"Grown in London, Portsmouth, Bristol, Doncaster...." How food plans for cities could reconnect us


If we need to reconnect to nature, in order to value it once more, then why not begin in the most de-natured places in our lives - our major cities? And according to the spirit of productive bustle that defines most cities, the best option would be to try and grow food there.

We read a real “gateway”-blog (meaning branching off in many directions) from Shared Assets the other day. Primarily a report on the New London Plan and its notes on promoting urban food growing, it also reveals a vibrant national counter-culture of activist food growing (which we’re very much aware of in our Plymouth engagements, but cover regularly and globally here).

On the London Plan:

The plan has set out a specific policy on food growing (G8), which includes calling on boroughs to protect existing food growing sites, space for food growing within new developments, and to identify potential sites that could be used for commercial food production.

It recognises local food productions contribution to sustainability and health, and links to the recent ‘London Food Strategy‘. At Shared Assets we have no doubt about the contribution of food growing to local economic development and resilience, and it is good to see this starting to be recognised in policy.

It will be interesting, however, to see how boroughs will implement this in practice, both in their development plans and subsequent planning negotiations. How it can be ensured that sites provided for #urbangrowing are really fit for purpose, with the right utilities, light and space for composting?

Shared Assets note that there is much precedent for the London Plan to draw on, The food growing plan in Brighton is cutting-edge, as is Portsmouth’s. Both are allied to the Sustainable Food Cities Network (see the number of localities involved here). The key issues the Network focus on are:

1. Promoting healthy and sustainable food to the public 

2. Tackling food poverty, diet-related ill health and access to affordable healthy food

3. Building community food knowledge, skills, resources and projects

4. Promoting a vibrant and diverse sustainable food economy

5. Transforming catering and food procurement

6. Reducing waste and the ecological footprint of the food system

The Shared Assets blog goes on to consider some of the ingenious answers to this agenda:

Security of tenure is a challenge for food growing endeavours, where investment in infrastructure and time can be necessary to scale up, and difficult to justify if the site is not long term. How far will local authorities go in recognising other types of value, such as social or ecological?

Where there is demand but an area is already developed, more innovative thinking may be needed to free up land for growing, such as the consideration of food growing in parks or green roofs. Each of these has its limitations, and each site will present different opportunities.

The most heralded urban growing take back initiative is Incredible Edible, who grow on everything from verges to schoolyards and even graveyards, and have inspired many to follow their lead. Could you imagine walking to work and picking your salad for lunch on the way? Maintenance is the concern of many, but edible plants can also be perennial, low maintenance and look good, this is down to design.

More here. Shared Assets have been thinking deeply about all this for a while. They’ve looked into the long-term problem of how disconnected urban dwellers are from the act of food growing, and have introduced a new concept to us of “peri-urban” food growing (taking place on the very edges of cities, which has itself long roots - take the Aztecs).

But we like the idea of “grown in London” or “grown in Sheffield” as a food brand…feels like progress.