Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Summary of
CityHarvest: The feasibility of growing more food in London

City Harvest: The feasibility of growing more food in London
By Tara Garnett, July 1999. £30.00
Purchase from: Sustain
This 160 page report provides a thorough overview of the feasibility of food growing in London, a comprehensive list of all the necessary contacts required to develop a growing project, case studies, and how to take action yourself at an individual or community level.
This report is also a follow up to the 1996 Growing Food in Cities report.

London: an introduction


London is a large, complex and constantly changing city which is difficult to describe, let alone define. It contains extremes of wealth and health and, as well having areas of great beauty, suffers from environmental problems and contributes to environmental problems in the rest of the country and, indeed, the world. London's food system reflects these contradictory features, being at the centre of cultural renaissance in food yet at the same time experiencing food poverty. This manifests itself in a number of ways, including poor health, an underdeveloped food economy and, not least, a paucity of opportunities to grow food which would meet Londoners' varied needs.

Key facts

Urban agriculture


There is a surprisingly large amount of land in and around London where food could be, or is being grown. Some is farmed commercially, some is publicly owned (e.g. county farms, allotments, school gardens, parks), while parts are used by the voluntary sector (e.g. city farms, community gardens and community orchards). The proportion of land devoted to food growing has probably been declining, due to housing and other development pressures, funding shortages, and changes that are affecting farming as a whole. However, around half of London's households have gardens and the popularity of gardening is high and rising. Even among those keenest on ornamental gardening, there seems to be a growing interest in the edible, and a number of organisations exist to provide information, inspiration and encouragement, not only in the UK but globally.

Key facts

The environment


People who grow food in cities are not, inevitably, environmentally benign. Commercial, public and individual growers can use the same proportion of energy and agrimchemicals, produce the same narrow range of produce, and generate as much waste as their rural counterparts. Similarly, they can be just as good for the environment as some rural farmers, but with the added advantage of being closer m literally m to consumers. Biodiversity can be enhanced, as the tighter confines of urban areas encourage variety, both within and between species of plants (and animals). Shorter food transport distances can reduce packaging (and, therefore packaging waste) and the environmental damage associated with "food miles". Homemcomposting, and other composting options (including for sewage) can diminish waste and provide the growing medium for more food.

Key facts

Economic development


Unlike for other farming sectors, there is currently no financial or other Government support specifically for the urban food grower. There is little research data on the economic value of citymgrown food, although conventional measures of value seem unlikely to capture its multidimensional worth, even at current levels. And the potential is tremendous. Based on experience in London, the UK and internationally, the capital could farm livestock, a wide range of fruit, vegetables and herbs, honey, speciality mushrooms and fish. Processing and marketing, as well as production, remain underdeveloped, and farmers' markets, Women's Institute markets, Local Exchange Trading Schemes, box schemes and so on would all merit further research and development, by local authority purchasers or commercial companies. The same is true of composting and ancillary industries.

Key facts



There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that growing food in cities can be good for your dietary, physical and mental health. It is difficult, but not impossible, to measure these health benefits more rigorously though it has not been done, to our knowledge, in this country. "Hard" and "soft" data show that growers tend to eat more fruit and vegetables, be more active, and to report a better quality of life than nonmgrowers. This holistic approach lends itself well to Government's policy of improving public health, and there is much scope m currently undermexploited m to incorporate food growing into Health Action Zones, Health Improvement Programmes and Healthy Living Centres, as well as into settings such as healthy schools and healthy workplaces.

Key facts

Community development


For some, food growing is a way of coping – rather than communing – with local people: a chance to get away from it all in a peaceful, productive haven. For others, growing food with other people is a way of stimulating friendships with people from a wide range of different backgrounds. Food growing schemes can be a focus for genuine partnerships, helping to rebuild local structures, both physical and institutional. Such projects can also generate a sense of ownership and responsibility, and provide a way for people who have been isolated or disaffected m unemployed people, young people, senior citizens – to reconnect with and make a valued contribution to their neighbourhood. Supporting urban agriculture can also be a way for local employers to show their commitment to the area.

Key facts

Education and training


The process of growing food can provide almost limitless opportunities for learning, as many educational institutions have already discovered. It can be adapted to all ages and abilities, and can be as structured or as informal as required, leading nowhere other than up the garden path, or to a range of qualifications and to employment. most activity is currently focused on younger children and on those with less academic ability, as there is often more flexibility and less examination pressure. Urban agriculture's potential for contributing to curriculum development and the education of older children and adults could be further developed. Similarly, food growing could provide far more opportunities for employmentm related training than many people realise.

Key facts

Sustainable land use


Food can be grown without "land" as we traditionally conceive it, for example on roofmtops, in window boxes and in soil-less systems. However, land remains central to the future of urban agriculture. The most space and, therefore, potential, probably lies on the urban fringe, though complex ownership structures and planning policies inhibit its development for this purpose. Yet built up areas can also yield useful growing spaces, such as parks, housing estates, temporarily vacant land and, of course, the type of food growing land most people think of – and which remains invaluable – allotments. many people worry that urban land will be too contaminated to produce food safely, and the problems – particularly the cost of soil testing and remediation m should not be underestimated. But there are a number of lowmcost ways to solve (or avoid) the problem, and much London land is just as suitable for food growing as anywhere else.

Key facts

How much could London produce?

