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Urban farms provide major benefits to cities - study

Thursday 1 September 2016

A GROWING number of urban farms are providing major benefits such as employment, fresh food and green space to city populations, a study by The University of Salford has found.

Researchers are calling for greater awareness of the value urban farms have for the often deprived areas in which they are situated and more support as many face financial pressures.

The study, presented at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference this week, examined a range of larger scale urban agriculture projects from schemes with poly-tunnels for growing crops to city farms with animals and petting zoos.

The number of urban farms - which are bigger than community gardens or allotments and typically occupy the area of a football pitch -  have surged in recent years, said Dr Mike Hardman who teaches on BSc and BA Geography and also on BSc Environmental Management.

Fresh ideas

Many are adopting innovative technologies such as hydroponics to grow vegetables, using roof tops of city buildings or running veg box schemes.

But barriers remain, mainly around a lack of financial support and staffing with those receiving funding from local authorities particularly at risk

Funding for projects such as urban farms which are “seen as something that isn’t vital to that area” is often the first thing to go in the face of the cuts the councils are facing, said Hardman

The threat of development to farms which occupy land in cities also casts a constant shadow,

Fresh food and jobs

But the farms  - some of which have been going for more than 30 years – provide huge benefits to people who live near them according to the study.

Dr Hardman said: “Not only are they enabling many, especially those in deprived areas to access fresh produce through food box schemes and other initiatives they are also providing jobs, apprenticeships and much valued green space

A growing number also contain animals, allowing city dwellers to reconnect with nature”

The study, which included soil testing, visits and interviews, also found food grown on city farms is safe to eat and had improved the diet of local people often with limited nutritional options.

Pendleton plans

“It’s not going to change our food system, it’s an add on which can help supplement rural agriculture, he said, adding that urban farms allow people to see where their food comes from

The research was commissioned by the Pendleton Cooperative, a group of housing developers, local authority officials, residents and other local organisations who are considering a new urban farm as part of the regeneration of Salford.