Urban agriculture digs in: ploughing ahead, in the city

In the last decade, urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) have resurged in the North: in most European cities, waiting lists for allotments have grown, and city farms and school farms blossomed. However, most UPA still blends the frugal and the recreational, with a few financially viable urban farms getting by through the mutual benefits of employing special-needs patients in ‘care-farming’. However after a recent launch conference of the Greater Liverpool Food Alliance (GLFA) in north-west England, urban agriculture is being seen as a tool of resilience for crisis-hit Western economies.
In the early 2000s, a World Health Organization report claimed that the commercial farmers of Greater London, plus its registered individual ‘allotment’ plots, produced some 9,400 tonnes of fruit and vegetables annually. Representing a mere two per cent of London’s minimum recommended intake (FAO: 2 pieces of fruit, 200 grams of vegetables daily), it bears no comparison to the 80 per cent of all vegetables grown and consumed in Accra or Hanoi.
That such statistics are hard to find today for Liverpool, the fourth city of a major OECD country is a legacy of when food security had fallen off the agendas of most city managers. Few Western cities can actually answer the innocent query “how big is your city’s harvest?” with either ease or pride. In North America, interest is richest in cities with high eco-awareness (the north-west) or in the coping strategies of places knocked down by recession, such as Detroit.
This is not really the foundation stone of a resilient, pro-active, food-secure city in a century of untold variabilities and vicious vulnerability – a notion much used at the GLFA conference held in July, 2010. Max Steinberg, CEO of sponsoring agency Liverpool Vision, made clear that the city’s economic development company has no doubts about the core strategic role of UPA. “Most current urban agriculture projects focus on achieving social objectives. What differentiates this initiative is its focus on economic viability. Urban agriculture needs to become part of the mainstream economy, one of the key industries for a low-carbon, post-industrial society.”
Aware that Liverpool is no early-adopter of UPA, the conference allowed practitioners (and bankers, community care agencies, business counsellors, dieticians, traders, retailers plus procurement agencies) to exchange experiences and aspirations. “The 85 attendees had enough ideas for ten times that number,” smiled one organiser in UrbanAg. This community-interest company is co-funded by Liverpool Vision who, incidentally, describe their highly adaptable city as being “on the up”. External reports of a soaring coriander crop, thanks to recent Somali immigrants, testify to this.

Read More at the New Agriculturist


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