Feeding the City: The Politics & Promise of Urban Food

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 13 March, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Feeding the City:  The Politics & Promise of Urban Food’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks and food reception.

Feeding the City:  The Politics & Promise of Urban Food

Cities around the world are emerging as key locales for growing food. A variety of approaches are being piloted to enhance health and well-being, encourage local economic growth and self-sufficiency, enrich social cohesion and community development, and diversify urban greening and resilience. In this research forum, we will discuss the opportunities and barriers of urban agriculture and speculate on the future of growing food in cities.

Our panellists will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Debbie Ellen,  Independent Researcher

There has been an upsurge in interest in ‘local food’ and urban growing in recent years. The BIG Lottery Local Food fund stopped accepting applications after a year of a 5 year programme due to the high number of bids received.  Allotment waiting lists across the country are long, with waiting times in some areas of Manchester between 5 and 10 years.

Amid this wave of enthusiasm for local food and grow your own there are some significant challenges in parts of Manchester where poverty and a lack of skills, particularly cookery skills mean that a range of different aspects of food need to be addressed.  The increase in the cost of fuel and the increase in food prices means that a choice often has to be made between staying warm and eating a healthy diet.

Debbie will talk about these issues and provide some examples of projects in Manchester that are working to enable communities to grow, cook and eat sustainably.

Liz Postlethwaite, Director – Small Things Creative Projects

Cities as we know them, and associated urban spaces are dead. The economy continues to flounder with models of economic urban regeneration that we have come to rely upon looking increasingly out of place in the world that we are now living in. Alongside this levels of urban deprivation are soaring, and levels of unemployment, especially in young people, continue going up and up. Once grounded urban communities are finding it tough to hold together, and unrest and dis-satisfaction bubble close to the surface of many neighbourhoods, waiting to erupt.

At the same time as this the climate is changing, natural resources are becoming scarce, and acres of land and industrial building space lay vacant in urban locations, awaiting economic growth to return tin a way hat seems increasingly unlikely with each new day – and each new news report.

In view of all these challenges is urban agriculture a key way for us to reinvent community, location and place within cities? And to reconnect to the natural world in a way that has been long ignored in urban contexts, much to the detriment of quality of life. Drawing on examples from the UK, and other parts of the world including Cuba and Detroit, Liz will consider the part that UA can play in forming our cities of the future, and the potential it has to make them cleaner, more abundant, and more attractive places to live.

Graeme Sheriff, Manchester Architecture Research Centre

Food brings a set of quite special challenges to the planners and designers of sustainable cities. Food is essential for life: we need to eat, and we need to eat often. We consume it, if we are able, several times a day and we buy it daily or weekly. Personal choice, taste and preference are hugely important, and these are bound up in our cultures, religions and social contexts. Food requires a great deal of end-user knowledge. We need to know what to buy, how to plan meals, how to store food, how to cook it, and these things can mean the difference between a healthy relationship with food and a destructive one, making education and awareness on food issues extremely important.

Yet food is full of contradictions. Whilst the relative frequency with which we interact with it might suggest we could make rapid changes, we often have little control over it; often not knowing where it comes from, how it’s been produced, what elements have been introduced into the food chain. Our choices may be limited by where we live or how much we earn.  And whilst we may feel that we have an intimate relationship with the food we eat, we rarely know the full extent of the chain of social and environmental impacts that our choices trigger, at home and globally.

Urban food growing is at once a way to try to reign in and reduce this chain of impacts, and a way to develop a more intimate relationship with food. At the same time as attempting to ‘feed the city’, we are equipping city residents to engage with food. Recent research has suggested that it is these less tangible benefits that have been most prominent in community food projects in the UK: the awareness raising, education, skills development, physical exercise and socialising. But this is not to belittle the potential to produce much more food in UK cities. We should be asking how we can maximise this, recognising that urban food is not only about growing, but also about making connections with the wider food system, perhaps through local trading systems and stronger relationships with regional and UK producers. There are many challenges and unanswered questions: What will be the role of the supermarkets? How do we win over the price-conscious consumer? Can food compete with other demands on space such as housing, transport and energy generation?

Chris Walsh, Kindling Trust

Urban Food growing has many advocates and is getting a lot of press. But is it the best way to increase food access and should it be the focus for establishing a sustainable food system for our City?

Manchester is not Hong Kong or New York with dense high-rise communities. There is a lot of land in Gtr Manchester and we has easy access to prime agricultural land just a few miles from the city centre. Green belt land is under ultilised and rural farming communities live and work just half-an-hour away.

Technological fixes or urban planning have a crucial role to play, but for scale, sustainability and efficiency, we need to rejuvenate our peri-urban farming, establish the UK’s first Farm Belt and focus on enterprising solutions that find fair markets that improve food access and create jobs and training.

The Kindling Trust is working to reconnect urban and rural communities and Chris will be spending ten minutes exploring projects like Manchester Veg People; Greater Manchester Land Army and  FeedingManchester.

The debate will be chaired by Carly McLachlan (University of Manchester)

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One thought on “Feeding the City: The Politics & Promise of Urban Food

  1. Pingback: Event Report: The Politics and Promise of Urban Food #Manchester #climate | manchester climate monthly

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