Field to Fork Part 1: Introduction
I LOVE food. Growing it, cooking it, and it goes without saying the joy and pleasure of eating it!
Food is essential to our existence, sustaining and satisfying the human condition. From the moment that the first grain of wheat was sown, harvested, ground, and baked into bread; food has brought people together, built and toppled nations, and shaped the earth’s surface. In our ever-changing, urbanised world, the questions of how food is produced and distributed, is of constant relevance.
As a student I was fortunate enough to attend a summer school at the Eden Project, run by a charity called Architecture Sans Frontières. It was genuinely one of the most fun and interesting learning experiences I’ve had, and it was here that I was introduced to the concept of ‘urban agriculture’ – the growing of plants and raising of animals within and around cities.
As a ‘city-boy’ in a disconnected food system, the idea of urban food growing really struck a chord with me, capturing my imagination.
If increasing urbanisation has only increased the extent of our broken relationship with the field and food production, could urban agriculture reverse this decline? Could it bring communities together, be a viable food source, and even unify Town and Country?
This ancient belief in the interconnection of town and country was portrayed by Ambrogio Lorenzetti with great eloquence in his frescoes: The effects of Good Government on City and Country (left image), and the Allegory and Effects of Bad Government (right image). Illustrated on the walls of a council chamber in Siena in 1338, the paintings highlight two contrasting landscapes. The former shows a tidy well maintained Siena with a peaceful and prosperous town and city living in harmony. The later, a melancholy depiction of war, scenes of dilapidated buildings, and a burnt-out landscape. The message is obvious, a good government is one that shows equal reverence for both city and the countryside.
These ideas ran into the twentieth century with theorists using food as the unifier of town and country, connecting people with the natural world. Ebeneezer Howard, the great visionary of the Garden City movement, placed food production at the heart of his City model with five sixths of the land given over to food production. Now that Garden Cities are being heralded by the Government as the future, what role should food play in the planning of these new settlements?
“…Town and country never separate like oil and water. They are at the same time separate yet drawn together. Divided yet combined” Fernand Braudel
Post WW2, food production has been almost entirely erased from towns and cities through industrialised farming and new design approaches. Sadly too many children in urban areas are growing up with little or no understanding of where their food comes from, and consequently little value is placed on it. When carrots only come from an aisle, and meat is nothing more than the plastic covered, sanitised supermarket offerings, how can we expect the next generation to value and understand their food? The gap between field and fork only increases, both physically, emotionally and intellectually. So what can be done to reverse this worrying trend?
Professor Tim Benton, UK champion for Global Food Security, has stated that “Food is going to be the fundamental issue of the next half century”. This ‘Field to Fork’ series will look at various aspects of this important growing discussion, focusing on the role urban agriculture can play, and its benefits and uses. I’ll also be sharing some of the truly inspiring examples of urban agriculture that exist, and that attempt to answer some of the big questions surrounding our food, and society itself. Stay tuned for more over the next few weeks!
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Hungry City by Carolyn Steel
Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes: Designing Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities by Andre Viljoen