Societal challenge

Societal challenge

Good use can be made of the economic possibilities offered by urban farming when deciding policy on how to prevent the rundown of cities and unoccupied buildings, and to promote social cohesion and the local economy. A lot of experience has now been gained with urban farming, i.e. the production of food principally for the local market. This occurs in empty industrial and office buildings, on industrial/business sites or open land earmarked for construction work in the future. Basically, these are areas not currently being used for their designated purpose. Using these sites for urban farming will generally be a temporary matter. Urban farming projects give an area a green look and feel. They may offer opportunities to people with difficulty in getting into the labour market, to local economic development, to education for young people and to social cohesion because of their local nature.



Empty buildings and unused plots of land can be made productive fairly easily. In some cases it might be necessary to redesignate their purpose with the municipal authority. Urban farming is usable for professional, high-quality food production, for example to supply local food to private individuals and restaurants. Urban farming can also be set up as non-professional agricultural production or for educational purposes (such as school allotments). At numerous places, private individuals use these leftover or unused areas to set up small vegetable gardens. In small villages they are also frequently used as communal gardens.

The use of roofs is a special form of urban farming. By utilising the roof surface of large complexes, it is possible to piece together a large area.

Urban farming results in increased social cohesion. Professional urban farming can serve as a stepping-stone to the labour market, for example by creating lowly qualified jobs. Non-professional urban farming makes people healthier because people get exercise while maintaining their garden. Rooftop agriculture has an insulating effect and thus conserves energy. Another benefit of urban farming is that it improves water storage. Farming on roofs retains water on the roof, so it reaches the ground more slowly and simplifies the drainage of rainwater. As some of it evaporates, it is also conducive to relieving heat stress in the city.

Cultivation in open ground may be subject to restrictions if soil contamination is present. It is advisable to check whether any contamination is present in the soil (link to soil quality map) and, if so, to contact the municipal authority. The Soil Risk Toolbox provides an insight into the risks attached to soil contamination.



Policy on food production in the city (including professional food production) includes:

The Housing Act regulates such matters as requirements for constructing buildings. When using a roof for agriculture, the roof must be capable of bearing the weight of the earth.

The Food and Commodities Act regulates requirements that food and other products must meet. The Act covers all produce, regardless of whether an agricultural product was grown in the city or on agricultural land.

Professional use of pesticides in urban areas is subject to legal restrictions regarding minimum distances to sensitive properties (such as homes and schools). A salient point is that people who take the initiative for urban farming products generally do not want to use pesticides. The small size of most projects and their great diversity obviate the need for pesticides.

Not everything is allowed everywhere. The possibilities and impossibilities at a certain place are usually determined by the zoning plan. A lot of information can be found online, also at local level.



Urban farming in Rotterdam

In its Sustainability Programme the city of Rotterdam has developed policy specifically designed to promote urban farming. This policy challenges members of the public and entrepreneurs to develop urban farming. Rotterdam is keen to use urban farming as a way of making the city greener. Private urban farming initiatives receive assistance. The municipal authority indicates where urban farming is and is not possible in Rotterdam. Obstructive rules are amended if necessary. The marketing of regional products is being supported. The municipality is setting a good example by increasing the proportion of local products in municipal staff canteens. This is boosting the sales market for farmers around the city. The municipal authority also wants to play a role in bringing together customers and producers and in increasing the involvement of young people in food production through nature and environment education.

Roof farmer Annelies

Annelies Kuiper is a roof farmer. At various places in the Netherlands she is creating rooftop vegetable gardens. She asks owners to make their roofs available to her for use as a site for producing food. In return she supplies some of the products to the owner of the roof.

video: Boerin legt akker aan in binnenstad Rotterdam
video: Growing a Rooftop Revolution: Joost Bakker at TEDxSydney


Dakwaarde, or Roof Value, is a cooperative that acts as an intermediary between owners of roofs and potential users of them.

Green roofs

Numerous municipalities have developed policy on creating green roofs. The objective is generally to absorb peaks in rainwater.

Urban Farming Cities Network

The Urban Farming Cities Network is a nationwide network of municipal pioneers in urban farming. It provides a vehicle for the initiators, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to tackle barriers, inspire each other, set a direction for policy and seize opportunities.

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