Getting food from the farm to our plates can be an immensely wasteful process. In developed countries, the food consumption of a single family generates eight tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
Put another way, the energy it takes to produce and distribute an item of food can be more than 100 times the amount we actually consume by eating it. For example, when you eat an iceberg lettuce from the US, for every one calorie of nutrition that enters your mouth, 127 calories of energy are used in its shipping and merchandising.
In a city the size of Toronto approximately 30% of the city’s ecological footprint is a direct result of the way its food is grown, distributed, prepared, eaten and disposed of. Systems such as these simply aren’t sustainable. But what can be done to improve them?
Over the past decade, increased public awareness of food miles has fuelled a greater demand for locally grown produce. But for people living in cities, the separation between urban and rural presents a major obstacle to local food production.
In recent years, town planners and architects have begun discussing how we might grow food in cities, creating what they call Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes by building on existing resources.
Statistics published by the US Environmental Protection Agency show that 18% of all farmland in the US is actually situated within metropolitan areas – a figure equivalent to one in every three working farms.
According to the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (FCFCG), the UK already has around 60 city farms, nearly 1,000 community gardens and more than 60 school farms.
Members of the FCFCG range from small allotment keepers to well-established city farmers. Between them they employ 550 people, engage thousands more volunteers and attract more than three million visitors each year, generating an annual turnover of £40m.
Inspired by schemes like these, a team of designers led by David Barrie, launched the Urban Farming project, identifying new ways for local people to produce their own fruit and vegetables by approaching Middlesbrough’s food systems as design opportunities.
Barrie’s team – which included service design consultancy Zest Innovation and Debra Solomon, artist and author of culiblog.com, an online publication about food culture – were all part of Dott 07.
David Barrie, Senior Producer, Urban Farming
‘What we eat, how food is produced and what’s done with unused parts of our towns and cities matters more and more to people. One answer is to grow your own food, buy local produce and help turn lost and lonely, rubbish-strewn sites into productive places.’
Designs of the time 2007 (Dott 07) was a year-long series of design projects run by the Design Council and the regional development agency One NorthEast to involve local people in exploring how design can improve everyday life. www.dott07.com