An overview of the local food system

In developing the Farming the City project, sales CITIES has defined new methods and processes supporting the use of urban agriculture as a tool for addressing today’s urban challenges.

The project parameters are based on evidence-based research first published by the American Planning Association in August 2008: A Planners Guide To Community And Food Planning. The fundamental concept proposed by this work is the benefit of a Local Food System: a chain of activities and processes related to the locally-organised production, recipe processing, healing distribution and consumption of food. The conventional food system is characterised by the industrially-scaled production and processing of food, heavily reliant on biotechnologies. In industrial scenarios, food distribution is organised over long distances (in the USA, the distance from farm to fork is around 2,250km on average), and food-related packaging is the main generator of waste within urban environments.

On a global level, governments subsidise corporate producers and industrial farms, focusing on support for the production of food commodities such as soy and corn. Many critics argue against this system, and a range of evaluation studies have been proposed by academics, researchers and politicians, especially in recent years. This document, and the Farming the City research outcomes and outputs, do not seek to be positioned within this debate, either in favour or against the traditional food system. By developing independent research, CITIES has moved away from the dynamics and restraints of academic writing and political interventions.

In the framework of this research, evidence-based results are being developed into practical tools and processes to address urban development issues, with the overreaching goal of – literally – farming the city.

Re-defining the issues
When community activity, urban landscapes and design applications are taken into account, it is possible to develop a specific definition of the Local Food System. Below, we re-visit the typologies considered by the American Planning Association and, by integrating knowledge drawn from global research with original findings from our own studies, aim to define a new concept of urban agriculture for todays’ cities and needs. [for a complete overview please click here ]

Local farm, urban farm
Vertical farms
Community gardens
Hydroponic window farming
Green houses
Mariaculture and Aquaculture

Small-scale processing
Dairy and food processing
Community kitchens
Community packaging centres

Farmers markets and public markets
Community supported agriculture or food cooperatives
Drop-off sites
Farmers’ basket programmes
Bike and boat food transportation facilities
Stores and supermarkets

Food programmes with local communities
Local food business with HoReCa
Household consumption
Eating events
Awareness rising and food culture events/products

City farming, city asset: a new take on urban agriculture
CITIES is re-interpreting urban farming as an asset for the city economy. This approach to the subject is neither revolutionary nor especially innovative, yet in the collation of an original set of parameters (community activity, urban landscapes and design applications) with existing approaches, new directions emerge. If we take into consideration some key points from the latest recommendations of the Food Policy Council in the State of New York (December 2010), the London Food Policy (2006) , and consult the website, it is possible to understand how increasingly important urban farming has become; and why it should be urgently addressed as activity, in a range of forms, that can benefit communities, dispel urban neglect and drive local economies.

Through an analysis of content derived from video interviews with 20 selected Amsterdam project leaders and promoters, evidence shows that many actors are aware both of the Local Food System concept and the importance of its development.

From an urban development point of view, we have considered the potential implications of supporting local food systems, and explored ways in which such systems could be integrated into a wider city framework.

If, and when, the localisation of food production moves towards urban centres, it will impact upon urban and peri-urban areas on many different levels. CITIES first discussed this concept in September 2010 during the launch of a CITIES-led exhibition/workshop: Farming the City, temporary urban agriculture as an answer to urban decay. The focal point of the event was the development of farming activities in areas of the city needing physical redevelopment, and/or which are temporarily under-used. This approach impressed public officers at the Physical Planning Department of the city of Amsterdam, supporters of the launch event.

Socially inclusive neighborhoods
On a neighborhood scale, the main argument in favour of the development of temporary farming activities has social roots. When considering the temporary re-use of an abandoned area, any comprehensive plan should take into consideration both structural redevelopments and socially inclusive activities. Specifically, food-related activities are considered by a majority of social thinkers to be appropriate. Food-related activities not only involve the practical, physical act of growing foodstuffs, they are also concerned with the many cultural and social traits that characterise a community. Such neighbourhood-level activity may include meetings, events, movies and lectures, story-telling, community packaging workshops, community food processing workshops, community kitchens and so on. These activities seek to employ urban agriculture activity to catalyse public interaction between social groups (the elderly, migrants, youth or the under-employed). When temporary redevelopment of an area takes into consideration only infrastructure and physical planning, the sense of belonging and citizens’ appropriation of the space are diminished. Without a connection between physical redevelopment and social inclusion, temporary redevelopment frequently brings only material value, which may vanish once permanent redevelopment begins. Socially inclusive activities, on the other hand, create a sense of ownership, memory and belonging that remain as community assets long after benefits gained from temporary redevelopment may be lost.

CITIES developed a specific investigation about the local food system in Amsterdam.
The conclusions of our report focus on the development of a comprehensive strategy, favoring ‘bottom-up’ approaches and using the local food system as a central framework. The main conclusion is that this type of program, would produce employment opportunities, increase citizen participation in civic and social life, and positively influence the choice of temporary activities for the stimulation of urban renewal

Please, click here to check our results and suggestions for future action in the city.

Posted on 21 March 2011 and filed under content