Small-scale sustainable urban farming

Soils under allotments are significantly healthier than intensively farmed soils, researchers from the British Ecological Society have found. Planners and policy makers should increase the number of allotments available in urban areas as a sustainable way of meeting increasing food demand.

One of the greatest challenges facing the growing human population is meeting rising demand for food without undermining the soils on which food production – and other services such as carbon storage, flood mitigation and locking up pollutants – depends. Large-scale intensive farming often damages soils, which can lead to soil erosion, explains a British Ecological Society press release.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield on behalf of the British Ecological Society took soil samples from allotments, local parks and gardens around the city of Leicester as well as surrounding agricultural land. They found that compared with local arable fields, the allotment soil was significantly healthier with higher levels of organic carbon, nitrogen, and carbon to nitrogen ratios.

Allotment holders are able to produce good food yields without sacrificing soil quality because they use sustainable management techniques. For example, 95 per cent of allotment holders compost their allotment waste, so they recycle nutrients and carbon back to their soil more effectively.

As well as being good news for urban soils, the results underline the value of allotments. “An estimated 800 million city dwellers across the world participate in urban food production, which makes a vital contribution to food security. Our results suggest that in order to protect our soils, planning and policy making should promote urban own-growing rather than further intensification of conventional agriculture as a more sustainable way of meeting increasing food demand,” says lead researcher Dr. Jill Edmondson.


Photo credit: Philip Barker/Creative Commons

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