Practices and Networks

author: Shared Assets
date: December 1st, 2019

Place based organisations that are involved in food growing, and other activities.More detail is provided about some of these practitioners and practices in the typology section below:

Non place-based practices

General Principles

Agroecological practices in London involve a wide range of both placed based and non-place based actors.

Placed based actors, those occupying land and engaged in the day to day business of food growing, have a direct relationship to the nexus that we can analyse materially. Their structure, activities and operations give them a clear identity and relationship to London’s metabolic processes. The organisations highlighted in this section illustrate a range of practices that may be specific to their context or values, but are part of a larger network of practitioners that illustrate the potential of an agroecological urbanism. Below we describe a selection of these organisations highlighting where tensions exist, and where there are opportunities to be realised. 

Alongside place based practitioners there is also a diverse group of non place based organisations who are not directly involved in the practice of food growing but are involved in related activities such as food distribution, lobbying, peer learning, and business support. Whilst the place based actors are directly involved in physically creating value and managing the flows of resources through the system, the non place based organisations illustrate the less visible elements of an agroecological urbanism; the social, political, commercial and technical activities that help shape the fabric of the city, create the conditions in which practitioners can operate, and ensure they have the resources they require. 

Groups like the Landworkers Alliance, Land Justice Network and Sustain have grown out of the recognition of land and food growing as a political, social, and environmental justice issue. Their advocacy and campaigning plays a crucial role in raising awareness of the policy and resourcing needs of agroecological food growers.

In contrast peer networking groups such as the Community Food Growers Network exist primarily to enable food growing organisations to provide each other with practical support by connecting, cooperating and supporting each other, within and beyond the neighbourhoods they work in. Alongside this peer networking role they also undertake education, awareness raising, lobbying, campaigning and direct action, at a local, regional, national and international level.

Growing Communities provides an interesting example of an organisation that straddles both place based and non place based practices. They are a community-led organisation based in Hackney, East London, that seek to provide an alternative to the current food system. The organisation itself cultivates several plots of land located in the city including a 0.54 hectares site (Dagenham Farm) and nine smaller market garden sites (Hackney Patchwork Farm). These serve as food growing hubs where the public can access and learn skills as well as gaining access to local, organic food. Growing Communities also run a veg box delivery scheme and a farmers market, and have recently established Better Food Traders to help other groups in the UK set up similar local food distribution and retail projects. 

The relationship between practitioners and infrastructural organisations is crucial to seeing the contribution they each have to our hypothesis. For the practitioners, the relationship takes them out of their specific locality and connects them to the wider system. Networks and advocacy organisations act as the synapses between food growing projects, customers, policy makers, public agencies, waste management companies and other organisations. The work they do is important in making sure that practitioners are supported, have a collective voice, and are part of a network of groups with common goals. In turn, practitioners provide infrastructure organisations with grounded practical experience that shapes their work.

In addition to their role as food growers, and the politicised and political nature of their work with respect to issues such as land access and food justice, we are also interested to explore how these  groups, through innovative and radical ways are acting as a nexus, reshaping and mediating the food-water-energy (and waste and nutrient) flows in the urban context, and how they create social and economic value through their work. Their methodologies - composting, soil care, renewable energy generation and rainwater harvesting - contribute to a wider metabolic system. Collaboration and cooperation between different actors in the urban food system is essential to closing loops in the use of resources. 


In order to better understand the organisations we have identified within the framing of the ‘Urbanising in Place’ project we have assessed their practices in relation to three key aspects:

  • Positioning and space:  land access, retaining land, recovering soil nutrients and re-using residualised or abandoned agricultural and/or water infrastructure

  • Value and economies: what type of economic arrangement they adopt including any unorthodox economic practices 

  • Agency and politics: whether they are involved in any political organising or lobbying in relation to food production, the wider food system, access to land, or to the management of waste, water, energy etc

Positioning and Space

This category looks at agroecological practices in the context of land access, land use and soil health and their spatial dynamics in the context of the city.

  • Are they preserving, or bringing back into use, land with a history of food growing?

  • Are they affected by or seeking to influence the dynamics of urban development?

  • Does their position have any significance to their ability to manage the food-water-energy nexus of the urban area? 

In London, land use and development, especially in the peri urban areas, are strongly influenced by restrictions placed on the development of  the Green Belt.

  • How do practices differ horizontally from the urban to the peri urban and how does this spatial dynamic impact on the possibility of an agroecological urbanism?

Many of the larger food growing sites identified in this study are bringing back into use municipal plant nurseries that had fallen into disuse as local authorities facing austerity cuts or outsourced their parks services. So whilst many of the sites have a recent history of horticulture this was more often in relation to the cultivation of ornamental plants rather than food crops. Wolves Lane, Organiclea, Edible Landscapes London, and Dagenham Farm (Growing Communities) have all been established on disused local authority owned nursery sites located in the less densely developed outer Boroughs. In some cases, such as Wolves Lane, these have been protected from development by being designated as public open spaces - or in the case of Edible Landscapes London registered as an ‘asset of community value’, a legal protection which gives local communities the opportunity to purchase a building or piece of land if it is due to be sold.

Another case where horticultural land has been reclaimed or regenerated is Pasteur Gardens, a 7 acre site owned by the London Borough of Haringey. The site was once used as allotments then as playing fields, but was abandoned for around 20 years after a fire destroyed the changing facilities. It was recently leased from the local authority by London Grown, a new food growing social enterprise.

In denser inner London Boroughs the land available for food growing is often smaller in scale. In addition to their farm site in Dagenham, Growing Communities also manage a ‘Patchwork Farm’, which consists of nine sites that were set up on previous underused spaces in estates, private gardens and church land across the borough of Hackney.

In all of the cases outlined above the food growing organisation does not own the land they farm. The land is owned by the municipality - or in some cases the church, a social housing provider, or a private individual - and the growing organisation has a lease or licence to occupy the land. Leases are, at best 20-25 years, and more commonly are much shorter, or on a very short term ‘meanwhile’ basis, where food growing is permitted only for a limited period whilst the land awaits development.  

A rare example of an organisation with the freehold ownership of their land is Rosamund Community Garden which is named after Rosamund Arvson, who wanted to protect some chalk download from development, so bought 19 acres of land and turned it into a community garden. The site had a history of growing wheat and was more recently cut for hay, providing an example of the protection and retention of land with an uninterrupted farming history. 

The dependence of food growing organisations and individual growers on small plots and short term leases adds to insecurity and the difficulties of developing a sustainable income. The scale of this issue is illustrated by the fact that 2,700 hectares of land – the equivalent of the London Borough of Lambeth – has planning permission but where construction has yet to start ¹. Whilst much of this will be brownfield or previously developed land, it represents in scale a full quarter of the area of farmland in London (and a much greater area than that currently being farmed agro ecologically).

Further below are some more in depth cases:

Wolves Lane

The Wolves Lane Centre in Wood Green is an impressive complex of glasshouses and outdoor growing space dating back to the 1960s. Wolves Lane is located in the London Borough of Haringey, it sits on 0.8 hectares of land. It was previously used as a plant nursery by the council for the education of children, adults and people with special needs. The council had been running the site since 2009, but Government cuts to their budgets led to a reduction in funding. As a result it was agreed that a third party would be best placed to utilise the site and maintain it as a community asset. When it made a decision to stop delivering services at the site the Council approached Organiclea, a workers cooperative who manage a similar site in the neighbouring Borough, to assess the viability of a food growing market operation. They invited expressions of interest from local community organisations to manage the site for local social and economic benefit. Rather than seek to manage the site themselves Organiclea  developed a coalition of local groups to take over the space and transform Wolves Lane into a hub for community food enterprise. Some of the groups engage in solely food growing, such as Black Rootz and London Grown. Other activities include social enterprise development and vegetable distribution - these are conducted by Ubele Initiative and Crop Drop respectively. Whilst each organisation is operating as a separate business on the site their activities are linked and complementary and they also act collectively with respect to the site’s management e.g. fundraising to install solar panels on site. The lease for the site is held by Organiclea who also advise the tenant growers and support the development of the overall business plan for the site.

Forty Hall Farm

 Forty Hall Farm is located in the green belt just inside the M25, on the edge of London. The farm is part of the historic Forty Hall Estate and has a long history of agricultural use. Forty Hall was a private estate until the 1950’s when it was given to the local council for public use. It comprises 110 ha of public open space, farmland and woodland.

Public open space covers 32 ha of the estate. The Park lies about one mile north of the centre of the town of Enfield and its southern boundary marks the very edge of the suburban development of North London. To the north and west is countryside of London's Green Belt. The council lease the farm to Capel Manor College, an agricultural college that manages the farm as an educational resource for their students. It is run as a mixed organic farm with animals, a market garden and a community orchard. Produce is sold through their own farm shop and veg bag delivery service. Capel Manor College in turn lease part of the farm to Forty Hall Community Vineyard, a social enterprise, and host monthly farmers markets for local producers.

Wolves Lane Site Users

Values and Economies

The economic reality of London presents food growers and farmers with a difficult situation. Currently, the low price of produce, high cost of land and housing, low wages and lack of capital to invest make food growing and distribution difficult ventures to establish and thrive in. As a result, sufficient money is rarely made from food growing alone, and urban food growers usually depend on social and educational work to supplement their income. Small farms are not eligible for farm subsidies in the UK and whilst the wider social and environmental benefit of the work may be recognised there are currently no mechanisms for receiving payment for ecosystem services or building natural capital. This section looks at how these agroecological practices, often working to transform the wider dominant social and economic system as well as the food system, manage to operate sustainably within them.

