London is a world city with 8 million inhabitants in the urban and 14 million in the metropolitan area (ONS 2011). With its diverse ethnic mix and severe health and income inequalities, it has recently embarked on concerted efforts to develop healthy and sustainable food for the city. In 2006, the Greater London Authority Food Team and the London Food Board launched the London Food Strategy, which embraces 8 stages of the food chain, from production through to disposal. The strategy argues for a new relationship to be forged between Londoners and their food, emphasising the role of communities and citizens in re-casting London food supply chains. It identifies priority actions of ensuring commercial viability, securing consumer engagement, levering the power of procurement, developing regional links, delivering healthy schools and reducing waste. The drive to create a more sustainable and healthy food system for London has been given added impetus with the hosting of the 2012 Olympics, billed as the ‘greenest’ yet. For example, the ‘Capital Growth Initiative’ aims to turn 2,012 pieces of land into green spaces to grow food.
Critics of the London Food Strategy (e.g. Morgan and Sonnino, 2010) have suggested that it faces key challenges in terms of lack of sufficient financial support – which means that some aspects remain ‘symbolic’ rather than ‘transformative’ – and problems in achieving integrated governance at local, regional and national levels. Others are more optimistic. Reynolds (2009) for instance, argues that the Strategy provides a real basis for change, especially in terms of building public sector procurement of regional and local foods. With the changing political leadership of the city, The London Food Strategy has shifted in emphasis from health, towards public access to green space. Indeed, the recent riots in London and other UK cities have focused attention on the role of shared ownership of, and access to, public spaces in terms of promoting community resilience, cohesion and well-being (Varley-Winter, 2011).
Less than 10% of Greater London’s land area appears to be actively farmed, and the amount of land devoted to commercial farming in the Green Belt has declined by about 30% since 1965 (Capital Growth 2011). Farmers in and around London operate under intense economic pressures, including competition from housing, the high cost of labour and transport, low farm gate prices, and shortages of skills and grants to improve their land (ibid). Despite the decline in agricultural production in and around London, the city has a number of long established city farms, and public interest in local food and growing has increased. There is a rising number of CSAs, community allotments, and more recently, guerrilla gardening on rooftops, walls, skips and sites earmarked for development. Because of the diverse ethnic mix and food culture (half the restaurants of England are in London), growing is “mushrooming” into new and diverse crops and herbs to serve a range of cuisines. Within the city there is a range of sites and micro-climates from dry and hot ground level locations to windswept sky gardens. This presents a challenge but also a great opportunity to widen the food mix.
The London case study will be conducted in partnership with the SME ‘Sustain’ (a registered charity and company limited by guarantee). Sustain is a membership alliance for better food and farming, representing around 100 London or UK based public interest organisations and thus uniquely placed, not only to implement elements of the Case Study research, but also to contribute to knowledge brokerage activities in WP6. In addition, the COV UNI team has executive level working relationships with Capital Growth, and London Food Links, both key NGOs working for sustainable and healthy food systems in London. The London Food Board has also agreed in principle to participate as a case study advisor.
A Case Study flyer is available here.
Contact: Foodmetres.London (at) coventry.ac.uk
Capital Growth (2011) www.capitalgrowth.org/big_idea/facts_figures
London Food Board (2011) www.london.gov.uk/london-food/general/key-documents-links
Morgan, K. and Sonnino, R. (2010) The urban foodscape: world cities and the new food equation, Cambridge Jnl of Regions, Economy and Society, 3: 209 -224
Office for National Statistics. www.statistics.gov.uk, Retrieved 3 July 2011.
Reynolds, B. (2009) Feeding a world city: the London Food Strategy, Intl Jnl of Planning Studies 14 (4): 417-424
Varley-Winter (2011) Roots to work: Developing employability through community food-growing and other urban agriculture projects. City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development, October 2011