Let's start with why we're asking this question. At present, about half of the earth's population live in cities. By the year 2050, it is estimated that number will grow to nearly 70%. So more and more of us will be living in urban areas, at greater density with less and less green space. That's relevant because we'll be less likely to have access to fresh food, made in a sustainable manner.
When we bring up the issue of sustainability in the food and agriculture industry it's important to get a bit of context as to why it should be at the forefront of our thoughts when it comes to climate change. A lot of us are starting to adapt eating habits to consume less meat and diary, and for some it's clear why. However for the majority of city dwellers, it's key that we need reframe the conversation, starting with the simple input and output.
Every year we kill roughly 66 billion livestock for food. What's staggering about that number is that every year, a 66 billion animals are bread, which produce carbon dioxide through respiration. In parallel to that, every year the percentage of forest land on our planet decreases, mostly to make space for agricultural land. There is a clear picture as to how our habits can help decelerate and even reverse the negative deficit of oxygen and surplus of carbon dioxide into our air.
Once we've got to grips with this mindset, the question then becomes about how we can implement a strategy to feed our cities in a sustainable way.
In the UK more and more people are growing in concern about sourcing their food more sustainably, and locally. When we consider that the average store-bought food can travel thousands of miles before you even take it home, it’s clear to understand why.
In 2009, Rupert Jones wrote a piece in the Guardian about the rising interest in allotment gardening - often thought of as one of the more traditional of British pastimes. 10 years later, and there has been no decline in said interest if waiting list times are anything to go by, which in London can range anywhere between 10 years and 40 years.
When we consider the increasing awareness in the public consciousness surrounding sustainability and healthy eating, growing your own food in an allotment may not seem like such a niche venture in today’s world. Consider the rise of farmers markets and online ordering of fresh veg through suppliers such as Hello Fresh. But why stop there? Consumers are happily looking to cut out retailers when buying their food, and instead going to smaller scale, local suppliers who provide a ‘farm to table’ alternative. The next logical step would be to simply pick the vegetables yourself... if you only had the space to grow them.
This becomes an interesting problem when less than 40% of flats in our cities have their own garden space as it stands. If our inner cities don’t have the capacity to accommodate for growing trends in sustainable eating , then should we look to the safe bastions of our suburbs? As a young professional living in London, I often find myself travelling for to the outer reaches of the capital for sports or social occasions, so why wouldn’t I do the same to harvest from my own allotment patch..? What about all of the groups out there creating new systems to grow food in the city. Could I be sourcing my veg from a vertical farm..? Or a rooftop greenhouse..?
Through posing questions like these, we're starting to alter our perception of food and the impact we can have. For the next few months, AllotMe will cover many of the potential answers to the questions facing us in the next 50 years. We'll be bringing you case studies and insights from organisations in the UK and across the world that are stepping up to the plate to solve the sustainable food crisis looming in our cities.