Swedish researchers’ complex study of the pros and cons of urban indoor farming
‘… many assumptions are made, and expectations held, about urban indoor farming from a sustainability, food production and food provisioning point of view. These assumptions and expectations need to be tested and assessed…’ With these words, a recent paper by Swedish researchers from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, and Stockholm University starts. Rebecka Milestad, Annika Carlsson-Kanyama and Christina Schaffer use the example of Högdalen urban farm, an indoor farm located in a Stockholm suburb, to ask wide and comprehensive questions about the viability of indoor farming coupled with a “real-live” greenhouse gas (GHG) emission assessment and an evalution of the project’s social performance.
The authors set out to discuss the actual GHG emissions of lettuce (which they calculate before) in relationship to the farm’s social functions, the positioning of indoor farming among other forms of urban agriculture and the space and land pressures that result from both, urban food production and remote food production, for the specific Swedish location. The result is a paper that remains open for its findings and can appreciate them because they are well contextualised: ‘… our study shows that growing food indoors in cities may be a viable option compared with importing them from far away or growing them in heated greenhouses, given that there is low-emitting electricity available. In other cases, vegetables produced indoors are most probably less climate friendly than other types of vegetables available on the market’.
Of special interest to us are the authors’ considerations on urban space use and how, within this, indoor farming compares to other forms of urban agriculture. Starting off from the position that ‘no (farm) land is needed for this type of agriculture, which is one of the main advantages cited by advocates’, the paper balances this with: ‘on a larger scale, urban outdoor agriculture contributes to the connectivity of the landscape and green corridors in urban space (Bohn and Viljoen 2011)’ referring to ‘the multifunctional benefits and ecosystem services from urban fruit forests […] as well as […] the green stretches suggested by Bohn and Viljoen (2011) through their concept Continuous Productive Urban Landscape (CPUL)’.
The study’s conclusions are of significance for urban planners: ‘… the farm did not contribute to food security, for two main reasons: it is very small and it produces lettuce which is not a bulk food item necessary for food provisioning of the population. […] At the same time, the Högdalen indoor farm did contribute to sustainable urban development in a number of ways: by the good cooperation between commercial, public and civil society partners, by the use of unused urban space, by the aim to create jobs, by the link to circular flows in the city and by the ambition to increase attractivity of a suburban centre in need of just this’.
The article The Högdalen urban farm: a real case assessment of sustainability attributes by Rebecka Milestad, Annika Carlsson-Kanyama and Christina Schaffer was published in Food Security (2020), see here.
A short video about Högdalen urban farm by one of its partners, Citycon, can be found here.
Image: The indoor farm in Högdalen, with lettuce in different stages of development (source and caption: Rebecka Milestad www 2019)