  • Have they adopted any type of heterodox practices, or economic arrangements?

  • What kind of governance structure do they operate with, is it hierarchical or are they experimenting with collective or commoning arrangements?

In the London case, we recognise an affinity for community-led type of arrangements and cooperative organisational structures.

  • How does governance structure or social values affect the interaction these agroecological practices have with the food-water-energy nexus?

The food-growing projects identified here are each seeking to develop and demonstrate a viable alternative to the dominant food system. By providing local people with accessible, organic, fair-value food, through markets and veg box schemes and by selling direct to members and to restaurants, they are cutting out the intermediaries and creating shorter supply chains. This ensures that the people that are growing food have their livelihoods met, and customers and beneficiaries are able to access food which does not result in the social and environmental damage caused by industrial agriculture. Many of the organisations operate on a not-for-profit basis, and usually this means that any surpluses are reinvested into the project which provides a benefit to the community or members, retaining both economic and social value within the local area.

Many of the food growing projects in London have a clear focus on community, demonstrated in the way they operate both structurally and financially. For example Sutton Community Farm was started in 2010 as a community benefit society in response to a local need for good food. Now a community-owned farm, they take inspiration from the three ethics of permaculture; earth care, people care and fair share. Their legal structure, which gives members a say in how they are run, means that they are accountable to their community. They aim to demonstrate a replicable, viable model of a farm that is representative of the type of food system they want to see operate more widely. Farnham Community Farm also gives their members some responsibility for how the cooperative is run. They operate using a CSA model, a partnership between producer and consumer where the risks and rewards of farming are shared. Members commit to buying a share of the harvest, which in turn means the grower can commit to growing the crops. Other ways in which food growers provide value to their local community include providing growing spaces and open access to the public. Keats Community Organics as one of their principal aims, strives to provide allotment spaces and a community garden for use by local people who live on the estate opposite the farm. 

Organisational structure has an important role in how the values and ethics of a group are realised. In the case of Organiclea, they have opted to work as a cooperative to achieve their aims of providing food to their local community. Legally, they are a company limited by guarantee but they operate as a cooperative, so growers are paid a wage and any profits are retained by the organisation to further their mission. All workers are involved in decision making. Being a workers cooperative is a strong part of their identity, based on their values and a commitment to wider cooperative and collaborative system change.

Another example of an agroecological practice with a heterodox structure is Wolves Lane. As outlined above the space is run by a consortium of site users, each with their own methods of addressing the needs of their local community. This structure resembles a commoning type of arrangement, as they exist as separate groups with similar values, operating a shared space and navigating ways they can ensure they achieve not just their individual aims, but also their collective aims at the Wolves Lane site. 

Social and environmental ethics are intrinsically tied to the actions of many of the agroecological practices in London. Most offer some form of volunteering, training and education as a means of equipping the local community with skills to grow their own food and combat food insecurity, and many also offer health and wellbeing services. Examples include Sutton Community Farm who have created the Growing Apprentice position which provides a fairly paid opportunity for beginner growers to build on their skills on a slightly larger scale, whilst Forest Farm Peace Garden offer eco therapy for mild and moderate mental health patients that are referred to them by local health and wellbeing services.

Below are some more in depth cases:


Organiclea is legally a limited company by guarantee but they have written in their constitution that they shall act as a worker cooperative. All of the paid staff are members of the company, so all assets are cooperatively owned (i.e, value of lease, gardening tools, vehicles, stock). Their decision making is based on sociocatic principles and they don’t distribute their profits, all are instead reinvested into the work of the co-operative. They recruit new members by having them volunteer for some time, then working for them before joining, so their values are understood by the individual before they join. Being a workers coop is a strong part of their identity. The cooperative ethos, the social benefits they deliver and their contribution to wider social change is important to them. Their knowledge and experience of making this model work is being recognised as important by themselves and others and they are increasingly providing advice and consultancy support to local authorities and other groups.

Sufra NW

Sufra aim to address both the causes and consequences of impoverishment in the community. They are based on St. Raphael Estate, Brent’s most disadvantaged neighbourhood. Their community hub provides guests with the food and support they urgently need to survive, and empower them to learn new skills and improve their wellbeing, and help them find work and become financially stable. The Food Bank operates as a gateway to a varied programme of activities that respond to both the immediate impact of poverty and the underlying causes of disadvantage. They offer training for young people in cookery skills and healthy eating and have a community kitchen providing a 3-course meal for the homeless, eldery and low-income families to increase community cohesion and reduce social isolation. In addition to all of this, they run a food growing project that provides a therapeutic space for the mentally and accredited training in horticulture for people of all ages.

