zero acreage farming (zfarming): what it is and how it can change the future of (urban) agriculture

It is not uncommon to hear about the challenges that will be faced in feeding the growing population of the world. One of the main concerns is the lack of arable space, an issue that can be attributed to land-use changes, especially urbanization. Subsequently, the rapid growth of cities contributes to a number of issues, with the overwhelming demand for resources, e.g. food, that must be imported from outside systems being among the most relevant. This long-distance between urban-dwellers and agricultural production creates ecological problems in the form of inhibited nutrient cycling, high costs, and emissions problems.

Despite these issues, it is also well-documented that cities are efficient hubs of innovation. Accordingly, cities have birthed the idea of zero acreage farming, or ‘Zfarming’, which is defined as a form of agriculture that does not use farmland or open space, rather it uses otherwise unused spaces. Zfarming can take the form of, for example, rooftop farms/gardens, edible walls, indoor farms, or vertical greenhouses. As the competition between food producers and various interests is alleviated, the conflict related to land-use in urban spaces is resolved. Moreover, urban spaces supportive of Zfarming practices can be considered to have added-value as there is a unique component to said spaces.

Additional potential benefits associated with Zfarming include, for instance, the potential to shift towards new frameworks for food supply systems via input from evolving customer and social demands, and income generation – especially when higher value crops are grown. Furthermore, Zfarming can help address issues related to urbanization by providing economic opportunities which incentivize the transition towards more sustainable, resilient and efficient urban spaces.  

At present, Zfarming is almost exclusive to middle-class spaces with operations often catering to the needs of higher end restaurants or supermarkets with the use of mid- and long-term contracts in order to establish income consistency. This is arguably necessary due to the higher startup and maintenance costs. However, Zfarming is also associated with social/educational centers, efforts to improve the quality of urban life, and supporters of innovation focusing on alternative, i.e. not soil-based, methods for growing. It can, therefore, be assumed that as innovative practices are disseminated, they will gradually become integrated into lower-income spaces.

To encourage and promote Zfarming in more locations and further foster development in existing venues, the following supportive infrastructure is needed:

  • Modern and adaptive policy that is reflective of modern societal demands
  • Financing programs to allow for a shift away from top-down approaches to startups
  • Greater involvement (human capital)
  • Knowledge sharing to address the issue of a lack of practical experience which results in difficulties in the planning and implementation phase, something that can hinder the longevity or establishment of any Zfarming operation

In promoting Zfarming, innovative practices that may contribute to sustainable urban agriculture may be developed and implemented. Supplementary to the practical benefit of growing food, Zfarming also aids in the advancement of new forms of resource efficiencies, farming technologies and the practical application of such innovation, making it a trend worthy of further investigation.