Urban Hydroponics

One of the many advantages of hydroponic gardens is their versatility- hydroponic gardens can be produced on balconies and kitchen counters with great success. However, these hobbyist set-ups remain relatively limited and certainly aren’t enough to feed an entire family. Community gardens are pretty standard in urban areas and large cities but still too small to satisfy serious farmers. Especially in crowded places like New York City, sustainable agriculture seems next to impossible.

But recent experiments with large-scale hydroponic systems prove that sustainable food sources may not be just a pipe dream, even in big cities.

There exist approximately five thousand hectares of un-shaded, flat rooftop space in New York City. Professional hydroponic growers estimate that if growing hydroponic systems were established on all five thousand hectares, enough food could be produced to feed fifteen million people.

These gardens could also be managed entirely using only renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines. A simple array of solar panels could generate seventy to eighty percent of the power needed to run the garden. And a diesel generator could quickly provide the final required amounts of energy using biodiesel or even waste vegetable oil. In a large city with a strong catering industry, enough vegetable oil is wasted to power a generator easily.

One hydroponic community garden called The Science Barge, located on the Hudson River near downtown Manhattan, makes ample use of renewable energy sources to power their high-tech, ultra-modern urban farm. The Science barge features a weather station that reads wind speed, direction, temperature, solar radiation, and precipitation. The weather station then feeds this information to the farm’s computer, which may respond to the weather by turning on the exhaust fan, or opening or closing a roof vent.

This is growing food without wasting any resources! Food matter that is not harvested and eaten can be turned into compost to nurture other plants; a recirculating water supply minimizes water wastage; and careful nutrition management grows more robust, healthier, and larger plants with smaller root systems.

Hydroponic systems can also use vertical space rather than a traditional garden where plants spread across the ground area. Plants with vines or stems that can be trained are grown on a wire grid or lattice. Plants that can’t be taught to grow this way are placed in staggered towers of grow beds, resembling a staircase.

Although most people pay little attention to where their food is coming from, it is unsustainable to consume food produced hundreds of miles away. In an area with a highly concentrated population, it’s easy for CO2 emissions to build uncontrollably. Contributing to your community garden and growing your plants are great ways to help the environment, but don’t underestimate the power of innovative and progressive developments in hydroponic gardening. There are many ways to make hydroponic gardens, the city’s and your own, even more sustainable.