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Cities, soils, food and farming

Mark Walton

The next few months will be busy ones for our work on the Urbanising in Place project, exploring how our cities can support agroecological food growing. Here Mark explains what were up to – and why!

In the spring of 2018 we started work on ‘Urbanising in Place’, an international research project that seeks to identify how we can create cities that support agroecological food growing.

The focus of the project is the potential for food growing in the peri urban areas of cities; the edgelands where there are still productive farms and market gardens operating at scale but under constant development pressure, and the greenbelt where land is protected from development but where previously or potentially productive land is often more valued for leisure purposes, aesthetic reasons or horse grazing. 

Working with academics from the the Universities of Coventry, Ghent, Sheffield and Wageningen, and with communities of practice in Rosario, Riga, Brussels and London, the project seeks to identify and define components of an “agroecological urbanism”: a model of urbanisation which places food, metabolic cycles and an ethics of land stewardship, equality and solidarity at its core. 

We’re now two years in and the project is moving at pace. 

Our initial work centered on understanding the patterns of existing food growing and mapping the key issues and actors in each city. Using this as a basis each city has developed a set of questions which they will seek to answer through research and local action.

In London we have four key questions which we are working with others to explore and to develop action around:

  • How can recent and emerging policy commitments in London to protecting and creating food growing spaces be realised in practice on the ground, and what is the potential for them to be strengthened further, in particular to provide for agroecological food growing at commercial scale in the peri urban and Greenbelt?

Following a meeting with our international project partners at City Hall in the autumn, hosted by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the London Food Board, we are participating in two upcoming events which seek to extend the issues we have been exploring in this work: the first is hosted by Sustain and the London Food Board and will explore how London can support agro-ecological food production in the capital and beyond, and the second is being hosted by the GLA to explore the potential for future positive use of the greenbelt. 

  • What strategies are growers currently using with respect to soil care and to what extent are they currently cycling nutrients from landscape / city? 

We are currently undertaking interviews with growers to understand their approaches to soil care and are planning a workshop to bring together urban growers to reflect upon their soil care practice, build peer networks, and create a broader vision of soil care.

  • What is the potential for agroecological food growing sites to act as sites for food organic waste cycling, what are the barriers and what enabling changes are needed?

We are working with project partners Quantum Waste to explore the potential for organic waste cycling at food growing sites and the issues and barriers they currently face in developing a composting and food growing site on the edge of London. 

  • What is the potential for incorporating the protection and agroecological enhancement of soils in planning and land use policies?

We are currently interviewing key individuals whose organisations have an interest in – or are currently working on – the issue of legal protection of soils. We will be hosting a roundtable towards the end of this month to share current action in this area and identify the potential for future joint work. 

In addition to the local action in each city we have held meetings of all the project partners in Rosario (Argentina) and in London to share learning between the cities – each of whom are looking at different elements of urban agroecology, how it contributes to the management of the metabolism of the city, and how it can be protected and nurtured. In March we’ll be heading to Brussels to find out more about the work taking place there and hear more about the work being undertaken by our partners in Riga and Rosario. 

If you are involved in related work and would like to find out more about the Urbanising in Place project – or share work you think might be relevant – do get in touch. 

You can find out more about the project here and catch up on the activities undertaken by different partners here.

 

The project is funded by Sustainable Urbanisation Global Initiative (SUGI) Food-Water-Energy Nexus, jointly established by the Belmont Forum and the Joint Programming Initiative Urban Europe.

 

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