As global food insecurity rises, companies and cities are looking for ways to transform the urban farm into something more than a yuppie pastime. But urban farming isn’t confined to agriculture; urban farmers are looking to cattle-rearing and organic dairy production to reduce food miles and produce locally-grown alternatives for communities as well. These three cities are allowing innovative companies to exploit every nook and cranny to secure locally-grown goodness.

Farming Under A Parisian Neighborhood

Cycloponics urban farming in a garage.

Courtesy of La Caverne.

Cycloponics, a local indoor urban farming startup based in Strasbourg in France and harvesting lettuce, herbs and mushrooms, recently expanded its operations to subterranean Paris. The startup has made a home for its seedlings under the city’s eastern La Chapelle neighborhood, calling it “La Caverne” or the cave.

The underground urban farm is cultivated in a garage under a 300-unit affordable housing complex, encompassing 37,700 square feet (3,502.4 square meters). Production varies from two kilograms per square meter per month for aromatic herbs, to 300 kilograms per square meter per month for endives. “We aim at providing [the tenants above La Caverne] with our products at a preferential tariff, at making educational workshops and we also want to hire local people,” reads La Caverne’s website.

La Caverne has ten members working together to maintain hydroponics systems (a system where crops are cultivated in water) to grow vegetables, ensure the optimum growth of the farm’s mushroom crop and sell their products on the market. The farm’s oyster and shiitake mushrooms are grown on composted manure bricks. The farmers at La Caverne also harvest chicory, a root often used in coffee, which does not need sunlight to grow. The team aims to ultimately produce 54 tons of vegetables and mushrooms per year.

A member holds mushrooms from Cycloponics' urban farming in a garage.

Courtesy of La Caverne’s Facebook page.

The absence of sunlight underground is not a problem for the urban farmers. “We opted for cultivations adapted to our underground environment. Mushrooms do not require a lot of light to grow and chicory grows without any light: our energy consumption is actually rather low,” the website reads. For leafy vegetables which need light such as salads, microgreens and aromatic herbs, the urban farmers use Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lamps. “[These] consume less energy than usual lamps and produce also less heat: we can adjust the light spectrum for an optimized development,” they write.

They are using what they call the “underground market gardening” to cultivate, within the same space, different species of vegetables that interact in a positive way. “The [carbon dioxide] generated by the mushrooms is used by the microgreens to grow up, the natural materials are composted for our cultivations… Those methods are widely inspired by permaculture!”

Urban Farming Under The Tokyo Metro

Urban farming in Tokyo's subway.

Tokyo’s underground subway. CC: Philippe L PhotoGraphy

“I never thought that I would be growing vegetables when I joined a railway company,” says 33-year-old Tokyo Metro overseer Remi Takahara, reflecting on the trial-and-error process that led to the subway operator’s greens’ cultivation. Under the name “Tokyo Salad,” Japanese subway operators Tokyo Metro Co. and Metro Development Co. have taken it upon themselves to grow an urban farm of lettuce, assorted salad greens and even herbs in a cultivation warehouse under the elevated train tracks of the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line.

Seeds are placed on a sponge with tweezers, and the young seedlings are moved once they begin sprouting. Similar to the Parisian underground urban farm, LEDs provide the plants with light for 16 hours a day and the liquid nutrients are cycled through the system 24/7. It takes roughly three to five weeks for a plant to reach maturity.

The urban farm uses neither fertilizer nor soil, and the seven rows of plants grow hydroponically instead. Frill lettuce, basil along with rare finds such as red coral lettuce and red kale are among the 11 varieties regularly grown, with roughly 400 plants being grown per day. The urban farm’s lettuce and other products have been on the market since April 2015.

Rotterdam’s Floating Urban Farm

In 2016, Peter van Wingerden, Carel de Vries and Johan Bosman of property development company Beladon transformed the Dutch port city of Rotterdam through the construction of a €2.5-million ($2.9 million) dairy farm floating on the Rhine–Meuse –Scheldt river, making Rotterdam home to the world’s first floating farm – dubbed Floating Farm.

“Dutch farmers were asking themselves: ‘Do cows get seasick?'” says Minke van Wingerden of Beladon, explaining that a trip on the floating farm will be as still as that on a cruise ship. “The world’s population is rising, and most cities in deltas are sinking because of more and more concrete,” adds van Wingerden, who is married to Beladon CEO Peter Wingerden. She explains that her husband happened to visit New York during Hurricane Sandy, and when there, he saw empty shelves and what food remained would suffice for just two days. “He thought we had to do things in another way, and the idea came: why not build a floating farm?” The architects’ idea is to bring food production as close as possible to the consumer, even when the available space to do so is limited.

Beladon’s farm shelters a total of 40 cows on a 1,200 square meter floating platform, producing 800 liters (211 gallons) of milk a day, which are pasteurized and processed into yogurt in a dairy on the floor below. The cattle pasture is lit by LEDs and the seeds are germinated on special beds in short cycles. The cattle can eat fresh food every day, since this system ensures that pasture is produced everyday. The cattle should find themselves comfortable just like they would at the meadows. The cows themselves determine when they want to be milked by the milking robot; creating a system based on free choice, in terms of being inside or outside, getting milked, eating or resting under the trees.

The walls of the floating farm are transparent so that the dairy farming cycle can be viewed by passersby with the aim of educating them.”People often don’t know where their food comes from, and I’d like to show them close up. But I also want to create awareness among farmers so that they know where their produce goes,” said Albert Boersen, one of the floating farm’s operators. “My parents sell their milk through [dairy collective] FrieslandCampina so it’s an anonymous project. I think that’s a shame.”

Whether it is venturing underground or putting cattle on water, if these projects indicate anything, it is that farmers are seizing the opportunity to be endlessly imaginative as they forge new grounds to feed the world’s population.