The idea of vertical growing, as Liz Bowles pointed out in a recent column, is not new and broadly appears under the umbrella of ‘urban agriculture’, a concept that includes everything from allotments and community gardens to more extravagant, radical ideas such as vertical and rooftop farming.

Many people refer to the urban agriculture systems in Cuba, particularly Havana, in which derelict land has been transformed to accommodate food growing. However, these arguments often fail to realise the unique nature of Cuba’s political system that has resulted in citizens resorting to urban agriculture for survival, using neglected spaces around the city to grow fruit and vegetables for their families.

Closer to home, while urban agriculture has become more familiar in North American cities such as Toronto, New York and Detroit to name a few, it has yet to make a similar impact in the UK. Nevertheless, there are isolated pockets where urban agricultural schemes have been successful; cities from London to Middlesbrough demonstrate the possibilities of using the urban setting as a place for food production. Most of these initiatives have been rather small-scale and organised by green-centred groups, local authorities or communities with an interest in growing their own produce. Yet, there are still few examples of industry-led schemes to grow produce on a larger basis. The opportunities for urban agriculture are still poorly recognised and under-explored by the wider industry.

Perhaps the large question here, and one that is preventing the wider industry getting involved, is the extent to which urban agriculture could actually contribute to feeding a city’s population.

It would be inappropriate to claim that such a concept could completely revolutionise agricultural practice, significantly shifting production from the rural to the urban. An ever-growing body of evidence on the yield and value of these spaces provides material to reinforce this suggestion.

Nevertheless, urban agriculture is not purely about the yields, but concerns the interaction with communities often distanced from traditional farms and other agricultural sites. The many forms of urban agriculture, from large market gardens to smaller pop-up allotments, often create beautiful havens in which residents, workers and others can socialise, while allowing these people and communities to connect with nature on a more intimate level.

If urban agriculture is to really take hold in the UK, there needs to be a larger buy-in from professionals and the wider industry, which could also connect more effectively with residents and pioneer a concept that may play a role in future agricultural practice. —