Grow your own? The urban agriculture revolution

Sunday 20 October, 3.30pm until 4.45pm, Cinema 3 Urban Life

Food production was once the preserve of the countryside. But today enthusiasts promote the benefits for all communities - including city-dwellers – of becoming more intimately involved with food by growing and distributing and well as cooking and eating it. In ‘dying cities’ like Detroit, abandoned plots and urban voids have been reinvented as food gardens, farmers markets and pop-up food joints, while trendsetting London has allotment waiting lists and roof spaces filled with planters, chicken coops, bee hives and compost bins. Growing your own is all the rage. The Capital Growth initiative created 2,012 new growing spaces in London during the Olympic year and the ‘Food Milton Keynes Project’ advocates personal food production on the scale of the wartime ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. The trend is also being scaled-up, with architects designing futuristic skyscrapers with hi-tech farms, and 30-storey ‘Pig Cities’. One such pioneer, CJ Lim, argues such ‘hybridization of agriculture and urbanity’ creates ‘long-term urban and ecological sustainability’. encourages us to ‘become an urban farmer and feel smug about it’. But urban agriculture is seen as the solution to a range of social and political problems. Recent food scares like the horse meat scandal have made us all think a bit more about what we’re eating; some suggest that growing our own food is an innovative solution that empowers citizens and challenges the monopoly of industrialised agriculture. Additionally, the urban agricultural movement claims to have answers to lots of questions currently being raised about cities; food miles; mental health; neighbourliness (or lack of it); inter-generational relationships and even social mobility.

While many enjoy pottering about on an allotment or growing tomatoes in a window-box, to what extent can urban agriculture be a solution to the myriad problems it purports to resolve? When a Detroit activist says his aim is to ‘grow people’s relationship to the land and to themselves’ is this possible - or even sensible? Will it help us overcome the perceived failings of a globalised food system, and imbue cities with the alleged virtues of village communities, or is it just another urban fad?

Anand Dossa
economist, National Farmers' Union

Stephen Hargrave
chairman, London Farmers' Markets Ltd; chairman of trustees, Reform

CJ Lim
director, Studio 8 Architects; professor of architecture and urbanism, The Bartlett, University College London; author, Food City (forthcoming)

Vicky Richardson
writer and curator

Jason Smith
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas

Produced by
Alastair Donald associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council
Jason Smith associate fellow, Academy of Ideas
Recommended readings
Urban Agriculture Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities

Urban agriculture benefits the economy, environment, and well-being of those active in the industry, as well as residents who enjoy its products.

Jac Smit,, 2013

Why Urban Farming is an Awful Idea

To understand why urban farming can never scale up to feed us all, let’s look instead at Boulder County as an example. Can even the county feed itself? If not, then the city certainly cannot.

Zane Selvans, Amateur Earthling, 29 May 2012

Does it really stack up?

Agriculture: Growing crops in vertical farms in the heart of cities is said to be a greener way to produce food. But the idea is still unproven

Economist, 9 December 2010

Urban Farming Is Growing a Green Future

With seven billion mouths to feed, human agriculture exerts a tremendous toll on the planet, from water draws to pollution, and from energy use to habitat loss. But there is also a growing set of solutions, from organic agriculture to integrated pest management.

Brian Clark Howard, National Geographic,

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