With the growing threats to food security from peak oil and climate change along with the ever increasing rates of diabetes and obesity due to over reliance on processed foods, consensus is growing that urban agriculture should be an increasingly important part of the UK’s food supply. Due to the generally small individual areas available, careful attention to growing systems must be applied in order to ensure that it fulfills the needs of the people. (Tomkins 2006 p. 42) In order to maximise production of healthy food in the home gardens of the city, a relevant training system is needed that is widely available.
There is a deep well of experience on allotments around Sheffield. While permaculture courses are available through Sheffield Organic Food Initiative and opportunities abound for informal training, formalised training leading to certification in urban agriculture is urgently needed. This is currently unavailable in local colleges that are focused on amenity horticulture. This type of training should be available where it applies, on allotments and in home gardens.
Sheffield is also blessed with another perfect location for training. For thirty years Heeley City Farm has been an invaluable resource for the city. Interviewees spoke of the value of being able to see how successfully food can be grown in the city as well as having the opportunity to see a successful composting operation. Interviewee #17 said,
“It was good how they had all the raised beds with different crops in; interesting seeing how some of ours had done better than theirs, or theirs had done better than ours. They also had other stuff like artichokes, seeing how abundant they were makes me realise I would like to grow those in the future … Maybe if they had either staff or volunteers around the gardening section and one could go and talk to them about the crops.”
At one time the farm offered yearlong horticulture classes that were highly regarded. Due to fluctuations in funding they have struggled to maintain services to the public. Unfortunately, these vital courses were cut. Residents in my cohort spoke quite highly of the farm and lamented its difficulties. The council should see to it that the farm has a reliable funding stream as a matter of food security for its inner city residents.
Courses resulting in an NVQ in urban agriculture should be designed, funded and offered through the Heeley City Farm, the LEAF Project, Sheffield Organic Food Initiative, as well as on allotments where applicable.