Agency and Politics

The development of an agroecological urbanism is inherently political and it challenges our existing social, economic and organisational relationships and the ways in which we appreciate, assess and exchange value. This section  therefore examines the extent to which food growing organisations in London are engaged in political lobbying, organising and activism.  Food growing projects and other organisations have to engage with not only the wider public, but also policy makers in order to change the food system and to reshape the metabolic process of the city. In this category we are looking at:

  • Which organisations are involved in political lobbying, organising or networking.

  • What strategies are being used to effectively shape the food-water-energy nexus

Networks that support and promote a more sustainable approach to food and farming are critical to achieving an agroecological urbanism. Various organisations and networks such as Community Food Growers Network (CFGN), Land Justice Network (LJN), Landworkers Alliance (LWA) and Sustain all play a crucial role in lobbying local authorities, the Greater London Authority and national government to consider food higher on their agenda and put in place policies that would support the work they undertake. These networks create a space for agroecological food growers within the city and also nationally, to gather and discuss the issues they face. As members, they have input into the policies and positions these organisations lobby for and the political decisions they try to influence. An important role these organisations also provide a voice for the food growers who are unable to participate in political lobbying activities because of time constraints they face.

Some growing organisations address this by incorporating political lobbying into their main activities. Organiclea have a specific ‘system change’ role to give them the capacity to engage in local, regional and national lobbying and system change work. Alongside this they have developed a close relationship with their local council with whom they act more as a partner rather than as a lobbyer. This relationship has enabled them to inform the council’s food strategy as well as securing land and resources. They also engage in national lobbying as part of the LWA and act as the host organisation for CFGN. Another organisation that includes national and local lobbying into their activities is Growing Communities. Their director is a member of the London Food Board that advises the mayor and the Greater London Authority (GLA) on food matters.

At a more local and informal level, lobbying takes place in the form of outreach and advocacy. Some food growing projects use their training and education as a way of promoting agroecology to the general public. An example of this is The John Evelyn Community Garden, which is run and operated by volunteers. They are part of a large non-profit local organisation called the Pepys Community Forum who offer training for gardening and green projects.

Agroecology as a political movement seeks to achieve change not only in the food system, but also the wider socio-economic system. Many agroecological practices aim for their activities to address wider social, economic and environmental justice issues. In London, there is a strong emphasis on social justice, in the work of organisations such as Wolves Lane, Organiclea, and other food growing projects in London. Ubele initiative, an organisation based at the Wolves Lane seeks to contribute to the sustainability of the African Diaspora by supporting social enterprise development. An agroecological urbanism considers not only the issues of food, but also the issues of people - in London this particularly includes marginalised groups and socially vulnerable people.

Land Workers Alliance

The Landworkers’ Alliance is a grassroots union of growers with the mission of improving the livelihoods of their members and working towards a better food system for everyone. They are a member-led democratic union, and the policies they advocate are reflective of their members that are directly affected by the issues they campaign on. Their aims are to strengthen solidarity and networks amongst growers and land-based workers. They also work to increase the skills and knowledge of their member base by providing training, skills-share and exchanges.

May Project Gardens

May Projects Gardens is a community interest company that operates in the fields of horticulture, arts & culture and social entrepreneurship. They place great value in the marginal - whether that’s people, resources or the environment. They believe that sustainable solutions can only be realised by drawing from and working with people at the margins of society, and spaces in the margins of the city.

May Project Gardens

Managing the Nexus

In the London case we have a particular focus on the current and potential role of urban farms and food growing sites to act as places where nutrients, including food waste, are managed as part of a closed loop system, and on the role of growers in the care, improvement and protection of soils.

Most food growers identified as part of this research already compost their own waste on site, including food waste from their own kitchens or cafes where these are part of the site operations. Some have developed wormeries to aid the composting process and whilst others generate other forms of value from their waste, for instance Calthorpe Project and Surrey Docks Farm use biogas generated from their organic waste to cook, and to heat polytunnels.

Many are also actively seeking to care for and build the quality of their soils using a wide range of techniques including: using no dig techniques, companion planting, adding animal and green manures, and bark and mulch covers.

A partner in the research is Quantum Waste, a private recycling management company who collect business waste, including food waste, for recycling and other productive uses such as energy generation. Quantum Waste are interested in the potential for compost derived from food waste to be used by urban food growers, but current regulations with respect use of food waste currently restrict this. They have purchased a piece of land in south London to develop a site to pilot the composting of food waste and its use by food growers who are co-located on the site. There is then the potential for food produced by the growers to be sold back to the businesses from whom the food waste was originally collected, this closing the loop.