It is probably impossible to calculate accurately how much food London could produce, given the multitude of complicating factors to consider. It depends for instance, on what policies are in place to support urban food growing and on practical issues such as soil contamination. The figures below are simply estimates of the proportion of various land types which could be made available given strong political will. The potential productivity is based on an estimated average yield per hectare supplied by those active in the community gardening/allotments movement.

The calculation is based only on fruit and vegetable production. Setting aside land for other uses, such as beekeeping or animal rearing would generate a different result. It should also be noted that the calculation does not take into account the potential yields from window boxes, rooftops, street fruit trees and many other areas where food could be grown.

It is hoped that, while very approximate, the figure might provide a starting point for discussion and further, more detailed research. Using a productivity level of 10.7 tonnes/ha drawn from research into allotment yields, London could produce around 232,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. Taking the World Health Organisation's recommendation that we should eat around 0.5kg of fruit and vegetables a day (five portions), the amount potentially available would supply Londoners with 18% of their daily intake - roughly one of the recommended five portions a day.


This section summarises the recommendations made throughout the report, grouped together under the following headings: Recommendations that encourage two or more departments or agencies to work together on particular policies are repeated under each department or agency heading.

Local statutory agencies
Environmental agencies

Economic development agencies

Purchasing departments

Health promotion agencies and NHS Trusts

Education, training and employment agencies and Education Business Partnerships

Land use and planning departments

The Greater London Authority

National Government

Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (mAFF) Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Department of Health (DH) Home Office (HO) Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) Department for Culture, media and Sport (DCmS) The Treasury


Voluntary organisations

Case Studies

Healing Gardens, Hillingdon
Jill Nicholas, Groundwork Thames Valley, Denham Court Drive, Denham, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB9 5PG tel:01895 832662

Grazebrook Treescape Project
Grazebrook Primary School, Lordship Road, London N16 tel: 0181 802 4051

The Natural Growth Project
Jenny Grut, Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, 2 Langland Gardens, London NW3 6PY tel: 0171 435 4416

SHARE Horticulture Project
Jenny Shand, 64 Alternburg Gardens, London SW11 1JL tel: 0171 924 2949

Growing Communities
Julie Brown, The Firestation, 61 Lewisham Road, London N16 tel:0171 923 0412

Dartford Road Allotments
Graeme Laidlaw, 262 Princes Road, Dartford DA1 2PZ tel: 01322 409 184

Harington Scheme
John Turp, 55a Chomeley Park, Highgate N6 5EH tel:0181 341 3657

Cable Street Community Garden
Jane Sill, 101 Mathilda House, St Katherine's Way, London E1 9LF, tel: 0171 480 54 56

Surrey Docks City Farm
Daphne Ferrigan, James Taylor, Sarah Plescia or John Duignan, South Wharf, Rotherhithe Street, London SE16 1EY tel: 0171 231 1010

The Proper Job Community Comoperative
3 Fernliegh, New Street, Chagford, Devon TQ13 8BD tel: 01647 432616

Also see: International Planning Studies
Volume 4  Number 3  October 1999
Food for Urban Spaces: The Development of Urban Food Production in England and Wales
Ruth Martin & Terry Marsden
page 389

Previous Study

Growing Food in Cities

A report to highlight and promote the benefits of urban agriculture in the UK

Written by Tara Garnett
June 1996 90 pages
94 White Lion Street
London N1 9PF United Kingdom

This excellent report includes recommendations on policy integration; funding, support and promotion; land and water issues. On every other page the author has included a detailed case study of one of the UK's many urban agriculture programs for a total of 38. There is also a very useful 'Sources' chapter with paragraph descriptions of many UA support groups in the UK.

Contents include

Why grow food? Why in cities? Why now?

Community Development
affirming identity and active citizenship
combating discrimination
preventing crime and rehabilitating offenders

Economic development
training for jobs and for living
creating local goods and services
building an alternative economy

learning at school
acquiring skills beyond school
involving people with special needs

increasing biodiversity
tackling waste
reducing transport

improving diets
encouraging physical activity
promoting mental health

stimulating volunteering
generating sustainable tourism
developing arts and crafts

Sustainable neighbourhoods
reviving allotments
diversifying parks
regenerating housing developments

Issues affecting food growers in cities
money and other inputs
people, knowledge and skills

Excerpt from Growing Food in Cities (footnotes removed)

Cities and the Environment

At present. most cities are highly unsustainable, Although they only cover 2% of the earth's surface, cities consume 75% of its resources. The social, environmental and economic impact of a city, country or even an individual upon world resources has been described as its "footprint''.

London's total footprint extends to about 125 times its surface area of 159,000 hectares, to nearly 20 million hectares. Home to only 12% of Britain's population, London nevertheless requires the equivalent of the entire productive land area of Britain to sustain itself.

Why is this so? Partly because we use more than we need and partly because we do not use what we do need efficiently. According to Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food calculations, London requires 2,400,000 tonnes of food a year. which it imports from all over the world. Every day, London disposes of 6,600 tonnes of household waste of which only some 5% is recycled, even though much of this is compostable organic matter.

In effect, in their present form. cities are like parasites. feeding upon a global hinterland which is increasingly unable to sustain them. But the relationship is not intrinsically an exploitative one, Indeed, cities are potentially highly sustainable, and one aim of this report is to show that through urban food growing. the country can, in a sense, be brought to the town - to the advantage of both. In the words of the European Union Green Paper on the Urban Environment "Recreating the diverse multi-functional city of the citizen's Europe is . . a social and economic project for which 'quality of life' is not a luxury but essential."

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Revised November 24, 1999

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture