Regenerative urban agriculture – an emerging paradigm

Regenerative urban agriculture – an emerging paradigm

Regenerative urban agriculture principles provide a framework for more sustainable, ecologically friendly and resilient food production in and around cities.

I had the joy of listening to a talk in 2018 by Charles Massey, author of “Call of the reed warbler”. Its a wonderful book about regenerative agriculture which clearly explains a pathway to reduce unnatural inputs, increase yields and profit, whilst truly contributing to healthier soil, plant life, waterways, air and communities.

Organic gardening and farming uses some of principles outlined below, as do: permaculture, biodynamic agriculture, biological and natural farming. I find that working with regenerative urban agriculture principles is a synthesis of these methods.

Regenerative urban agriculture – 5 key principles

  • Sun– Use the natural capacity of plants, via photosynthesis, to transform energy of the sun into organic matter. In the process, plants draw minerals from the atmosphere into the soil and by keeping the soil covered with plants, these minerals can be transformed by soil life into a more appropriate balance for healthy plant life.
  • Water – Leading on from the sun principle, continuous plant cover on the soil improves its water holding capacity and stops soil erosion. Food growing spaces, should be designed to slow down water flow across the landscape.
  • Soil – Strong concentration on balancing soil to create the ideal habitat for soil organisms to transform substance into healthy soil. Well managed sun and water principles are a great aid for soil life processes. As a result, soil softens, soil fertility and water holding capacity are greatly improved.
  • Biodiversity – Focus on a diversity of plant, insect and animal life in the food growing spaces. Create habitats for native insects and animals within growing spaces and work with a diversity of plants in cropping areas. Sun, water and soil principles all work in sync to support an appropriate balance of environments for biodiversity to thrive.
  • Human/social – The farmer or gardener can guide these 4 principles so they achieve the desired regenerative outcome. Ignoring even one principle can throw the others completely out of balance. The human principle should also focus on how the garden or farm can regenerate and sustain local communities. The economic factor comes into play here as well.

Regenerative urban agriculture – alignment to practice

  • Sun – Design food growing spaces to get maximum sun and ensure that soil is mostly covered with living plants, for example, use living mulches around fruit trees and inter-plant at high density as much as possible in vegetable and herb growing spaces. Be very conscious of working with the seasons. I use biodynamic methods for planting times and aiding foliar functions of plants
  • Water – Design food growing spaces to slow down water flow, but not to flood. Water at base of plants to reduce wastage and improve efficiency. Cover soil at all times. Use all water efficiency measures possible.
  • Soil– Use green manure crops to feed soil in a strategic way. Build compost heaps to feed the soil, Make and use biological additives that aid soil life and draw in organic inputs from your local area. Periodically re-mineralise soil. Biodynamic methods are a great help in supporting soil life processes.
  • Biodiversity – Use companion planting, plant out flower varieties around food growing spaces to create beauty, insect habitats and food. Encourage native life into and around your food growing spaces.
  • Human – Have an attitude of love to the food growing spaces and share your space with other people. Develop your consciousness in a very active way around your food growing activities and use it for your well being. For commercial scale, step away from conventional channels and sell to your local market, you will surprised at how viable this can be on a relatively small scale.

In reflecting on my own urban farming over many years, its heartening to know that I have intuitively worked with the five principles of regenerative urban agriculture and can particularly see a strong alignment to biodynamics.

With designing larger scale urban agriculture projects in our business, I see these regenerative urban agriculture principles as essential. In fact, I would go so far as to say there really is no point in growing food in urban environments without using regenerative urban agriculture principles, Our task is to regenerate our world and our cities, to heal the planet and ourselves, and regenerative urban agriculture is a pathway to transforming economy, ecology and community.

Authored by Peter Kearney

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