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

Monday, 4 May 2009

Summary - A Better Way

“Around 800 million city dwellers worldwide … use their agricultural skills to feed themselves and their families.” (Millstone and Lang 2008 p.54)

While Havana is well known for successful urban agriculture, with 41% of the city area dedicated to agriculture, less well-known examples in the developed world include;

“Germany – 5% of population benefit from allotment gardens

Tokyo – 10% of city area used for agriculture
London - 14% of households grow vegetables in garden
Toronto – 40% live in households that produce some of their own food
Vancouver – 42% grow some food
Moscow – 65% of families involved in agriculture in urban or suburban areas”
(Millstone and Lang 2008 pgs.54-55)

Clearly, the understanding that urban agriculture is a part of our future is spreading. The reasons are many.

Every portion of food grown at home is one portion less that need be produced by industrial agriculture either abroad or in the UK. Homegrown food need not involve artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. It is not transported in containers across an ocean or across the UK. Eaten within hours of being picked it requires no packaging or refrigeration and is healthier as a result. For all these reasons and since one need not drive to purchase it, its carbon footprint is much lower. Individual and national dependence on fossil fuels is reduced. Food security, health both mental and physical, and community resilience are enhanced.

Because my research included such a high proportion of active growers, a study designed to look more closely at those who do not grow would be useful. What do they need to get started? Is it merely a matter of adequate education, a supportive neighbourhood and access to land? It seems unlikely. Waiting until hunger drives this population to start growing does not seem prudent. Strategies should be tested now to get larger portions of the population of Sheffield and the UK to start growing food.

At the council level, access to land nearby to neighbourhoods is vital; parkland, sporting fields, estate grounds, and derelict building sites, but more can and should be done to help people produce food at their own homes. This is what I believe is required;

• a vigorous public education outreach that emphasizes the health benefits of homegrown produce, the cost savings possible and food security issues,
• a city wide composting plan that provides delivery of free compost,
• a food-growing advice service that householders can access via telephone, email, web, and even personal onsite consultation,
• a training programme resulting in an NVQ in small-scale food-growing.

In addition, a thorough and speedy assessment of the risks to the public from soil contamination and education about methods to remediate those risks must be completed and made public.

At the neighbourhood level, the most effective thing residents can do would be to organise around food-growing. Citizens should get to know their neighbours, start a growing club, share skills, and work together to help more households grow more food.

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