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Creative Crops: Urban Farming in China

Jan 24, 2015 By Margaux Schreurs , Comments (12)     Add your comment Newsletter

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As argued by Chinese Anthropologist Fei Xiaotong, Chinese civilization originated in the countryside, and the majority of people in China still have roots in these areas. However, Chinese society has witnessed a definite change in the past few decades. More than half the Chinese population now live in the urban sprawl.

Impending environmental strain and land pressures mean that there is not enough space for China’s numerous city-dwellers to enjoy spacious and ‘green’ lifestyles. On top of this, there has been an increase in debates surrounding food security, and whether or not China is able to sustain its population. The want of a little extra cash, concern over food scandals and the desire for a more beautiful living space has lead to growth of urban farming in China and the emergence of rooftop gardening. 

These space-saving gardens throughout the city also contribute towards fighting pollution in the bustling larger cities. This is especially important in the last few years, as pollution has become a hot and controversial topic, and environmental groups become more and more popular throughout the country as a result.

Urban farming also allows those in the cities to retain a certain connection to nature and agriculture. This connection is especially important in helping farmers and rural workers in adapting to life in China’s megacities, as retaining certain aspects of farming in the city may ease their transition from a rural to an urban lifestyle.

Vertical farms in Shanghai
Artistic impression of what Shanghai’s vertical farms might look like.
Source: Except Integrated Sustainability

Inventive and Alternative Farming

The desire to farm more organically, and thus the rise in rooftop gardens in order to control growth of own food, has also arisen as a result of various food scandals in the past few years. From toxic bean sprouts, to rat meat replacing lamb food scandals in China are a dime a dozen. We all know about them. But with the growth of allotments outside of cities and rooftop gardening on the rise urban dwellers are creating innovative ways of farming, and creating more trustworthy food chains.

Zhang Guichun, a 55-year-old Beijinger, has gained a certain level of fame and respect following the construction of an organic “hanging garden” on his courtyard roof. Following on from his studies in Chinese medicine, he became keen on planting his own vegetables and herbs. Peng Quigen in China’s Zhejiang province’s Shaoxing has also been in the news, as he has successfully grown rice and watermelons on the roof of his urban-dwelling.

The Beijing Rooftop Landscaping Association was set up in China’s famously-polluted capital, following an official “let rooftops go green in Beijing” campaign in 2005. Although reports confirm that the campaign has not turned as many rooftops green as was previously hoped, there has been an increase in participating gardeners and farmers.

Trends in organic produce

It’s not surprising that some citizens would rather have control over their own food production, in hopes to avoid tainted produce in turn leading to an increase in interest in organic produce. There are currently 1.6 million hectares of organic farming in China (total arable land in China is 140 million), which accounts for 11% of the world’s organically managed land.

However, it is important to note that there are some disputes as to whether China’s ‘organic’ standards are equal to those in the West. Some have determined a 10-15 year lag behind the West with regards to the development of interest in organic foods, and the emergence of its development.


Urban farming may create a more positive future for the green aspects of China’s mega-cities. With pollution still a serious problem, and space being scarce in many cities’ centers, roofs provide an alternative space for those with a rural background to maintain their livelihoods, hobbies, and identities. On top of this, they provide a way for citizens to control how they grow fruit and vegetables, and whether chemicals are involved in production or not. Hopefully we will see more of this in the future.

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Keywords: Urban farming in China food scandals; organic food in China; alternative farming in China; food security; rooftop gardening and farming

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12 Comments ( Add your comment )


I am strongly considering growing some leafy greens on the roof, as most of my neighbors are as well.

Feb 23, 2014 23:24


Apr 02, 2014 09:08

The fact the article starts with a lie is not helpful. More than half the population live in urban areas? Last I read it was 80% still living in rural areas. Similar to the USA in 1860's. The hukou system is designed to keep people in the country growing food. They keep them uneducated by providing little opportunities so they have to stay farming food. Most people here in the cities only grow food to save money. Even the idiots with chickens who refused to get rid of them during the bird flu scare.

Jan 24, 2015 08:35

Feb 09, 2015 17:48

Then I guess you haven't read the news in at least two years.

Feb 09, 2015 17:48

Well Joshua that all depends on what they class as urban. The Chinese are masters of manipulating statistics to show what they want people to see. By the way who is checking the census. Are all the unregistered people without hukou counted in these statistics?

Feb 09, 2015 23:23

'However, it is important to note that there are some disputes as to whether China’s ‘organic’ standards are equal to those in the West.' LOL When you see news headlines such as Fake Excreta Manufactured from Mixing Industrial Waste with Public Washroom Sewage used in Organic Farming --- Produce Sold to Public, you can safely guess which country the article is talking about.

Jan 24, 2015 09:18

Potatoes or Concrete? You do the Math?

Jan 26, 2015 21:59

I've seen wheat being grown on the sidewalk and in traffic circles

Jul 15, 2015 04:30


Jan 29, 2016 13:09

Hare Krishna

Sep 26, 2016 13:45

good to know

Mar 21, 2017 23:03

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