Although towns and cities are obviously handicapped by their limitations on access to abundant growing space, they do have certain distinct advantages in relation to the production of organic food, especially for the limited needs of simple self-sufficiency rather than over-production for commercial ends.

As well as being in close proximity to large markets for organic produce, the large populations which inhabit conurbations are capable of delivering the huge amounts of human time and attention required by organic production. As has already been established, there is chronic underexploitation of the huge amounts of resources generated as waste by urban populations. To this can be added the waste-products of other activities and even the byproducts of processing industries. For instance, the number of horses currently kept purely for leisure exceeds the equine population a century ago when horses provided the main means of transport, and many stables have no provision for disposal of the copious quantities of manure produced.

The fringes of urban areas were historically used to produce food. This pattern of use, which is still maintained in the case of the siting of remaining allotments, could be revived and extended to generate multiple related benefits. Active use of the zone around the edges of towns and cities would help to maintain and re-inforce existing green-belt policy, whilst meeting people’s aspirations for a more rural lifestyle. An inverse pattern of commuting can be imagined whereby people travel from their homes in urban areas out to work on organic holdings on the more rural fringes of urban areas.

In the case of large cities, close examination reveals that there are in fact a surprisingly diverse range of small-scale opportunities for appropriate organic cultivation, which if developed could immeasurably improve the quality of life for inhabitants. Often sites within conurbations present definite advantages such as warm microclimates produced by buildings and the waste heat they generate. A detailed case study on the availability of urban sites for cultivation is included in section 3 of this document [ the Environmental Assessment of Sheffield’s North-west Inner city Area]. Threats to health, such as air pollution and ground contamination, should be conscientiously considered when suggesting productive uses for urban sites, but it is to be hoped that these threats will continue to diminish as they have done over the last 30 years.

Soil quality and contamination are issues especially relevant in urban contexts. Town and city soils demonstrate the full spectrum of forms of abuse [as categorised in section 2]. Their limitations and, in extreme cases, actual dangers dictate what uses are appropriate for them. However, it would be wrong to dogmatically assume that they are all unsuitable for food use. Many forms of contamination are only mechanical and involve inert materials which will not interrupt or endanger the health of plants and humans, especially when low-maintenance fruiting perennials are planted.

Organic techniques are essential in efforts to ameliorate or mediate toxic, chemical forms of contamination. These include measures to raise the pH of soils containing heavy metals to reduce their availability and the inclusion of abundant, mature organic matter to compensate for deficiencies. Recent improvements in the sensitivity of measuring equipment mean that detailed soil tests are cheaper and more accurate than ever. Measures to improve access to soil- testing for food growers could include an obligation on landlords to fully inform their tenants of the up-to-date results of such tests.


Extract from SOFI – its Formation