Grow up!

Vertical gardens and ecoroofs are being used to fight both hunger and obesity in our cities. Growing your own is good for you, and perfectly possible, even if you live mid-metropole and think you have no space.

Cities and their road networks swallow up vast tracts of land, which is then lost forever to agriculture and biodiversity. Or is it?

There are thousands of hectares that could be reclaimed from all the unused tops and even sheer sides of buildings, currently doing not much else than baking in the sun and adding to the heat island effect.

Urban gardeners, organic foodies and environmentalists have long been eyeing out all this tantalising wasted space. Now, increasingly, green pioneers are venturing up to convert the concrete into green and pleasant lands, which soothe the eye, cool and moisten the urban micro-climate, and most important of all, can be used to grow food.

Architect Gordon Graff's 'Skyfarm', a vision of future vertical urban greening

Anyone with a window-sill can grow a potted herb, and traditional container roof gardens, creepers and trailing plants are also part of the movement against city grey -- but the new green colonisation of the horizontal and vertical goes further than that.

Once you start looking at ugly, barren surfaces as substrates for plant life, you see potential everywhere.

The resultant variety and ingenuity is blossoming all over.

In Portland, Oregon, trendy inner city chefs pop up to their roof-top gardens to pluck a sprig of fresh basil for a stew in their kitchens below. In New York, stressed-out commuters get a dose of ecotherapy on the High Line, an old disused overhead railway re-planted with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. In Scandinavia, sustainable architects are studying ancient sod and birch roof houses to copy their enviable waterproofing and insulating qualities. In down-town Madrid, water trickles down a vertiginous multi-storey carpet of ferns and mosses draping the side of an office-block.

Botanist Patrick Blanc's wall of living plants, Madrid (Photo: Olivia Rose-Innes)

Growing your own right where you live -- which for the majority of humanity now means a city -- has benefits for both the hungry and the overfed.

The very poor can improve their food security with free, fresh food literally on their doorstep. At the other end of the scale, food gardening, especially when kids get involved, helps reduce obesity rates: it keeps you active, ups the amount of fruit and veg in your diet, and generally seems to make people more aware of healthy food choices.

Forget Farmville: this virtual farming actually nourishes
A fun off-shoot of the vertical garden concept is Woolworths' virtual Living Wall to mark World Food Day. Anyone can plant a virtual seedling on the Living Wall website (choose from strawberry, tomato, basil or spinach) for free, and the Woolworths Trust will donate the seedling's real-world equivalent to a South African school with an EduPlant permaculture food garden.

The Living Wall depicts, in a stylised way, one of the simplest, cheapest ways to grow a vertical food wall: in repurposed plastic bottle-halves. Other options include small plastic pots set into a lattice, or tucking the plants into "pockets" hollowed in sheets of tough fabric.

Slideshow: Ecoroofs and Living Walls

 - Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, October 2011, Health24

Read more:
Edible Earth The overweight and obesity epidemic is feeding into the global environmental crisis too.

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