Urban land could grow fruit and veg for 15 per cent of the population

Growing fruit and vegetables in 10 per cent of urban green spaces could supply 15 per cent of the local population, according to new research.

Scientists have investigated the potential for urban horticulture by mapping green spaces and grey spaces across the city of Sheffield in the UK.

They found that green spaces including parks, gardens, allotments, roadside verges and woodland cover 45 per cent of Sheffield – a figure similar to other UK cities, say the researchers from the University of Sheffield in a statement.

Allotments cover 1.3 per cent of this, while 38 per cent of green space comprised of domestic gardens, which have immediate potential to start growing food.

Putting domestic gardens, allotments and suitable public green spaces together would open up 98 metres squared per person in Sheffield for growing food. This equates to more than four times the 23 metres squared per person currently used for commercial horticulture across the UK.

If 100 per cent of this space was used for growing food, it could feed approximately 709,000 people per year their ‘five a day’, or 122 per cent of the population of Sheffield, according to the statement.

Converting a more realistic 10 per cent of domestic gardens and 10 per cent of available green space, as well as maintaining current allotment land, could provide 15 per cent of the local population with sufficient fruit and veg.

With just 16 per cent of fruit and 53 per cent of vegetables sold in the UK grown domestically, such a move could significantly improve the nation’s food security.

The study also investigated the potential for soil-free farming on flat roofs using methods such as hydroponics, where plants are grown in a nutrient solution, and aquaponics, a system combining fish and plants. These techniques could allow year-round cultivation with minimal lighting requirements, using greenhouses powered by renewable energy and heat captured from buildings, with rainwater harvesting for irrigation.

Image credit: Mike Benna via Unsplash

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