Urban farms won’t feed our cities – but they’re still a great idea

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LARGE-SCALE urban agriculture is on the rise globally, with more and more farms appearing in our cities. A far cry from allotments and community gardens, urban farms occupy much bigger spaces; they can employ people, regenerate huge neighbourhoods and give residents access to fresh produce on their doorsteps.

The practice has been popular in North America for many years, with many huge rooftop farms surrounding New York City. Brooklyn Grange, for instance, produces close to 23,000kg of organic vegetables each year, and the world’s largest urban farm recently opened in Chicago.

Yet investment is also opening up elsewhere, particularly in the UK, with several urban farms planned across the country over the next few years – from Greater Manchester to London, and beyond.

Large-scale urban agriculture is on the rise globally, with more and more farms appearing in our cities. A far cry from allotments and community gardens, urban farms occupy much bigger spaces; they can employ people, regenerate huge neighbourhoods and give residents access to fresh produce on their doorsteps.

Rooftop farms

The practice has been popular in North America for many years, with many huge rooftop farms surrounding New York City. Brooklyn Grange, for instance, produces close to 23,000kg of organic vegetables each year, and the world’s largest urban farm recently opened in Chicago.

Yet investment is also opening up elsewhere, particularly in the UK, with several urban farms planned across the country over the next few years – from Greater Manchester to London, and beyond.

Despite these barriers, our 2016 study into the state of urban farming showed that huge positives can come out of these spaces. For example, urban farms often act as a social incubator, bringing together communities and connecting cultures. Many also impact significantly on health and well-being, allowing city-dwellers to access fresh food and sometimes even supplement diets.

We found that those connected to The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens were strongest. They gained value from the networking with other such sites across the UK.

What works?

A few in this extensive network have existed for over 30 years, and are still going due to the excellent support from both locals and the wider network. Ultimately, the idea of urban farming is not to replace traditional rural farms, but rather to complement and add value.

To push forward with urban farming, there’s a need to build on what works – in particular, to learn from urban farms in the US, which are expanding and are on a different scale entirely to anywhere else.

Global and national initiatives mean we’re likely to see more of these urban farms appearing across the world – improving city dwellers lifestyles, impacting positively on the local economy and regenerating neglected spaces, such as new farm Woodbankin Stockport, Greater Manchester, run by The Kindling Trust.

The capacity of urban farms to tackle major issues such as poverty and reducing food miles should not be underestimated, and with more ambitious projects starting up every day, it might not be long until you see one appearing in your neighbourhood.

Dr Mike Hardman, lecturer in Human Geography

Originally published in The Conversation

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