Urban agriculture is not agriculture.

How can we move beyond this conversation stopper?

Growing community spaces

Wolve’s Lane Community Hall

In 2017 a consortium of community organisations took on management of the 2.5 acre Wolves Lane Centre, a council owned ex plant nursery site containing a number of large glasshouses in Haringey, North London. The vision for the site is to develop a thriving community food project with opportunities for collaboration with and involvement of Haringey residents in education, enterprise and health and wellbeing activities. This is also reflected in the consortium of actors behind the management – or better, stewardship – and process of renovation for the site, ranging from community-based actors (Ubele Initiative), organic growing and training (OrganicLea) and local food distribution organisations (Crop Drop) to land advocates (Shared Assets) The consultative design process lead to a development plan for the Wolve’s Lane Centre (see also here) that includes public events/community building connecting people with the outdoor and indoor growing spaces, allowing reallocation of glasshouses currently used for this purpose and  fit-for-purpose new facilities for community learning, community hires and operational activities. 

Wolve’s Lane is inspiring in light of the search for an agroecological urbanism, as it reveals how residual urban infrastructure – in this case, a former municipal plant nursery – is re-interpreted as a community-driven space where agroecological principles permeate a series of local initiatives and construct a set of solidarities between groups pursuing different social and ecological agendas.

Building Block: Territorial Food Hub

Prioritising soil-based growing

La Cité Maraîchère de Romainville

Conversations and pilot projects related to food growing in urban areas are frequently becoming disconnected from the soil rather than encouraging reconnection with it. Take La Cité Maraîchère for example, a vertical farming project in Romainville, Paris. A project of five million euros, of which 2.5 million of state funding. In itself a noteworthy project, but one that becomes problematic when it is used as an excuse for the ongoing destruction of remaining historical soils in urban fringes and beyond. There is a disproportionate attention paid to vertical agriculture and roof gardens in contemporary urban agriculture debates. These often depend on soil extraction elsewhere, or remove soil from the process entirely in the case of high tech ‘solutions’ such as hydroponics. Imagine what would be possible if this type of funding would be redirected towards the development of soil-based growing, for example enabling access to land and resources and nurturing new solidarities and new relations between soils, species and people.

Building Block: Healthy Soil Scape

Growing on damaged land

Guide d’observation pour des sols vivants

New farmers seeking access to land in the peri-urban fringe often end up with soils that have been poorly cared for. Soils may have suffered from soil erosion, have been compacted and partly sealed, may have been contaminated, etc. The Agroecology Lab of the Université Libre de Bruxelles built together with farmers a guide to make a simple assessment of the soil, starting from easy and accessible techniques that can be executed by growers themselves. The guide is distinctively built to work with living soils: rather than overly focussing on chemical composition, the guide is geared towards observing and enhancing biological activity, the soil’s structure and its water retention capacity. 

Care for damaged soils is an integral part of an agroecological urbanism. While valuable soils should first of all be protected against the pressures of urbanisation, the conversion of land that was temporarily not cultivated has an important role to play as well. The rebuilding of top soils on such damaged lands should not be an individual responsibility of growers and could be facilitated. Farmers should be given time in which they can work on these lands without economic pressure and with the secure prospect of long leases in order to encourage long term care for the soil.

Building Block: Healthy Soil Scape