Urban and community agriculture

Growing food is a win-win for urban communities: it can provide employment, education, health benefits and much fresher food, whilst helping creatures like bees.

Community agriculture is also about food sovereignty: the Coronavirus has shown how vulnerable our food supply is, due to just-in-time supermarket stocking.

We found ourselves in similar food insecurity at the start of WW2 with most produce imported- but within two years people were growing 1000s of tonnes of fresh vegetables in gardens, allotments, and amenity green spaces. This accounted for around 10% of food consumed in the UK during the war, yet comprised less than 1% of the area commercial farming used. i.e. home growing produced ten times the food per acre than arable farms.

Parisculteurs, Paris

In 2016 the government launched Parisculteurs, a project which aimed to cover the city's rooftops and walls with 247 acres of vegetation by 2020. One third of the green space is dedicated to urban farming.

So far, 74 companies and public institutions have signed a charter to partner with the city in developing urban agriculture. Urban agriculture not only improves Paris aesthetically and environmentally, it also provides employment opportunities. Season one of the Parisculteurs scheme has created 120 full-time jobs.

The largest rooftop farm to open so far is the size of two football pitches and grows around 1,000kg of organic fruit and vegetables every day in high season. This is sold to local residents through veg-box schemes or via shops, hotels and canteens – which helps to reduce food miles. There is also the opportunity for local residents to lease small vegetable plots, helping city-dwellers to access all the health benefits of gardening and fresher food. In 2019 the city of Paris introduced 32 new sites suitable for urban agriculture projects.

Cornwallis orchard, Portsmouth

Cornwallis Crescent Community Orchard is situated on ½ acre of land in one of the poorest areas of Portsmouth. The site was destroyed by a German bomb in 1940 and left as wasteland till a local resident, Dennis David, had a vision to bring it to life as a community garden.

It took Dennis, and a PCC Resident Engagement Officer called Trish, several years of getting permission, funding and local support before planting could begin in spring 2016.

The orchard now hosts about forty different kinds of trees, including apples, pears, plums, pomegranates, mulberry and cherry, as well as soft fruit bushes such kiwi, golden raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and blackberries, all of which are shared with the local community. Children are encouraged to come and pick for themselves, and any excess produce is passed on to community cafes, and organisations like Foodcycle.

The project currently involves about 100 volunteers and serves many overlapping functions: it encourages community cohesion by linking up with schools; it offers educational opportunities in relation to horticulture, wildlife, climate change, and local boy Charles Dickens; and it fosters well-being and a chance to reconnect with nature by providing somewhere beautiful for people to relax in, have picnics and forage food from.

Dennis and Trish have now established over 20 other orchards across the city: in schools, amenity spaces, adventure playgrounds and community centres.

If you want to get involved with existing orchards, email Trish Bell at: charlesdickenscommunityorchard@gmail.com.

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