The urban countryside: From concrete jungle to garden city

The smell of manure hangs in the air. In the distance, a rooster crows. A sow and her piglets over here, a goat over there, chickens everywhere. And just over the fence, a decaying Victorian warehouse, windows dusty and shattered, walls splattered with graffiti.

Hackney City Farm is a quirky patch of countryside in the middle of one of London’s most urbanised areas. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the farm was ahead of its time; only recently have urban farmers’ markets and rooftop gardens begun sprouting up en masse.

As more of us move into cities, we’re bringing little pockets of countryside with us. From vertical farms to garden bridges, the urban landscape is increasingly dotted with rural touches.

In the UK, a number of upstarts are helping city dwellers live out their farming fantasies. Omlet, set up by four friends from the Royal College of Art in London a decade ago, was one of the earliest to spot the trend. Its 100% recyclable Eglu coop makes it easy for people to raise chickens in their back gardens. As urban foodies have grown a taste for free-range eggs, the Eglu has popped up among the terraced houses surrounding London’s city centre.

Bees are another country critter that city folk are bringing closer to home. Barnes & Webb offers an urban beekeeping service, installing and managing hives across London. To avoid problems arising from overpopulation, like swarming and lack of sufficient forage, it puts hives only in places where it knows bees can thrive. At the end of the summer, the company harvests and bottles the honey, giving a share to the hive’s renter and selling the rest in retailers like Selfridges.

Allotments have been around for a while but, as demand has outstripped supply, vegetable patches have been cropping up in the most unlikely places. In Los Angeles, residents are now allowed to use the city-owned strip of earth between pavements and roads to plant free vegetable gardens. The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, which bicycles its fresh produce to area restaurants, is just one of many rooftop farms spreading across New York City. Back in London, Edible Bus Stop is on a mission to plant creative garden installations in neglected public spaces along transport routes.

And just down the road from Hackney City Farm, a derelict storefront has become home to a different kind of agriculture. FARM:shop cultivates hydroponic vegetables and aquaponic fish in a low energy, low waste farming system, serving up the harvest in its on-site café.

Although you’re still more likely to encounter concrete than cows, it’s undeniable that London and other major cities are grafting bits of country life onto urban living. Their efforts are reaping a healthier and more fruitful quality of life.

Know any other examples of projects bringing a bit of countryside into the city? We want to hear about them! Tweet us @Thtfl.


Photo credit: Larry Miller