of a project³ which involved bringing gardening joy back to just 46 older people in a single borough in south London, has concluded that it could have saved the taxpayer as much as £ 500,000 ($ 1,042,318) a year in just one area. The potential savings were calculated using standard estimates of the cost of NHS care for reduced medications, visits to doctors, A & E and decreased number of hospital admissions as well as fewer visits from health and social workers.
I believe that the installation of vertical gardens need to be supported on every scale, in shopping malls, on rooftops, on balconies, in courtyards, Aged Care facilities, hospitals, restaurants, schools and even in public city spaces. With a little smart planning, an option to participate in community urban farming will see young and old benefit from a life enhancing activity that yields a luscious harvest that is literally 'off the wall.'
UdStudies by Kellert, Heewagen & Mador 2003)
²ARC Center of Excellence for Climate System Science, Dr Daniel Argueso
³ "Garden Partners" project in Wandsworth – run in 2009 by Age UK, Sarah Jackson and funded by the local NHS trust