Sustain is delighted to launch our new Fringe Farming project to boost agroecological food production at the edge of UK cities, working in partnership with practitioners and researchers to greatly increase access to land for socially and ecologically beneficial farming close to urban communities.
Sustain’s motivation to bring agroecological food production closer to urban communities has been strengthened by the inspiration of many growers in and around the urban fringe of UK cities; but it is time to upscale from being a fringe activity to a mainstream part of the food system.
The Fringe Farming project is a collaboration with partners across the UK to understand barriers, identify land opportunities and local actions, and develop national policy to enable agroecological farming at the edge of cities as part of a green economic recovery. With a new generation of farmers and growers looking for suitable sites to meet increased demand for healthy, ecological and culturally-appropriate foods, one of the key challenges to developing localised food systems is finding and accessing land to support equitable opportunities in the sector.
We want to see the creation of a wave of new market garden enterprises that connect the urban and the rural with growing and trading healthy food closer to markets, generating long-term green jobs and resilient economies, and contributing public goods in the process.
Currently gaps in access to information or buy-in from local councils and businesses means that opportunities for integrating the social and ecological benefits of peri-urban farming into resilient food systems are being missed. The Fringe Farming project seeks to address this through place-based research from Bristol to Glasgow; producing a series of events and practitioner forums to understand different contexts and co-create practical solutions and policy guidance.
Agroecological farming - at the heart of this project - takes an integrated approach to producing food where ecological and social principles underpin regenerative systems that work with natural cycles, develop fair livelihoods and equitable land access, and value farmers’ knowledge. The Food and Agriculture Organisation describes 10 elements of agroecology.
Initial research into London's greenbelt in 2020
The project builds on initial research by Sustain's Capital Growth team in 2020 - with input from Shared Assets, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and many organisations and individuals working on farms - to investigate existing farm productivity in London’s Green Belt land, highlight data gaps, structural barriers, current opportunities and steps to enable this vision to take place.
An event in February last year provided opportunity to communicate findings, and further share experiences and ideas on how to access land to grow food, develop supply chains for produce, and support training needed to grow food at this scale.
The Fringe Farming in London briefing highlighted that the conversion of 1.4% of land growing cereals and grassland to vegetables around London could produce an additional 1.3 million kg of food for communities.
Four city partners in 2021 for new UK fringe farming research, action and policy
This year we will be building on Fringe Farming in London at a wider scale working with Shared Assets and partners Bristol Food Producers (Bristol), Glasgow Community Food Network (Glasgow) and ShefFood (Sheffield) to research access to land for peri-urban farming with a briefing and event produced in each city. In London, Capital Growth will be taking forward the actions from the 2020 report particularly highlighting case studies of borough councils supporting agroecological farming at the edge of the city in line with their social, ecological and economic targets.
In tandem with regional efforts, the Landworkers' Alliance will be setting up a peri-urban pracititioners' forum to build supportive networks, identify issues and share knowledge within the sector.
This exciting series of collaborative endeavours will culminate in:
- Local action plans in the four cities using existing data, plugging gaps and where possible detailing explicit local opportunities for accessing land
- An overall analysis/policy briefing on land availability and specific issues with a clear socio-economic case for increasing peri-urban farming as part of a green economic recovery
- A model of progressing land for peri-urban farming that can be replicated in other cities. Our vision is that the resources we create can be used by any local authority, and any local group wishing to access peri urban land locally
- A series of local policy recommendations describing what good-practice looks like for a council for increasing and supporting peri-urban farming - as developed with councils involved in the project and connecting with their existing commitments such as with climate change
- National policy proposals to unlock land in the urban fringe for food production connected to local communities e.g. as part of Defra’s ongoing consultation on the role of peri-urban land in delivering Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) outcomes.
Fringe Farming partners:
"Shared Assets has long believed that peri urban land has fantastic potential to help us meet our needs for fresh, locally produced food whilst creating resilient local supply chains, good jobs, training opportunities and helping tackle climate change. For the past three years we’ve been working on an international research project learning from cities across the globe about how they are supporting farming on the urban fringe, and are excited to work with our project partners in the UK to apply and develop that learning in cities here.”
Mark Walton, Shared Assets
"ShefFood is looking forward to bringing together a range of Sheffield and South Yorkshire urban and peri-urban food growers to be included in this exciting UK-wide project. As our nation's food security is tested and cities declare climate and ecological emergencies there has never been a more pressing need to seriously engage with urban and peri-urban agriculture. Fringe Farming is a timely intervention that will help remove the barriers to land access, enabling citizens to grow food sustainably, live well and build resilient communities. This is an opportunity to collectively advocate for policies supportive of city growers and farmers. By pooling resources and sharing experiences with project partners, we will create working models that streamline the process of identifying available land, matching people to places and supporting their successful development to produce food that is good quality, healthy and sustainable and fair."
Fran Halsall & Gareth Roberts, from ShefFood, with support from Regather
"Access to land has been a significant barrier in upscaling local food production in and around Bristol and this is an exciting opportunity to focus on this issue. Over the past few years, we have seen a significant increase in demand for locally produced food, but accessing land, especially for new entrants, has proved incredibly challenging and production has not increased in line with the demand. In peri-urban areas there are lots of competing priorities for land, and this project will allow us to explore the land that is available and who owns it, the barriers to accessing it, and take steps towards unlocking this for food production."
Steph Wetherell, Bristol Food Producers
“In Glasgow we are launching a new project that will empower communities to get involved in local sustainable food systems change. Part of these ambitions includes upscaling urban agriculture in and around the city, and we are excited to be partnering with Sustain on the Fringe Farming project. We hope that the additional capacity Sustain can bring will help us to influence key people, and enable us to achieve our goal of setting up a community farm on a former municipal golf course.”
Abi Mordin, Glasgow Community Food Network
To support / learn more about the project:
1. Contact us with examples of councils supporting peri-urban agroecological farming (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
2. Check out the work of the Fringe Farming partners (information below)
3. Sign up to the newsletter above.