Sustainable Healthy Living From Growing Food In Urban Environments
Our food system is currently controlled by the agribusiness and supermarkets which have provided the nation with plentiful cheap food, fantastic! Or is it? In actual fact it is reported that this industrialised food system costs up to ten times as many calories in energy to produce just one calorie of energy in the form of edible food. And it has also come at a great cost to the environment and communities, with pollution of soil and water, displacement or eradication of wildlife, small farmers put out of business and whole communities lost. Our current food system accounts for 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions. All the while consumers become more and more disconnected with the food they eat, lack knowledge and awareness of what they are eating and where it has come from. This was highlighted recently in the press after a number of food contamination incidents were brought to light. Most people today lack basic skills or understanding in growing, preparing and cooking food which leads to further dependency on a fragile, unsustainable and unhealthy food system.
So what can we do to change this and give the power back to the people? Most of us live and work within cities and larger towns and may feel there is little we can do when it comes to getting closer to mother nature. However this isn’t quite true, and I was very surprised to learn of the opportunities available.
Starting At Home
Outdoor space can be a very precious thing, especially in larger cities, but even if you don’t have a garden, there is an amazing array of vegetables and fruits that you can produce from window boxes, hanging baskets and patio pots. Armed with a few bits of basic knowledge you will soon be on your way to having organic vegetables on tap at a fraction of the cost you would pay in the supermarket. You will gain greater nutrition from your freshly harvested produce as well as a great sense of satisfaction.
There are a number of education initiatives for schools to participate in growing food, it seems to be predominantly primary schools in urban areas taking part which is a great start. Reports have shown that children from participating schools have shown positive impacts on:
- pupils’ science scores
- pupils’ horticultural knowledge
- pupils’ nutrition (specifically: willingness to try new foods; and ability to recognise and describe a variety of fruit and vegetables).
If all this hard work can be carried on at home then all the better.
Creating Jobs & Training Opportunities
There is wide concern that young people do not see farming as a viable career from which to earn a living. However there have been a number of schemes that are addressing some of the key issues and barriers for people interested in horticulture to get started. Capital Growth, Growing Communities and Cultivate London are just a few of the schemes now available creating dozens of jobs and providing apprenticeships for unemployed people. Taking disused land, turning them into small farms and generating produce for local box schemes or produce to be sold at local farmers markets. There are real opportunities for people to create their own sustainable food businesses with support and mentoring or to simply volunteer, gain new skills and get involved in their local communities.
I have been pleasantly surprised to see food growing in the most unexpected places around London, such as St James Park. Just the other day I saw a small vegetable plot among the beautiful floral displays. In 2012 the Eden gardening team reopened London’s Southbank Centre roof garden, named the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden which now displays planters with an array of vegetables from around the world alongside wild flowers. Unusual foods such as blue potatoes, narga peppers (an essential ingredient in Bangladeshi cooking) as well as a mini olive grove are being grown, originally planted in support of 2012 Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World. In 2011 London’s major announced 1000+ community food gardens being tended by 35,000 Londoners which I find incredible and very encouraging.
If you would like to get involved in a community garden, farm or school garden near you there is a great little map on this website that help you to locate one with a postcode search.
Here’s to a brighter, greener sustainable future overflowing with glorious food!