What factors support and promote home-based food-growing in four neighbourhoods in SW Sheffield?

Monday, 4 May 2009

Resilience and Policy

The burgeoning Transition Movement offers guidance towards “ … a culture based on its ability to function indefinitely and to live within its limits, and able to thrive for having done so.” (Hopkins 2008 p. 13)

Much can be learned from work done in the developing world as well. With increasing foreclosures, unemployment, rising energy and food prices, the developing world and the developed world begin to look more and more alike.

Food security and quality is of increasing concern. With the swelling tide of obesity and diabetes, it has become apparent that attention must be paid to the types and quality of food consumed. This is as much a problem of education as one of access to resources. It is clear a holistic approach is necessary.

“… the evolution of the concepts and issues related to household food and nutritional security led to the development of the concept of household livelihood security. … Food is understood to be only one of the priorities that people pursue. People are constantly required to balance food procurement against the satisfaction of other basic material and non-material needs (Maxwell and Frankenberger, 1992).” (Frankenberger and McCaston 1998 p. 2)

Each part of household livelihood security is necessary to provide sustainable basic needs. Weakness in any one area threatens overall security. Home-based food-growing not only helps to insure household food security, it’s effects can be much more broad.

By spawning ancillary businesses such as the production and marketing of value added products, local transportation and distribution, as well as marketing of fresh produce, sustainable urban agriculture, including home-based food-growing, enhances household livelihood security for many within the community, even those not actively involved in growing. But the scale of the deployment necessary is large.As Cuba discovered when the Soviet Union collapsed and their oil supplies were sharply reduced, sustainable agriculture on the scale required to adapt to the challenges of peak oil depends on community involvement.

Skill sharing and training will be required on a massive scale to enable urban and peri-urban dwellers to contribute in a significant way to the food supply. In the Transition movement this is part of the re-skilling of the community. (Hopkins 2008 pgs.166-170) Though many who participated in the Dig for Victory campaign are gone, there are those who have continued to practise small-scale sustainable agriculture ever since. Their knowledge should be capitalised on while it is still available.

Additionally, in designing a plan for the promotion of urban food-growing,

“… care should be taken not to continue the practise of imposing master plans on to the urban landscape, as had been the norm in the post war years, but to seek an understanding of the local site and tailor UA accordingly.” (Tomkins 2006 p. 52)

Accordingly, when assessing yield potential it is important not to discount the small plots that are so common in the inner city:

“… research in Cuba has suggested that there is not a direct relationship of size versus yield (Cruz and Medina, 2003) but it is the interplay of labour versus yield that determines efficiency.” (Tomkins 2006 p. 74)

Currently the citizens of Sheffield are forging ahead with community gardens, programmes to harvest and care for abandoned fruit trees, neighbourhood growing clubs, informal training sessions with master gardeners as well as more formalised curriculum, and community activism based around urban food-growing. Yet when I queried a Sheffield council worker about what types of support structure were in place to assist home-based food growers, I got a response and look that made it clear she thought I was deluded to expect the council to help people in their own gardens. From the lack of food based horticulture training, the abysmally understaffed management and provision of allotments, and the complete lack of support for a serious composting programme, the council is now in the position of playing catch up. They have but to look to Cuba, to the Transition Movement, and to their own citizens already leading the way in programmes like the LEAF Project, Heeley City Farm, and the Sheffield Organic Food Initiative.

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