In towns and cities across the UK, a grassroots army is picking up their shovels and finding people-powered solutions to our food system challenges. Urban food growers are creating a fairer, more sustainable food system, with a focus on nutrition and flavour, rather than fruit and veg grown to endure a 40-hour truck journey before it reaches your plate.
The benefits of urban food growing are wide-reaching. It regenerates unloved spaces and improves urban drainage. It helps people make friends and improves their health and wellbeing and provides jobs and training. It leads people to appreciate the value of food much more. It also improves biodiversity, enhances food security and cuts greenhouse gas emissions.
There’s a food revolution taking place in parks and wastelands, estates and schools. For it to thrive, we need to engage and empower communities. Projects must be recognised and supported by local government and landowners, financially and through providing access to land.
Longevity and hard work are key. Capital Growth was set up in 2008 to create 2,012 food projects across London in time for the Olympic Games in 2012. Wildly ambitious, it was also highly successful. Supported by the London Mayor and local communities, it achieved its target. Continued political support means that Capital Growth is still going strong, providing training and support for established and would-be community food growers across the city.
We need a revolution in how food is traded, including paying food growers a real living wage. Urban food growing challenges the traditional model of rural farms selling to large supermarkets via distribution centres. Instead, it’s rooted in low-impact and low-carbon local production and distribution. Growing Communities in Hackney, North London is a great example – it runs two urban farms (one a patchwork of eight community plots), a veg bag scheme and a regular farmers market.
There are some difficult questions we need to address to make progress in our food revolution. Is there such a thing as the ‘right kind’ of food growing? Is there a role for high-tech urban food initiatives? How can we do more to break down the barriers to community food growing? With huge pressure for more housing in towns and cities, how can we protect growing spaces? How can we convince those in power that public spaces in towns and cities are invaluable, and that planning laws should make better use of existing unused spaces?
In the meantime, thousands of communities are digging in and getting on with it. They understand that growing your own food transcends culture, class and background and brings communities together. You only need to start with a bean – and we all know how that story ends!
This summary is partly drawn from two blogs.
– Sarah Williams from Sustain, a speaker at this Food Talks – Capital Growth: The Revolution will be (Organically) Fertilised
– Dan Crossley from the Food Ethics Council, Growing Food, Growing Momentum
Meet the small producers that are proving that there’s a better way of food growing that benefits the people doing the growing.
Growing Communities, Hackney
Calthorpe Project, Kings Cross, London
Kindling Trust, Manchester