Credit: V Hird

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 / Sustainable Farming Campaign / Agroecology a new way of farming

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.

2022 brings out the Fringe Farming Policy Report and introduces a fifth new city partner

This year has continued the momentum of the first year of the Fringe Farming Initiative. Rob Logan chaired and presented 2021’s fringe farming work at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in a workshop, Scaling-up Peri-urban agroecology: Future Strategies, Policy and Practice, which attracted 80 attendees. The workshop was delivered in partnership with Chiara Tornaghi from CAWR, Coventry University, Mark Walton from Shared Assets and Pauline Shakespeare from the Ubele Initiative / Rootz into Food Growing.

Later in the month of January, the Fringe Farming Report came out with national and local policy recommendations to support opening up peri-urban land for agroecological food production. The report was based on research and action planning with multiple stakeholders in 2021’s four city regions (i.e. Glasgow, Sheffield, London and Bristol), national practitioner (hosted by our partner, the Landworkers’ Alliance) forums and policy focus groups. The report will form the basis for much of our work in the coming year.

In March, Aryo Feldman took on the role of Peri-urban Farming Officer. He will be filling the shoes of Rob Logan who was highly valued and made wonderful progress with the Fringe Farming Initiative.

Future highlights for the year are:

  • Existing regional partners in Bristol, Glasgow, London, Sheffield, with Shared Assets and Sustain, will actively follow up 2021 city-wide actions plans through collaborative working with local and regional authorities to increase access to land and resources for peri-urban agroecology.
  • New area-based partners, including FoodSense Wales (Cardiff), will join and undertake action planning to highlight opportunities, barriers, and what resources are required for next steps.
  • Further case study-based documents will be produced, sharing legal, financial, site planning, and community development processes for setting up peri-urban market gardens.
  • At a national level Sustain, Shared Assets and Landworkers’ Alliance will step up policy work to address the barriers to more peri-urban food growing; including events bringing together policy makers, practitioners, and civil servants to share policy recommendations, case studies and develop concrete next steps. A national policy briefing will be published in relation to these national events.
  • Farm visits with regional and national government will be organised to highlight the integration of peri-urban farms into regional economies and their contribution of public goods.
  • Landworkers’ Alliance will pilot with peri-urban farmers, appropriate online and other communication tools for ongoing learning, exchange and mutual support, building on the popular forums of 2021.
  • The Fringe Farming partnership will be consolidated to build broader visions and strategy based on action learning across regional action plans and national policy engagement

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, 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  


Supported by:

To support / learn more about the project:

1. Contact us with examples of councils supporting peri-urban agroecological farming (email: aryo@sustainweb.org)

2. Check out the work of the Fringe Farming partners (information below)

3. Sign up to the newsletter above.

4. Read the Fringe Farming Report for national and local policy recommendations.


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