Urban farming in London – without Chelsea tractors and designer wellies
Urban farming (or urban agriculture) is a growing movement in major cities around the globe often led by local communities who are concerned about the health implications, ethics and environmental sustainability of industrial farming practices.
Urban farming (or urban agriculture) is a growing movement in major cities around the globe often led by local communities who are concerned about the health implications, ethics and environmental sustainability of industrial farming practices. As city populations continue to expand exponentially (currently more than half the world’s population live in cities), the demands on existing agricultural land and the challenge of transporting food to consumers without waste, grows ever higher. Urban farming makes productive use of land that would otherwise lie empty, neglected or otherwise used inefficiently. Sustainable agriculture takes a more holistic view of the food market that addresses the long-term viability of growing food and in a way that enhances the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. Communities benefit in terms of local employment, learning new skills, connecting urban dwellers with Nature and raising awareness of environmentally and sustainably grown food. Growing food in cities also makes perfect economic sense as the distance to market is greatly reduced. Less food miles (distance from source to market) means lower climate change impacts due to less carbon emissions. A recent report (Guardian article) uncovered the shocking fact that almost half the world’s food is thrown away. Urban farming addresses many of the root cases of such waste – inadequate storage facilities, poor infrastructure and the dominance of supermarkets that demand perfectly appearing food. Social enterprises, charities, entrepreneurs and local volunteers are giving hope that the “little man” can take on the might of supermarkets and food industry giants, if enough people join the movement.
London, one of the world’s great cities, has an opportunity to lead the way on urban farming. The city has numerous examples of positive action taken by local communities to grow food in unique spaces and using ingenious methods. However, there is also a need for action taken from the top down as well as the bottom up. Capital Growth, the campaign to support 2,012 new community food-growing spaces for London by the end of 2012 has been a success. The scheme offers practical help, grants, training and support to groups wanting to establish community food growing projects. But the real challenge will be to change the buying behavior of Londoners away from bargain-basement prices and buy-one-get-one-free offers towards recognizing the added social, health and environmental value of sustainably grown local food. London Food Link (part of the “Sustain” alliance), the Mayor of London and the Big Lottery’s Local Food Fund that together form the Capital Growth project certainly have no room for complacency.
Colin Cafferty is an environmental documentary photographer interested in engaging the public on energy, sustainability and environmental issues. In 2012, he graduated with an MSc degree in Climate Change Management from the University of London and set up a website with the aim of inspiring action on climate change through photography. His exhibition “London – a snapshot of urban resilience and sustainability” complemented the first major international conference on urban sustainability and resilience held at University College London in Nov 2012. His latest exhibition “Environmental sustainability in Hackney” takes place at Hackney Museum from 5th-23rd Feb 2013.