A new study will explore if by ‘radically upscaling’ fruit and veg growing in our towns and cities we could transform UK food production whilst making ourselves and the environment healthier.
The two-year Rurban Revolution project, funded by the Global Food Security programme, and led by Lancaster University with researchers from the University of Liverpool and Cranfield University, spans environmental and plant science, the psychology of nutrition and supply chain management.
Stage one of the project will investigate how much, what and where we can grow in our urban spaces and will bring together data around current land use and climate suitability for growing certain crops.
Researchers will also survey citizens to explore the relationship between urban growing and dietary choices to see if people are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables if they grow them themselves, and how does access to green and growing space affect people’s stress levels.
Dr Charlotte Hardman, a senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool who is leading on the psychological elements of the project, said: ‘We know that stress is a major driver of poor dietary choices, and research shows that access to nature and green spaces reduces stress and improves wellbeing so if we were to radically upscale urban growing in cities would that be associated with better wellbeing and healthier dietary choices?’
The second stage will examine two areas with contrasting climates, socioeconomic profiles and farming traditions.
A series of scenarios will then be developed for how the two areas could be ‘rurbanised’, with input from local planners and people involved in public health, food supply chains and growing projects. These scenarios will be used in virtual reality experiments to determine whether living near where food is grown effects people’s eating habits.
Dr Sofia Kourmpetli, from Cranfield University added: ‘We will compare fruit and veg from existing urban growing schemes with crops grown conventionally in the nearby countryside as well as imported produce found on our supermarket shelves.
‘How do these compare in terms of nutritional quality? Are there any health safety risks in terms of contaminants, such as pesticides and heavy metals? These are the sort of questions that we will try to address.’