A new study is investigating whether vertical farming could change our relationship with food by growing food closer to where people live.
Researchers from Lancaster, Cranfield and Liverpool universities are looking at the impact of rapidly upscaling fruit and veg growing in towns and cities. The £800,000 two-year study will look at the link between urban farming and dietary choices, and whether people are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables if they can see them growing.
“We know that stress is a major driver of poor dietary choices, and research shows that access to nature and green spaces reduces stress and improves wellbeing,” said senior lecturer at Lancaster University, Charlotte Hardman. “So if we were to radically upscale urban growing in cities would that be associated with better wellbeing and healthier dietary choices?”
Lecturer in Sustainability at Lancaster and principal investigator on the project, Jess Davies, said: “We have a food system where people are disconnected from the food they eat. There is a lot of research on high-tech urban agriculture options, but this hasn’t become a widespread reality yet.
“But what if we really went for it in the UK and used all the available urban space: everything from high-tech horticulture and vertical or rooftop growing, to edible corridors and recreation grounds and turning back gardens over to fruit and veg growing? How much food could we produce and what impact would that have on our health and our ecosystems?”
Alongside the link with diets, the second stage of the project will compare two locations with contrasting climates, socio-economic profiles and farming traditions. It will compare fruit and veg grown through existing urban growing schemes with crops grown conventionally in nearby countryside in terms of nutritional quality, potential contamination from pesticides and other factors.
The study will also look at vertical farming as a viable farming system, such as what crops can grow in which locations, as well as other models, such as ‘pocket orchards’.
Researchers will then put together a ‘Rurban Roadmap’ as an evidence base for researchers and policymakers on the impact of radical ‘rurbanisation’ and how the transformation could take place.