For too long urban farming has been thrown in with cocktails in jam jars, fixie bikes, and sailor tattoes as identifying the hipster generation, and therefore at risk of becoming a passing fad. Urban food production is too valuable to only be associated with bearded boys in flannel shirts that fancy themselves as horticulturists rather than internet entreprenuers or guitarists in folk bands. Yes this is a stereotype, but last time I was wandering around Shoreditch that stereotype was very much alive, and smoking roll ups on street corners.
Growing food within the city boundaries does not just make environmental sense but also economic. One of the huge issues for traditional farming is attracting labour, which is why so many farmers are in favour of migrant workers. They rely upon this worker for manual graft, harvesting, and packing but also for managerial roles. Try enticing a bunch of graduates accustomed to 24 hour living to decamp to the rural life where getting a pint of milk on a Sunday may well involve driving to the nearest motorway service station.
As for the manual roles, there have been plenty of television experiments where they send city folk off to the shires to pick asparagus with the inevitable result of them giving up halfway through a shift while a bunch of Polish pensioners are busily clearing the fields. This gives the wrong impression of farming, it’s a highly skilled, and rewarding form of employment. Those pensioners are not randomly picking produce, they’re doing so in a way to ensure the produce is harvested in its best form.
Therefore, if one can find a sustainable way to grow produce in areas where there is a workforce on your doorstep, that would help to solve a major issue for the fresh food industry. It would also reduce food miles, transport costs, and go some way to eliminating the risks presented by changing climate.
This is why I’m so excited by the new scheme under development by GrowUp, an urban farming enterprise that has taken on 6,000 sq ft in Beckton, East London. You can read my feature on the project for Produce Business UK here.
There are lots of inspiring stories of urban farming projects happening around the world, and I’ve put a few links at the end of this post. If I were the CEO of a major supermarket, wondering what to do with those big box stores that are struggling since the internet took all the margin out of music and video sales, I’d be calling GrowUp. Why import tomatoes when you could grow your own supply in Swindon or Swansea?
Urban Agriculture links: