Atlantic Cities

How Urban Farming Is Boosting London’s Livability Quotient

From Beijing to Bangkok, California to New York, and Havana to London, urban agriculture is gaining popularity as a viable, sustainable answer to global issues such as pollution, shrinking natural resources, and public health challenges. Clustered in or around towns and cities, urban farms grow, process, and distribute food to local populations. In London, the Capital Growth Campaign is serving as a model of how private companies and the public sector are joining forces to improve livability in a major urban area, while making a positive global impact.  

A partnership initiative between London Food Link, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and the Big Lottery's Local Food Fund, the Campaign has logged more than 1,900 urban agricultural operations since its inception three years ago. The goal is to reach a total of 2,012 urban gardens by the end of this year.
 
Empty lots, rooftops, schools, and specially-purposed buildings have been transformed into new farms. Many are simple community gardens. Others are high-tech operations that use green-roof technologies such as rainwater harvesters and composting tanks. FARM:shop is one notably innovative Capital Growth farm, started last year by eco-social design practice Something & Son LLP.
 
Housed in a former derelict building, FARM:shop  uses reclaimed water to farm fish and grow vegetables, all in the bustling heart of one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas. A rooftop chicken coop and a “polytunnel,” or high-tech greenhouse that enables vegetables to be grown year-round, eliminates the need to truck livestock and produce from remote commercial farms, thereby reducing carbon emissions. 
 
The ever-growing farm-to-table movement has caused consumers worldwide to more closely examine how their food gets to the table or grocery store. But in some London neighborhoods where urban farms are being established, the decision to buy local is not so much a lifestyle choice but a necessity. The absence of fresh food in some urban areas—not just in London but around the globe—has mobilized local governments and private companies to support urban agriculture as a means of eliminating “food deserts” in order to address public health issues including obesity.
 
To encourage participation and, ultimately, to benefit the greater good of a more livable city, the Capital Growth Campaign incentivizes urban farmers by offering small grant programs, assistance with land use issues, and instructional programs. The initiative also promises to be a boon for various farm equipment companies and niche eco businesses that are helping to sponsor the program’s urban farmers by offering discounts.   
 
One business motivating urban farmers with discounts is the UK-based Ridan, a maker of composting machines used by schools, hotels, and commercial kitchens. Participating urban farmers employ Ridan’s composting technology to recycle biodegradable waste. The nonprofit Riverwood project, another Capital Growth Campaign collaborator, carries out its social and environmental mission by making garden furniture such as benches, tables, and planter boxes from salvaged wood that would otherwise end up in landfills. Urban farmers may purchase reclaimed wood items at a discount.
 
The Capital Growth Campaign demonstrates how sustainable initiatives such as urban agriculture can have significant benefits for modern cities—encouraging practices that promote ecological sustainability as well as individual and community health. “Lush patches of fruit and [vegetables] are springing up around the city,” said London Mayor Boris Johnson. “This helps to make our urban environment far more pleasant and provides a cheap, fun way to grow food.”
 
 
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