Nestled in the midst of Klang Valley in Kuala Lumpur is a unique plot. Nearly an acre long, the plot is an assortment of so many components that it is hard to fully take it in a few cursory glances. The plot is undulating with a steady decline from the top entrance to the bottom, opening itself to an impressive view of the entire landscape and city background.
A flowery adorned fish pool greets the visitor. To the immediate left, one sees a cluttered workshop office, adjacent to a canvassed seed nursery. Towards the right, is a rocky walk path and access to a small rice paddy and veggie patch. Dotted throughout the verdant area are edible plants of all varieties growing in nooks and crevices. This isn’t your typical park or garden. This is Urban Hijau, a farm in the city, and another example of a movement that has taken off in the last few years in the West and now in South East Asia.
Urban homesteading, a household privately producing its own food supply in the city by either growing it or through livestock or produce, is nothing new. According the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in 1996, “as many as 800 million urban residents are involved in commercial or subsistence agriculture in or around cities”. This number has only increased dramatically since then. Many cities and cultures have a long tradition of growing their own food which have survived even in the aftermath of waves of urbanization of the 20th century.
In the past decade though, urban agriculture has seen a resurgence due to a host of factors, number one being the economy. The economic recession since 2008 has underlined food insecurities and the affordability of growing one’s own food supply. Another major reason of course is the growing demand for local organic produce that is less taxing on the environment than conventional industrial farming.
With that mentioned, it may be useful for those interested to literally and figuratively get their hands dirty to look at some of the current trends in the movement.
Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Rather than individual private garden, CSA involves the wider community who pledge to support certain local farms. The farmers and consumers end up sharing the costs and dividends from the food production. The arrangements between the farm and the wider public can also take other routes. Urban Hijau, for example, seeks to engage the wider community by encouraging them to regularly volunteer in farming activities.
With limited space to plant fruits and veggies, homeowners now take to their roofs to utilize this area for growing. Others have take it a step further by setting up vertical gardens or green walls, which can lead to a number of creative options.
Depending on the country you live, many governments have initiatives to support urban agriculture. Common methods include relaxations on certain land-use policies and even special grants for purchasing equipment and resources.
Indoor Growing Systems
Two favorite methods of indoor growing are the hydroponic and aquaponic systems. Hydroponics allows for growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions without directly involving any soil. Aquaponics takes this a step further by using fish and other aquatic life to provide nutrients to the plant life in a closed sustainable system. These controlled environment units are getting cheaper on the market, especially if custom designed.
Permaculture is a sustainable ecological design method for land sites that was first pioneered by Bill Mollison in Australia in the 1970s. It encompasses several of the trends already mentioned and more in a holistic methodology to design systems that are truly resource independent. The last few years has seen an exponential rise in interest in permaculture outside of just Western circles. Urban Hijau itself is striving to be an accessible permaculture showcase to the wider community.
Though the popping up of projects such as Urban Hijau can be seen as part of a wider trend, there are many indications that this trend is here to stay. With resources such as top soil of the earth being depleted at an alarming rate due to modern industrial agriculture, rising food prices are inevitable in the decades to come. All the more reason for us to get out our shovels and seeds and start digging in the city!
For more information on Urban Hijau, visit www.facebook.com/hijauurban. If you want to volunteer with them, email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org.