Dr Michael Hardman from the School of Enviroment and Life Sciences from Salford University talks to AZoCleantech about relocating the growing of food to urban areas.
Please can you give a brief overview about the work you do at Salford University?
I am currently a Lecturer in Geography at the University of Salford which sees me teaching/supervising at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. I also lead multiple research projects around the broad theme of sustainable cities: from work on ecosystem services to green infrastructure and beyond. Currently I supervise several PhD students and researchers in the field of urban agriculture.
For our readers who aren’t aware, please can you explain the concept of urban agriculture?
Urban agriculture is a broad concept which surrounds the idea of bringing agricultural activity into the cityscape. There are many forms of the practice, from somewhat small-scale allotments and community gardens to urban farms, hydroponics and rooftop developments. With the population rising to 9.1 billion by 2050 and cities expanding, the idea of bringing food production closer to people has been discussed for some time. We are now seeing an expansion of urban agricultural activity, with authorities across the globe investing heavily in large-scale infrastructure to support the activity.
Is urban agriculture a better option over traditional rural agriculture?
Urban agriculture will never replace its rural counterpart, but it can connect city dwellers more explicitly with food and help to green urban areas. Urban agriculture can be a mechanism for reconnecting the built environment with the rural – two spaces which are often seen as separate from one another.
What are the main benefits of urban agriculture?
One of the core benefits of urban agriculture is its ability to bring together communities: small-scale activity, such as community gardening, has proven to have positive social impacts. There is also evidence to suggest that urban agriculture is enabling people to lead a healthier lifestyle, with research from one of our major studies showing how it has significantly changed the eating habits of residents in a deprived area of Manchester.
Are there any obstacles associated with urban agriculture?
Funding is by far the largest obstacle – our recent research shows how many projects are surviving on grants or volunteers. Such insecurity prohibits projects from thriving and results in many undertaking the endless task of bid writing. There are few projects in the UK which are financially secure and there is an urgent need to address this in order to make urban agricultural projects more sustainable.
Is urban agriculture a viable source for food production? Can it guarantee food security for society?
You can produce a lot of food from a very small space and there are many projects which are using hydroponics and other tools to do just that. However, urban agriculture is not the answer and will not produce a food secure society on its own. Rather, urban agriculture has to be used in combination with traditional agriculture in strategic locations within our cities; allowing people to be closer to food.
What benefits will a city see from urban agriculture?
Alongside the food produced, urban agriculture has a hugely positive impact on the aesthetics of cities – creating greenspaces and using stalled space in innovative ways. Many urban agricultural projects are on meanwhile sites and thus create temporary havens of greenery where otherwise a neglected patch of land would exist. As mentioned previously, there are social benefits too, with communities often coming together around the practice.
Will pollution and emissions of a city have any negative effect on urban agriculture?
There are obvious risks with urban agriculture, especially with growing in such an often polluted environment. However, many vegetables are sturdy and somewhat resilient to certain pollutants. Many use raised beds and other such components to mitigate against the risk of growing in such an urbanised environment (see http://www.ryerson.ca/carrotcity/components.html for some examples).
What does urban agriculture mean for the future of cities and urban areas?
Urban agriculture is being taken more serious by authorities and other organisations meaning that we’ll see more of it and on a larger scale in the future. Technologies have enabled people to grow high yields in often small spaces; enabling the city to be reimagined with urban agriculture occupying leftover space. Ultimately urban agriculture means that city dwellers – often disconnected from the food system – can be more involved with nature in the future.
Can you tell us about any cities that have implemented urban agriculture? What benefits have they gained?
There are many examples of cities implementing urban agriculture, from the famous examples of Havana, Cuba and Detroit, USA to closer to home such as London and Brighton. We are now seeing almost every major town and city in the UK implementing urban agriculture: some on a more formal level, with charters and food policy councils, whilst some more informally through guerrilla gardening. Perhaps the most famous example in the UK is that of Incredible Edible Todmorden which sees urban agriculture sprouting up all across Todmorden. In this case, urban agriculture has put Todmorden on the map, with people visiting the town from all around the world to see the practice in action.
Where can our readers go to find out more?
Carrot City (www.carrotcity.org) is a great repository of urban agricultural projects from around the world. I’d also strongly recommend signing up to City Farmer (http://www.cityfarmer.info/) and other such sites. My book on urban agriculture can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Informal-Urban-Agriculture-Guerrilla-Gardeners/dp/3319095331.Or you can follow me on Twitter: @DrMikeHardman
About Dr Michael Hardman
Dr Michael Hardman is Lecturer in Geography in the School of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Salford (Manchester, United Kingdom). He is an interdisciplinary researcher interested in the broad area of sustainable urban environments. His research predominantly focusses on the idea of ‘urban agriculture’ and explores ways to introduce agricultural activities into cities, particularly through informal means such as ‘guerrilla gardening’. He leads a wide variety of externally funded projects which explore the potential for urban agriculture, has keynoted at a range of international events and has published widely on the topic; his book ‘Informal Urban Agriculture’ was the first in the Springer international urban agricultural series. Michael is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and co-founder of their Food Geographies Working Group. Alongside this he is a member of the Town and Country Planning Association, ISUF, the British Sociological Association and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy; he is also the only UK academic on the international Carrot City Research Group based in Toronto, Canada. Michael’s research has featured heavily in the media, with appearances in BBC News, BBC radio/tv, The Independent, The Times, The Telegraph and other international news outlets.
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