Urban Agriculture Innovation

Target Grade Level / Age Range:

9-12th grade

Estimated Time:

45 minutes or two class periods depending on depth.


Working in groups, students explore five common large scale operation practices within urban farming. They then work together to solve an engineering problem using a hypothetical situation.

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)


  • Aeroponics: a method of growing crops such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs that uses air or a mist environment without the use of soil or rocks to hold plants. 
  • Hydroponics: a method of growing crops such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowering plants without soil using a nutrient solution in water. Plants are supported using a medium such as gravel, sand, perlite, or other substance.
  • Aquaponics: a food production system that couples hydroponics and aquaculture where nutrient-rich aquaculture water is “fed” hydroponically grown plants. 
  • Aquaculture: a controlled cultivation method used to grow aquatic organisms like fish, shrimp, mollusks, and algae. 
  • Vertical Farming: the process of growing crops and food in vertically stacked systems normally coupled with soilless farming techniques and indoors. 
  • Urban Farming: cultivating crops within metropolitan areas or within populated areas. This type of farming can be large scale (greenhouses, in large buildings, vacant lots, rooftops, etc.) or small scale (in a pot on a deck, community garden, edible landscaping, etc.). 
  • Precision urban farming: a range of agronomic techniques that sharply limit the inputs that are used to grow food within urban settings such as nutrients, water, transportation of goods, etc. 

Background – Agricultural Connections 

The Earth’s population is predicted to increase from 7 billion people to 9.5 billion people by the year 2050. This population increase means that we will be needing to produce more food, meaning there will be an increase in food insecurity. The literacy connections for this lesson discuss food insecurity and the readers follow the struggles and problems involved with food insecurity while also engaging in ways to help solve them. Though literacy connections to this lesson discuss governmental help and conservation methods, this will only help some, and only 3% of the earth’s surface is available to produce food. This is where urban agriculture comes in.

Urban agriculture takes vacant lots, roof tops, window balconies, flower boxes, and other small green spaces and turns them into places where food can be grown. Oftentimes this leads to food being grown on compact soils, low nutrient soil, or even areas where increased pests harm the crops. To reduce pests and increase soil health, urban farmers use many of the same techniques as gardeners and commodity farmers. They will till the soil and add fertilizers when necessary. However, by providing food closer to the people that need it, urban farms help to reduce fossil fuels by reducing the miles food needs to travel. Urban agriculture allows the production of food on a small scale and produces food for communities that are food insecure or live in a food desert. The other goal of urban agriculture is to provide hands-on food experiences for city locked individuals to learn about where food comes from. 

Similarly, precision urban farms utilize vacant areas within cities. However, their farming doesn’t occur outside, but inside. Precision urban farming, such as aeroponics, aquaponics, vertical farming, and hydroponics, usually occurs within repurposed vacant buildings or green houses within cities. It uses new farming techniques and technologies to reduce energy, soil, and water needed to grow food. By controlling the lighting, temperature and humidity, and growth nutrients, precision urban farming optimizes the growth period of crops and livestock and reduces the distance between production and consumers.

Though urban and precision urban farming seem to be the way of the future, urban agriculture alone cannot solve the food shortages of the future, but it can help to prevent them. 

Videos to Gather more information:

Interest Approach – Engagement 

Optional Prior Activity: Have students read Free Lunch, There Grows the Neighborhood, or Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table (a companion resource can be found HERE). This can be done in sections and throughout a whole unit.


  • Let students know that only 3% of land on earth can be used for livestock and crop production. (optional activity)
  • Discuss with students all the places that agriculture can take place and how agriculture can help combat hunger. Keep track of students' ideas, try to guide the discussion towards urban agriculture. 
  • Ask students to draw or describe what comes to mind when they think about urban agriculture. Then have students pair share what they were thinking. 
  • Prompting questions: what types of food could be grown? How does the food travel? Who’s working in the urban fields?
  • On the board write the words “urban agriculture”. Create a mind map as a class using student ideas to come up with a definition of Urban agriculture. 
  • Show students the Urban Farming video.  
  • Ask students if there is anything else after watching the video, they’d like to add to their classes mind map. Then let students know that they'll be working in groups to explore five common urban farming practices.



  • Break students into 5 different groups, one for each type of precision urban agriculture. 
  • Group 1: Vertical farming
  • Group 2: Aquaponics
  • Group 3: Aeroponics
  • Group 4: Hydroponics
  • Group 5: Aquaculture  
  • Hand out the Urban Farming Cards . Have each group read through them and then share with the class what they found.


  • Students share what they discovered by looking over the cards and add to the Urban Farming on the board. 
  • Ask students which they think would be better for producing food in urban areas. Use a discussion to help students come up with ideas and reasons. 
    • This will be useful in the next portion of the lesson.  


  • Let students know that they can help combat hunger. Pose this challenge to students: Design a precision urban agriculture farm that can be used as a proposal to the city council. 
  • Working in their groups using the QR codes on the Urban Farming Cards sheet and the assignment sheet, students perform research to determine what they would need to create an urban agriculture farm. 
  • Let groups know that they have a max of $600,000 they can spend. But they have four options for buildings that they need to choose from. 
  • Students will need to determine exactly the materials and cost of those materials (using websites such as Amazon, Menards, Lowes, Ace, etc.). 
  • Students then create a model (such as a flow chart, mind map, drawing, etc.) of their plan and develop a pitch.


  • Use the students' model plans and pitch presentations to connect to the standards.

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Urban agriculture allows for the development of a variety of environmental, economic, and social benefits to the surrounding communities. 
  • Urban agriculture can improve nutrition by providing fresh foods closer to those that need it.

Extension Activities 

  • Have students investigate city or state grants that could help support their ideas. 
  • Have students explore their own town to determine a good place for an urban agriculture business.
  • Students can propose their idea to the city council/government and businesses to obtain feedback and to potentially get their project funded. 
  • Provide students with a 3D model creator such as Tinkercad or Sketchup to design their buildings.

Suggested Companion Resources 




Cathryn Carney, written in 2021

Organization Affiliation 

Environmental Issues Instruction, Upper Iowa University, REAP CEP, Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • T3.9-12.F. Explain how food production systems are influenced by consumer choices.
  • T4.9-12. C. Discuss population growth and the benefits and concerns related to science and technologies applied in agriculture to increase yields and maintain sustainability.

Iowa Core Standards

  • Social Studies 
    1. High School
      • SS-Econ.9-12.14. Use cost-benefit analysis to argue for or against an economic decision. 
      • SS-Econ.9-12.15. Analyze what goes into determining, and who determines, what is produced and distributed in a market system.
      • SS-FL.9-12.16. Develop a saving and spending plan using a financial record keeping tool.
      • SS-FL.9-12.17. Apply consumer skills to saving and spending decisions.