There is a great deal to commend in the Common Home Plan approach to food, including advocacy of radically changing farming practices to an agroecology system. Such a system uses regenerative no-dig techniques that store carbon and displace dependence on pesticides.
We are less confident about the emphasis on artificial growing technologies such as ‘hydroponics’. Such forms of indoor growing need hand pollination and are unsuitable for crops that need depth of soil. They do nothing for biodiversity or carbon sequestration and create new uses of energy.
Our main concerns are: the limited attention to outdoor urban growing in community gardens, urban farms or market-gardens, institutional gardens in the community such as schools and home gardens. Yet we can make more effective and joined-up use of urban gardens for food production.
The only reference in the document to people growing their own food is that land reform could free up ground for allotments and ‘other methods for those who wish to grow their own food’. The section on food distribution does not take the opportunity to shorten journeys from the ground to the table by advocating support for and investment in urban home and community growing. We can propose a more joined up urban growing plan than this.
Community growing supported by a youth-and-community-skilled gardener delivers multiple benefits including knowledge sharing centres for regenerative agriculture and ecoliteracy for home garden growers, community building and provision of therapeutic gardening for those at risk of isolation, as well as producing food for local distribution.
Relatively modest investment could help make local initiatives into sustainable food systems that network city farms, community growing, school, hospital and care home gardens linked to food hub and distribution projects, strengthening links in the chain of local production and distrbution initiatives and enabling collaboration between youth and community work, community cafes, food hubs and community growing projects.
We were pleased to see food being used as a specific example in the section on learning and the emphasis on learning about the environmental impact of food systems, the science of natural cycles, good practices in buying, storing, preparing and reusing foods and practical knowledge of cooking and growing.
Our experience with schools and discussions with local communities suggest that it is not primarily cooking skills that are in deficit and not passed down across generations but food growing skills. Sometimes gardening skills that are passed on are inappropriate as they neither regenerate soil nor support the natural environment. Local hubs of education in food growing are important.
Finally, we note that the section on food doesn’t always very obviously build on the progress made in calculating the carbon capture of different forms of agroecology or the successful bottom up achievements in Scotland so far. For example, a great deal of grass roots work went into ideas for a Good Food Nation and all councils in Scotland are obliged to develop Food Growing Strategies.
We would have more confidence in the proposed National Food Agency if it were explicit that it must include voices that go far beyond conventional experts since agroecology has been pioneered from the bottom up. The proposed agency should include representation of urban community growing projects that are already practising agroecological horticulture and pioneer farmers with proven records of successful agroecological farming.
Pat Abel and Lynn Jamieson,
on behalf of Transition Edinburgh South, June 2020