Urban land could be used to improve the UK’s food security by providing fruit and vegetables to 15% of the population.
At the moment, just 16% of fruit and 53% of vegetables sold in the UK are grown domestically, so researchers at the University of Sheffield investigated the potential to increase this by using urban land.
The researchers found that green spaces including parks, gardens, allotments, roadside verges and woodland cover 45% of Sheffield. Allotments cover just 1.3% of this, and 38% is covered by domestic gardens.
According to the researchers, by putting gardens, suitable green spaces and allotments together it would open up 98 square meters per person in Sheffield for growing food.
This equates to more than four times the space that is currently used for growing food in the UK.
The researchers also looked at the potential for soil-free farming on flat roofs using methods such as hydroponics where plants are currently grown in a nutrient solution.
The UK currently imports 86% of its total tomato supply, but if just 10% of the flat roofs identified within Sheffield became soil-free tomato farms, it would be possible to grow enough to feed more than 8% of the population.
Dr Jill Edmondson, environmental scientist at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study: ‘At the moment, the UK is utterly dependent on complex international supply chains for the vast majority of our fruit and half of our veg – but our research suggests there is more than enough space to grow what we need on our doorsteps.
‘Even farming a small percentage of available land could transform the health of urban populations, enhance a city’s environment and help build a more resilient food system.’
Professor Duncan Cameron, co-author and director of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield said: ‘It will take a significant cultural and social change to achieve the enormous growth potential of our cities – and it’s crucial that authorities work closely with communities to find the right balance between green space and horticulture.
‘But with careful management of green spaces and the use of technology to create distribution networks, we could see the rise of ‘smart food cities’, where local growers can support their communities with fresh, sustainable food.’
Photo Credit – Pixabay