26 November 2015

Cities across Europe, including Lancaster, are increasingly growing their own food, says PhD student Dennis Touliatos after attending an urban agriculture training school in his hometown, Athens.

Urban agriculture is all about growing food in cities - in parks, on rooftops, on grass verges, up buildings, on window ledges and almost every other space  you can find to grow plants.

I have just returned from an exciting COST Action Training School on urban agriculture in Athens, which was attended by young people from all over Europe.

I have a passion for urban agriculture and I was excited that the training school was held in my home town of Athens, in Greece.

Greece has been devastated during the last few years by austerity and an unsustainable debt. Food prices and unemployment have risen whilst wages and pensions have faced huge reductions. All of this has led many Greeks into food poverty. People struggle to access fresh and nutritious food- let alone sustainably grown food!

During the training school I learnt that urban agriculture is flourishing in Athens as a response to these challenges. Activists and grassroots groups are reclaiming underutilised land in the city to grow food and community. The “Parkingparko" is a community garden, created and planted by Athenians on an old brownfield site.

Government is trying to free up more land for urban agriculture so more people can have access to land and fresh food, such as the municipal garden of Marousi.

All of these findings made me think of my second home, Lancaster, and all of the exciting urban agriculture taking place there.

Transition CityTown Lancaster food group runs a Garden Share scheme for gardeners who want to grow vegetables but are frustrated by the lack of available land. There is also a community seed library, located in Lancaster central library, to save and freely share seeds with everyone.

The Incredible Edible Lancaster folk have planted a fruit tree orchard on the Ridge, a wild flower meadow in one of the city’s roundabouts and the Greaves community garden, and are developing a community edible plant nursery.

LESS, a not-for-profit company providing practical support to help the residents of Lancashire live more sustainably, is running the Growing Our Local Food Economy (GOLFE) project, encouraging people to eat food grown within 20 miles of the city.  - The Food Assembly brings local producers in direct contact with consumers and Fork to Fork grows food and supports community next to Lancaster Brewery.

And the ‘mother ship’ of urban agriculture in Lancaster is becoming Claver Hill community farm on the Ridge estate. Every Sunday you can see a group of dedicated ‘spud club members’ weeding, harvesting and setting up all sorts of DIY projects whilst celebrating local food and community resilience.

There is a lot of exciting research about urban agriculture and alternative local food networks happening in Lancaster University, which also has an ‘edible campus’. Social scientists at Lancaster University have been looking at the contribution of urban agriculture to community engagement and I have been researching vertical farming systems for urban agriculture applications.

Vertical farming systems can grow more plants per unit area of land by extending crop production into the vertical dimension. This way, city buildings, where space is often limited, can be turned into indoor farms. Examples include the FARM shop in Hackney, London and the Biospheric Foundation in Salford, Manchester.

To bring all these together cooking courses are starting to bloom with the You Can Flourish project in Morecambe and a pay-as-you-feel café cooking nutritious meals for everyone in Lancaster.

To find more about these projects and to join the urban agriculture movement in Lancaster contact anna@lessuk.org or visit  http://www.lessuk.org/blog/

Dennis is cycling from Lancaster to Paris in December to be there for the COP21 heads of states meeting on climate change.  Support Dennis and his fellow cyclists, and look out for his reports back en route. 


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