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Urban land could provide a 15 per cent of a city's 'five a day'

Growing fruit and veg on roadside verges and in city parks could feed thousands of people their five a day, according to environmental scientists.

British researchers say these urban spots of land could grow enough greens for 90,000 people, or 15 per cent of a city’s population.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield investigated the potential for urban horticulture by mapping green spaces across the city.

They found parks, gardens, allotments, roadside verges and woodland cover nearly half of Sheffield – a figure that applies to other UK cities. 

Only one sixth of fruit and just over half of vegetables sold in the UK are grown domestically so using these spaces could improve the nation’s food security. 

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Growing fruit and veg in just 10 per cent of a city's gardens and other urban spaces such as parks, gardens, allotments, roadside verges and woodland could provide 15 per cent of the population with the recommended daily intake of five fruit and veg portions a day

Growing fruit and veg in just 10 per cent of a city’s gardens and other urban spaces such as parks, gardens, allotments, roadside verges and woodland could provide 15 per cent of the population with the recommended daily intake of five fruit and veg portions a day

‘At the moment, the UK is utterly dependent on complex international supply chains for the vast majority of our fruit and half of our veg – but our research suggests there is more than enough space to grow what we need on our doorsteps,’ said study lead author Dr Jill Edmondson. 

‘Even farming a small percentage of available land could transform the health of urban populations, enhance a city’s environment and help build a more resilient food system.’    

Combining Sheffield’s domestic gardens, allotments and suitable public green space would open up 98 square metres per person in the city for growing food.

Current land use within Sheffield's local authority boundary (left) and current land available and green infrastructure suitable for urban horticulture (right)

Current land use within Sheffield’s local authority boundary (left) and current land available and green infrastructure suitable for urban horticulture (right)

This equates to more than times the space currently used for commercial horticulture per person across the UK. 

FIVE A DAY: CURRENT UK GUIDELINES 

Current UK guidelines are to eat at least five portions or 400g per day. 

However fewer than one in three UK adults are thought to meet this target.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommend that adults who get less than 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day should eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables daily. 

An 80g portion of fruit and vegetables equals approximately one small banana, apple, pear or large mandarin. 

Three heaped tablespoons of cooked vegetables such as spinach, peas, broccoli or cauliflower count as a portion.

However, researchers have previously said that fruit and veg intake above five-a-day shows major benefits in reducing the chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer and early death. 

If 100 per cent of this space was used for growing food it could feed around 709,000 people their five a day per year – equivalent to 122 per cent of the population of Sheffield.

But even if just 10 per cent of the total available green space was made use of, it could provide 87,375 people with sufficient fruit and vegetables.   

‘It will take significant cultural and social change to achieve the enormous growing potential of our cities – and it’s crucial that authorities work closely with communities to find the right balance between green space and horticulture,’ co-author Professor Duncan Cameron said. 

‘But with careful management of green spaces and the use of technology to create distribution networks, we could see the rise of “smart food cities”, where local growers can support their communities with fresh, sustainable food.’  

The study – which used Ordnance Survey and Google Earth data and was published in Nature Food – also looked at the potential for soil-free farming on flat roofs.

Techniques such as hydroponics, where plants are grown in a nutrient solution, and aquaponics, a system combining fish and plants, could allow year-round eco-friendly cultivation.








Tomato patches on flat roofs could make a big impact on local horticulture in Sheffield and other UK cities, the researchers claim

Tomato patches on flat roofs could make a big impact on local horticulture in Sheffield and other UK cities, the researchers claim

Both techniques use greenhouses powered by renewable energy, heat captured from buildings and rainwater for irrigation.

Flat roofs were found to cover 32 hectares of land in Sheffield city centre – about the size of 45 football pitches.

Researchers believe flat roof soil-free farming could make a significant contribution to local horticulture.

The UK currently imports 86 per cent of its total tomato supply, but if just a tenth of the flat roofs identified in the centre of Sheffield became soil-free tomato farms, it would be possible to grow enough to feed more than eight per cent of the population one of their five a day.

This increases to more than 60 per cent of people if three quarters of flat roof areas were put to use.

The researchers are from the university’s Institute for Sustainable Food, which works on finding problems for UK food sustainability and security. 








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Written by Angle News

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