Newly published research indicates that Britain has the potential to massively increase the amount of homegrown fruit and veg by making better use of overlooked and neglected space in towns and cities. We currently import a large proportion of our food, at considerable environmental cost. Researchers say that increasing the supply of homegrown food would improve diets, help those on low incomes and reduce both our reliance on imports and our carbon footprint. The headlines refer to an ‘urban agricultural revolution’. And, crucially, they say that it can be achieved “without converting areas of nature to agriculture, or further intensifying farming”. Encouraging a ‘grow our own’ food revolution could benefit children’s education, people’s physical and mental health, community cohesion and the environment. That’s a lot of potential winners.
The research, carried out by the University of Lancaster, indicates that Britain could grow as much as eight times its current production of fruit and vegetables — to around 40% of consumption levels — if all available urban and under-used green space were turned to cultivation. This is, of course, neither feasible nor desirable — we have gardens, parks, playing fields and other green spaces for very good reasons — but, the researchers say, using just a fraction of the nation’s neglected and overlooked green land for communal growing could still make a significant difference.
The benefits of eating lots of fruit and vegetables are well known. Becoming more self-sufficient in fruit and veg production, and reducing our reliance on imports, makes a lot of sense. The security and regularity of food imports can be affected by supply chain issues (as Covid has shown), political conflict (wars, trade disputes etc) and climate change (much of our fresh fruit and veg comes from drought-prone regions).
Encouraging people to get involved in a twenty-first century ‘grow our own’ food revolution would also have potentially huge benefits for physical and mental health and for community cohesion — improving diets, increasing exercise levels and boosting mental wellbeing. Reduced costs would also help bring healthier food options within the price range of people on low incomes, many of whom cannot afford to eat as healthily as they would like.
The UK is really bad for not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables, and this could make a real difference. Even if you just put a small amount of it to use, you can boost fresh fruit and vegetable availability by a meaningful amount.Jess Davies, a professor of sustainability at Lancaster University and principal investigator of the study, quoted in the Guardian
This could be about communal activity – growing clubs, local societies, communal plots. People engaged in growing have better diets, and healthier behaviours. Food growing is recreational, it counters loneliness and creates social cohesion.
You don’t want to convert more land to agriculture, as that drives biodiversity loss and climate change. But we have shown that you don’t need to: there is a lot of urban resource out there that is overlooked. We hope this research will spark conversations about the potential.
A modern-day food revolution of this kind — one that mobilises individuals and communities, encouraging the active participation of us all — would be of enormous educational benefit too. The concept of Life-Based Learning developed as a response to the urgent challenges we face. Nature, the environment, the animal kingdom, the physical world — in short, humankind’s relationship with and appreciation of the world around us — would be a central focus of a truly life-based approach to learning.
Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of children and young people learning much more than at present about healthy lifestyles and the environment and nature. Such a curriculum would help them adopt the skills, values and practices that ensure they are able to live healthy, sustainable lives in harmony with the needs of the planet.
Image at the head of this article by Ellen Chan from Pixabay.