Investigating The Potential For The Expansion Of Urban Agriculture In The City Of Edinburgh
Midmar Drive Allotments by Sandy Gemmill
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By Jake Butcher
This research was conducted as part of an Ecology (conservation and management) dissertation at the University of Edinburgh.
16,000 word dissertation. Complete paper on-line. Link on next page.
A recent increase in urban food production has been stimulated by both the recognised advantages which it brings in terms of health, recreation and urban sustainability and by the solution which it represents to the many problems associated with the globalisation of the food system, urbanisation and increasingly intensified agriculture.
The City of Edinburgh has experienced not only a growth in the number and diversity of urban food growing projects over recent years but also a rise in waste, carbon emissions and both human and environmental health problems.
This study aimed to address these problems by assessing current food production and subsequently quantifying the room for expansion of food growing in the city. Case studies were conducted detailing information on 16 different food production projects within the City.
From these details, 3 estimates were produced relating to how much land is available for growing food in Edinburgh. Further calculations were made showing how much food could be produced and therefore how many people could be fed from this land.
Results revealed a huge diversity of projects in a wide variety of land uses. It was estimated that between 63 and 141 ha of land could be used for food growing which corresponded to between 5 and 25,000 people obtaining their daily fruit and vegetable requirements from food production in Edinburgh.
In light of this the study concludes that there is a large potential for growing food in Edinburgh and that in order to benefit from this potential, new growing projects must begin across the city.
The research presented in this study has shown that there are a multitude of problems which currently exist both within the food system and in urban settlements. The unsustainable nature of agriculture and the consumption of its products in cities and towns are having huge impacts upon the environment and the living beings which reside within it. Climate change, waste, biodiversity loss, poor health and a declining knowledge and appreciation for natural processes are all symptoms of our failing ability to maintain a sustainable food system. Together, these issues manifest themselves as a rising ecological crisis which, unless rapid action is taken, will lead to the death and suffering of large numbers of human and non-human species.
A partial solution to many of these problems has been identified as urban agriculture. Localised food production in towns and cities reduces transportation and waste, therefore limiting negative impacts on the environment. It also brings benefits related to education and food security too and can help to improve the physical and mental health of urban dwellers. Ultimately urban agriculture helps to solve many of the problems in the food system by both producing food and yielding the benefits of that production close to where it is needed by most people – in urban areas.
The City of Edinburgh exhibits both the problems outlined and some of the solutions described. The City is currently experiencing a mounting waste problem which is part of a wider rise in its ‘ecological footprint’. A growing population is predicted to add to these problems and will put increasing pressure on the wider environment. There is, however, a growing interest in sustainability in the city. This interest is partially exhibited by the recent rise in urban agricultural activity and the increasing demand for allotment space. Interest from residents is coupled with legal, political and historic pressures all of which appear to demand greater provision for urban agriculture.
This study was a reaction to the outlined problems and to the emergent solutions that are offered by urban agriculture. A review of existing food production projects revealed that Edinburgh already has a wide diversity of approaches to urban agriculture and within those approaches a plethora of benefits have been and continue to be yielded. Predictions made regarding potential land space for urban agriculture have shown that, even by the most conservative estimates, there is a large amount of land available on which a considerable amount of food – enough to provide the full daily requirement of fruit and vegetables for over 5% of the population – could be grown in the city. It has been shown that this food production, even by the largest estimates, would take up a relatively small proportion of the open space in the City therefore allowing other open space activities to continue and leaving room for further expansion of food production in the City. Presentation of these results in a clear approachable way makes the information accessible to individuals and organisations who wish to conduct urban agriculture. Framing the outcomes within land uses types used by the City of Edinburgh Council makes them accessible and useable by public institutions involved with land provision and food production.
By considering these conclusions, it can be observed that the objectives of this study have been achieved and that there is indeed a large potential for the expansion of urban agriculture within the City of Edinburgh. Land space is not the limiting factor for the development of urban agriculture, nor are limitations regarding knowledge and support for urban agriculture hindering its progression. There is the political backing for increasing urban food production in the City and that there are many people in Edinburgh who would like to grow food. Furthermore there is a huge imperative, from an environmental and social perspective, to adopt the wider sustainability benefits which come as a result of urban food production.
What is lacking, perhaps, is the motivation to start using the land which is available and to make use of the physical and human resources which exist within the city. This paper is an attempt at providing some of that motivation. It is hoped that the foundations laid in this study will stimulate greater use of land for growing food within Edinburgh and will therefore bring about a plethora of accompanying benefits, benefits which will contribute to securing a more sustainable future and go some way towards averting a looming ecological crisis. The expansion of urban food production in the City of Edinburgh will not alone solve the problems which have been shown to exist. It will provide, however, a way for people to practically involve themselves in creating a better local environment and a way in which both individuals and whole urban settlements can facilitate a wider transition to environmental sustainability.