Multiple Functions of Urban Farming

By Dr. Du Shanshan, Chen Ge (College of Applied Arts and Science of Beijing Union University; specialists in the study of urban agriculture)

Urban agriculture has been developing rapidly in recent years. According to geographical location, urban agriculture can be divided into urban farming and peri-urban agriculture. Urban farming is inserted or embedded in cities and surrounding areas or in metropolitan economic areas. It is a special form of agriculture which is dependent on the city and serves the city[1]. To put it another way, farming practiced by city dwellers in the city is urban farming.

In recent years urban farming has become popular in cities around the world, including in mainland China. It includes a variety of activities such as windowsill farming, balcony farming, vertical farming (within the home or on external walls or rooftops),   community agriculture (such as  farm plots scattered in front and behind the house), landscape farming (such as city parks, wetland parks, woodlands inside the city), and farming in agricultural belts between functional urban areas. The impact of urban farming on the lives of city dwellers is increasing in the following respects.

  1. Supply of fresh and diverse food

    Since urban farming is farming in the city, the time and distance involved for the transportation of food from the production site to the table is much reduced. City dwellers are provided with fresher farm produce and their need for diverse food is locally met.

  2. Lowering of cost of living
    For city dwellers, especially those on low incomes, food takes up a substantial proportion of daily expenditure. Through urban farming, citizens can harvest fresh food and reduce the cost of living.
  3. Guaranteed supply of agricultural products in emergency situations
    With global climate change, extreme weather is becoming more frequent. A guaranteed supply of food in cities in emergency situations is very important in terms of addressing food crises, mollifying panic and ensuring cities’ continued normal operation. Urban farming ensures that cities are at least partially self-reliant in the supply of fresh food. For example, Greater London has reserved a so-called Ecologjcal Footprint [*] which is 125 times the size of the city. It includes 65 urban farms, 1,200 community gardens, about 70 school farms and over 300,000 allotment gardens which provide 40% of safe agricultural products consumed by the inhabitants of Greater London.
  4. Building 'garden cities' that serve livelihood needs of people
    Landscape resources, such as vegetable gardens, flower beds and street fruit trees, developed as a consequence of urban farming, can help create a 'garden city' that provides its inhabitants with leisure areas encouraging them to return to nature and to enjoy sunlight and fresh air while also catering for their livelihood (the provision of fresh food). As they enjoy the rural landscape and village customs rich with the smell of the earth, citizens regain peace and serenity physically and spiritually.


  5. Stabilising the market for agricultural produce and countering fluctuating food prices
    With the expanding size of cities and continuing population growth, the demand for agricultural produce is rising steadily in towns and cities. This demand is satisfied mainly by large scale production in major agricultural production areas and long distance transportation of produce from fields to consumers' homes. The price of food is determined not only by production and transportation costs, but also by the contest between the competing interests of farmers, traders and consumers, which creates short-term fluctuations in prices. By encouraging local production and consumption, urban farming increases the self-reliance of cities in food supply and stabilises the market for agricultural produce, thus reducing food price fluctuations.
  6. Encouraging city dwellers to experience the fun of agricultural labour and promoting a healthy lifestyle
    White collar workers are often faced with a tedious and stressful working environment. Urban farming offers them a route to a more productive and stimulating experience. By farming, city dwellers gain first-hand knowledge of food production. Apart from having fun, they also learn how hard farming is, and to cherish the life that they have now. Michele Obama, the American First Lady, has an organic vegetable garden that flourishes on the lawns of the White House. In her book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, she writes about the White House vegetable garden and other community farms. Methods of organic gardening and healthy cooking are also described[2]. The vegetable garden has become the best example she has set in her work to promote a healthy lifestyle.
  7. Improving the ecological richness of cities
    Urban farming improves the ecological environment of the city by increasing green areas such as woodlands, fields and vegetable gardens and thereby creating valuable havens for wildlife.

To sum up, not only does urban farming provide fresh and diverse food to city dwellers, it can also be a form of compound service that integrates production, livelihood and ecology. It reduces the cost of living for city dwellers, particularly the less affluent. It is an effective way to provide city dwellers with  fresh food in emergency situations. In terms of everyday life, urban farming contributes to the making of garden cities that harmonize the community, beautify scenery and create diverse cultures. By supplying cities with locally grown food, urban farming helps to stabilise the price of agricultural produce to some extent. Through participating in farming and appreciating natural landscapes, not only do city dwellers experience fun in farming, their physical and emotional stresses may also be alleviated and a healthy lifestyle is promoted. Urban agriculture also improves the ecological environment of cities.


  1. Fu Kangjun, Hu Guoming, Li Weidong, “Talking About Urban Agriculture”, Agricultural Products Weekly, May 4, 2012 (in Chinese).
  2. Nie Chongbin, “Urban Farming in USA”, in Dongfang Daily, October 16, 2012 (in Chinese).

*Editor’s note:
  “Ecological Footprint” represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea
  area necessary to supply the resources a human population consumes, and to assimilate
  associated waste.