by Alex Wilde
This book is essential reading for anyone with a passion for good food: good in terms of taste, who produced it and how and where it was produced.
The introduction brings together a lot of recent thinking and research on the looming global food crisis and evidence that just increasing production is not the answer. It is presented in a clear and accessible way and leaves us in no doubt that whatever we think the answers might be we should care about the relationship between food and our cities.
The case studies, predominantly from Canada and the USA, and also including London, Paris and Cuba, are inspiring but also set out the challenges once you take it beyond the window box or back garden. How can you make projects sustainable? How can you scale up production so there is an opportunity to feed more than just the people who work the land? What does it take to become commercially viable and does that mean pricing the local community out?
The issues and ideas presented in the book are all relevant to the UK and we have many examples of inspiring urban agriculture projects across the country. It feels though that city strategies in relation to food in the USA and Canada are more advanced than in the UK. It is yet to be seen how the ‘Food Vision’ of the 2012 Olympic legacy will shape up, especially for the growers of Manor Garden allotments which were destroyed to make way for the Olympic Park. On a recent visit to London I was pleased to see that the Skip Gardens, mentioned in the book, were still there at Kings Cross, though once the redevelopment is complete it is unlikely they will be given permanent residence. Glasgow, where I am based, perhaps faces greater challenges due to the harsher climate and generations of increasing disconnection with the production and preparation of food. It has, however, a strong network of food-growing projects which have been working hard over the last ten years to improve access to healthy food in the city. We are gearing up for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and organisations will be looking for ways to keep food high on the politicians’ agenda and to have a food legacy for Glasgow.
As a socially-engaged artist interested in food, the social side of urban agriculture has always been important to me and the book presents urban agriculture not just as a way to feed ourselves but to take control of our communities and regenerate our neighbourhoods. The value of diversity is set out in the book: there isn’t a one size fits all model, the strength of projects comes from their relevance and appropriateness to the people, site and climate in which they operate.
The book explores the role of creative visions like ‘vertical farms’ and ‘pig cities’ in challenging our ideas about how cities can feed themselves, alongside the people who are trying out ideas on the ground, using the skills and resources available to them. A key message in the book for me was don’t wait for the politicians to catch up, don’t wait for the scientists and engineers to find funding, there is a value in all attempts to grow and eat that hasn’t cost the earth to produce.
Alex Wilde is a visual artist based in Glasgow. Born in Sheffield, Alex studied at the Leeds College of Art and Design in 1997/98 and then The Glasgow School of Art. She graduated in 2001 from the Environmental Art department, from which her interest in the relationship between art, public space and community stems. Since graduating, Alex has been involved in creative projects across Scotland with a variety of groups in different settings.