EU Green Capital Bristol digs in to urban agriculture
As ever more people settle in urban centres, the question of how best to produce high quality and sustainable food is one of increasing urgence. A solution that is slowly gaining in popularity is bringing food production into cities. European Green Capital 2015 Bristol (UK) is focussing on food as a key area during its year-long tenure. The city has a range of popular urban agriculture projects, which take different approaches to farming in the city.
The Severn Project is a flagship programme which trains recovering drug addicts in organic farming methods. It is environmentally sustainable, focussing on seasonal organic produce and short supply chains, and also has a strong social focus. St Werburghs City Farm also works with vulnerable citizens, providing work and training for adults with learning and physical disabilities. Other city farms include the co-operative Sims Hill Shared Harvest, the member-run Community Farm and Feed Bristol, where volunteers and schoolchildren receive fruit and vegetables in return for their help growing them.
These farms aren’t just socially innovative, they show that small-scale agriculture in an urban context can be a serious option. St Werburghs’s land measures 1.8 acres (78,408 square feet) and the Severn Project even less. “Small farms are more productive than large ones because they make the most of their space”, says Jess Clynewood, Horticultural Manager at St Werburghs. “This is the way forward, but it requires a paradigm shift.”
The Municipality of Copenhagen (Denmark) has been working for a number of years to improve the quality and sustainability of its catering service. To this end, it published a public tender in 2013 to provide 100% organic, seasonal fruit and vegetables for 80 large kitchens in the City of Copenhagen, serving approximately 20,000 meals per day.
Although the price of organic food tends to be more expensive than non-organic food, the Municipality ensured that this tender did not cost more than a tender for non-organic food. This was done by balancing the ratios of more expensive and cheaper products. For example, less meat and more vegetables are now used. In this way, the Municipality has managed to ensure that the catering services do not cost more than they did previously.
As well as provisions for food quality, the tender incorporated technical specifications covering a range of other environmental considerations. These included limiting the amount of packaging used, specifying minimum emissions standards for delivery vehicles, and documentation of fuel consumption.
A recent carbon footprint analysis carried out by INNOCAT partner Turin (Italy) on the city's catering service discovered that the majority of carbon produced along the food chain occurred during food production. A similar trend appears to be true with water. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), almost 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources are currently used on crop irrigation. With increasing pressure on freshwater supplies globally, scientists, farmers and entrepreneurs are turning their attention to improving efficiency and reducing the amount of water used in food production.
FAO figures show that up to 60 percent of all water withdrawn for irrigation is lost before it arrives in the field, through leaks, spillage and evaporation. Traditional irrigation methods, such as using floodwater, can also be problematic. Up to half of water used in flood irrigation is not absorbed by crops, but instead runs off into local rivers and streams, carrying polluting fertilisers, pesticides and topsoil with it.
New technologies are being designed to pinpoint leaks more accurately using flow and acoustic sensors, making them easier to find and cheaper to fix. An Israeli company known as Tal Ya has created a low tech but innovative solution, in the form of plastic trays which capture dew and funnel it to plants. The trays can reduce water use by up to 90% as well as reducing fertiliser use thanks to the trays directing the nutrient straight to the plant’s roots.
Helsinki measures the environmental impact of its catering service
Since 2012, the City of Helsinki has been working on a 3 year strategy to raise awareness of the climate impact of food amongst customers, stakeholders, and personnel of the City Council and its catering service. This follows on from a project in 2010, which drew the attention of City Officials to the high environmental impact of the global food chain compared to other areas commonly associated with emissions, such as traffic and logistics.
In order to set long term sustainability goals that would have a real impact, the City invested in monitoring the municipal catering service’s carbon footprint. Data was drawn from three key areas: food procurement, direct energy consumption of food production and internal logistics of the catering service. Energy consumption was estimated by scaling the actual data from earlier research, while logistics information was calculated using the mileage and models of the different transport vehicles used. A cloud based calculation tool was used to work out the emissions levels of the different areas.
Results were extremely interesting. Food purchasing and ingredients were responsible for the largest proportion of the carbon footprint (58%). Of this, 35% came from meat and 46% from dairy products. Direct energy consumption accounted for 41% of the carbon footprint. Logistics accounted for only 1% of the whole. This information will be used to inform the city’s carbon reduction strategy going forward.