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17/06/2014

Urban agriculture should be actively encouraged

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Urban allotment

London is adept at making big things happen in small spaces, and its plethora of community food spaces are testament to this, from land-based to hydro- and aquaponics; on housing estates, rooftops, and, underground. These projects creatively explore turning the city’s waste products into valuable assets.

Jo Wilson, Future of LondonWith space at a premium, many of these schemes are probably fulfilling more social and environmental aims than they are increasing urban food security. Both food and growing are tools for fostering quality of place, and healthy and cohesive communities. With long waiting lists for council allotment spaces, part of the solution is in the generously proportioned yet underused shared green spaces on so many of our housing estates. There are several examples of community-led activity out there, but a push from council planners could make it commonplace.
 
In terms of new development, Brighton and Hove City Council has shown what can be achieved, with their planning advice note specifying how food-growing space should be incorporated into new developments. And urban agriculture is also a fantastic 'meanwhile' activity, breathing colour and biodiversity into brownfield land with very little resource and effort – good news for developers and communities alike.
 
This is all valuable, but it could be greater than the sum of its parts with some strategic thinking. What percentage of the 30 million-plus meals served daily in a city the size of London could be produced within its boundaries? How much land could be given to food production long term? It is good to see the borough of Enfield tackling some of these issues in its Garden Enfield programme.
 

"How much of our food could be produced in the peri-urban hinterland? How much in the South-East?"

 
Even if the percentage is small, quantifying it would be a step to professionalising urban agriculture. As with other sectors that are creative and community-led, so much of this work is currently in the realm of the voluntary or underpaid. As the food-related apprenticeships and training opportunities proliferate in the capital, it is vital that they lead to well-paid employment.
 
We could think about London’s productive capacity in the context of the rest of the country. How much of our food could be produced in the peri-urban hinterland? How much in the South-East? By optimising the potential of each zone, we could begin to recalibrate the food system, reduce carbon intensive transport patterns and restore links between rural producer and urban marketplace.
 
The surge of interest in food growing and provenance suggest it is time to act. Practitioners need to look at the wealth of activity in existence, and consider the tools and resources required to develop it.
 
Jo Wilson is head of policy at Future of London
 
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