Urban farming's popularity rising in New Zealand as low carbon growing alternative

Urban farming is a budding trend in New Zealand as land prices climb and environmental regulations tighten.

People are growing vegetables in warehouses, shipping containers, even old nightclubs in a bid to be more sustainable.

Urban farming doesn't require paddocks, soil, sunlight, or pesticides. One urban farm in Wellington is vertical with 30 varieties of microgreens including micro basil, micro broccoli, micro pak choi, rainbow radish and China rose radish.

Using just LEDs, biodegradable wool grow mats and automated watering systems, the tray floods, then drains away back into the water system. About 95 percent of water ends up recycled.

"Urban farming has to be a part of the future, we just don't have enough landmass to continue to traditionally farm to feed the future generations," says Lucy Matheson, co-founder of 26 Seasons.

And you don't have to use traditional sites - their vertical farming basement used to be a nightclub. These days the partygoers have been replaced by a more wholesome crowd.  

Microgreens are mostly used in restaurants, but the Wellington startup has rolled into the Auckland retail scene and upscaled to a more public platform.

"Primarily it's in supermarkets in Auckland at the moment," Matheson says.

This micro basil has been germinating for a few days and it's now been placed into a grow rack. The entire growing process from seed to plate takes just a couple of weeks and it ends up on plates at restaurants like Logan Brown.

"It's really how local they are, they grow them just down the road here from Logan Brown," says Logan Brown chef Shaun Clouston, Logan Brown Chef.

Urban farming is more popular overseas.

"You can find them in old car parks, tunnels, things like that. In England, I've seen them on top of skyscrapers," says urban farming researcher Jacinta Penn.

New Zealand isn't quite at that point, but increasing environmental restrictions means more people are delving into this style of food production.

"In New Zealand, there's more people doing microgreens and mushrooms than before," Penn says.

While being able to get produce from urban farms 365 days a year is "pretty impressive" for Coulston, so too is the low carbon footprint of this type of growing process.