Urban food growing and planning
In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in food growing, leading to lengthening allotment waiting lists, and new food growing projects springing up all over the country.
The benefits have been known for years and include:
- mental and physical health benefits, from eating more fresh food and being physically active outdoors;
- more biodiversity, due to turning barren spaces into green, productive areas, and also often using organic growing methods that attract diverse species;
- regeneration of derelict or underused urban spaces which can improve the perceived (or actual) safety of an area;
- more community cohesion, because food growing sites can bring diverse groups of people together around a common interest;
- the potential for economic development, through learning new skills and exploring commercial options for dealing with surplus produce.
Planners can encourage more food growing by ensuring that planning policies include statements of support for food growing. This will then help strengthen planning decisions and policies made in favor of food growing.
There are examples from local authorities across the country who have included the following in their planning policies.
a) Supporting community food growing in the core strategy
b) Protecting existing allotments and growing spaces and identifying new spaces
c) Integrating food growing into new and existing housing and commercial developments
d) supporting farm businesses such as farm shops, diversification, buildings and hubs/markets to aid local distribution networks.
More information can be food in the Good Planning for Good Food report.
Harvest is a BIG lottery funded project aiming to encourage more food growing in the Brighton and Hove area. The project began in 2009 and the focus so far has been to test different ways of increasing land for food production in the city as well as provide training to develop food growing skills.
Some of the activities include:
- Halving the size of all new allotments created. This applies to new plots as well as dividing allotment plots when a previous tenant has left. Many allotment tenants did not use all the space on their plot for production and felt they could grow just as efficiently on smaller plots. Having smaller plots has helped to reduce the allotment waiting lists and also give people more manageable sites to grow on. Community groups are also encouraged to become tenants on allotment plots (traditionally allotment plots are allocated to individuals). A scheme called “Grow your Neighbour's Own” has been successful at increasing production by providing co-workers to share the work on allotment plots and matching up many of the city's unused gardens with budding growers nearby.
- Establishing a demonstration growing garden in Preston Park, the largest public park in Brighton.
- The growing site is run by volunteers, and they have built raised beds for growing vegetables, organised some public food festivals and run training sessions on food growing. Early fears about vandalism and theft from the site have been unfounded and it is hoped that after the project funding ends, the Friends of the Park will continue to support this initiative.
- Designating food growing on Council-owned housing estates. The project is currently working with community groups and the council to help negotiate minimum three year leases for community growing spaces on the housing estates. One site will be a communal community growing space and the other lease under discussion will be run by the residents association and plots allocated to individuals to use. Negotiating a site for individual plots is more complicated because the landowner needs to be satisfied that the plots are not sub-leased or de facto allotments, which would then come under statutory obligations.
Project Harvest is run by the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership