Many of us now share the goal to live more sustainably. Through the food choices we make, we can reduce our individual impact on our planet. Here we take a look at 7 food sustainability projects and how they show the way towards a more sustainable future.
Many of our food choices are driven by convenience4. Other factors such as hunger, affordability, and taste all also play a role. What’s more, our food choices are influenced by price as supermarkets try to lure us in with money-saving deals3 and the large producers all vie for a slice of our spend.
Sustainability is a buzzword at the moment and it does not just relate to the end product on our dinner tables. The term “food sustainability” ultimately looks across the whole system of food production and consumption. Sustainably meaning, of course, that the system can be sustained without negative “debits” across each of the links in our food chain.
The bigger picture takes in farming, the distance food travels, and the resulting environmental impact. What’s more, we also have to think about our limited agricultural resources, animal wellbeing, health implications as well as the economic impact.
Recently, mass-scale food production has become the main goal for many farmers and suppliers1. Typically this is to reduce the cost of food production and remain in business as the wholesale prices paid by supermarkets have fallen.
However, large-scale agriculture tends to prioritize economies of scale over and above our environment or animal welfare.
Through the adoption of sustainable farming systems, we can access sustainable agriculture and food. These sustainable practices include supporting low-carbon food production and organic growth. Sustainable farming also takes care to avoid the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides. However we look at it, sustainable farming can help food sustainability.
When we aim to produce sustainable food, it is possible to reduce the negative impact on our environment. This can come via a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or taking care of waterways and habitats5.
For example, sustainable food is more likely to be grown in season without the need for artificial temperature-controlled greenhouses or storage. Another example is allowing the land to replenish versus using fertilizers to ensure one crop after another.
Further, growing food locally and minimizing or avoiding transport by air or road all help to reduce the environmental costs and improve sustainability.
Our environment has taken a beating over the past decades and even centuries and so, perhaps now more than ever, the more widespread adoption of sustainable food production is required.
Sustainable farming also seeks to protect the health and wellbeing of animals which can aid food sustainability2. From giving animals more room to move around to reducing suffering, naturally healthy animals are a key aim for sustainable production.
In order to keep up with demand, food has been grown using methods that may have a negative impact on our health. For example, imported produce is usually picked before it ripens and the ripening process is controlled artificially using gas.
Whereas these processes are typically regarded as safe, much of our food will still contain chemical traces. Further, we unnecessarily draw on our natural resources to produce the energy and gases required.
Sustainable food, on the other hand, is safe and healthy. There are no chemicals or pesticides while nutrition is a growing interest7. Sustainable food practices allow food to ripen naturally which results in higher levels of nutrients.
Food waste is a global issue. When we choose sustainable food we help reduce the wastage inherent in large and complex supply chains. Less wastage, in turn, results in fewer wasted resources going into the food that does not get eaten. Further, each project helps raise awareness about food waste.
So, with an understanding of food sustainability and what it all means, there are many projects happening exploring different methods and showing the way6. Food projects and urban agriculture projects are springing up, opening doors to local food for the local community.
This change in attitudes is both refreshing and exciting. It is a new era in food production and is sending a message to supermarkets stating that we no longer have to conform to their power and desire to support mass production.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of food sustainability projects across the globe that are helping communities to reach their sustainable food goals.
These food production systems are involving people in food production. They are also inspiring others to take action whilst promoting an understanding of where their food comes from.
This clever idea is all about creating a community garden. It is run by the charity Global Garden and makes use of available and underutilized urban space. The project aims to provide communities with the chance to try out sustainable living.
This Urban Skip Garden in Kings Cross, London, uniquely shows how things can be done differently with a simple and well-executed idea. Because the skips can be transported easily this portable garden can move around.
During the large re-development of the area, the skip garden can be found on free land and when the sale or building works begin on that land, they move the gardens to new areas. It has involved thousands of people since it began in 2004, educating and inspiring local food production
The skips are perfect for growing beans and apple trees among other things. They also utilize old water pipes and recycled polythene to grow tomatoes and chilies under polytunnels.
Founded in 2012, this was the first urban agriculture project from UCL (University College London). The aim was to provide a way of accessing sustainably sourced vegetables, here the community comes together to grow food on allotment space in Camden. Bentham’s farm demonstrates new ways of growing sustainable foods while providing practical experiences to local people.
GrowUp Urban Farms uses a clever method of sustainable farming known as aquaponics. Using specially designed tanks, they house fish and plants that are grown using the fish waste and water as food. As a result, not only can they harvest fish but they can also grow plants without the need for soil.
The fish are fed and their waste creates nutrient-rich water that makes great food for plants. The plants then clean the water and that creates a safe environment for the fish to thrive in.
Their “Unit 84” urban farm has the capability of producing 20,000kg of sustainable salads and four tons of fish each year.
Creating an edible forest garden, the Beacon Food Forest food sustainability project is all about using public land to create a place where sustainable food is grown.
Located in Seattle, Washington, the public can forage in the 7-acre plot. Here they will find fruit and nuts as well as berries and pumpkins with the entire space mimicking a natural ecosystem. As a result, it generates higher yields and requires less maintenance.
Space is at a premium in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo but Pasona Group has found a way to use their office space to grow their own food.
This company initiated a food sustainability project that grows tomatoes from the ceilings and herbs in rooms. Believe it or not, they even have a rice paddy in the lobby. The plants serve two purposes. The first is to create a relaxed environment for staff. However, all of the food that they grow they serve to staff in the cafeteria.
Hidden in the shadows of the old Berlin Wall, Prinzessinnengarten is an urban farm that is a grower's dream in a concrete jungle. Here they grow a variety of vegetables, all of which are easy to move as they are in containers such as rice sacks or plastic crates. As a result, if there is any need for this urban garden to move they can do so.
The aim is to provide communities and visitors with the chance to grow and learn. This is a sustainable food project that has gone from strength to strength. More people are involved, more produce is grown and a greater understanding of sustainable living has been achieved. Even the cafe serves up snacks that come from the produce grown in the garden.
The rooftops of buildings are often a dead space but Lufa Farms are changing all that. The goal for this food sustainability project is to create a “local food engine” according to director Lauren Rathmell.
After recently opening their fourth rooftop greenhouse, their goal has become quite apparent according to the director who says
“With each greenhouse, we hold ourselves to an ever-higher standard for sustainable design. Our new farm will be the most energy-efficient to date and integrate all our learnings from the last ten years to responsibly grow more vegetables for Lufavores year-round,”
Growing a variety of produce, there is plenty on offer here. What’s more, people can also sign up for their service which means that they get fresh produce delivered each week. They have even thought about how they deliver the produce too, as it is all delivered by electric vehicles.
There is no doubt that each of these projects in their own way shows what can be done with a little imagination, creativity, and resourcefulness. They offer people the opportunity to get creative with where and how they source and grow the food they eat. People who are lacking space can utilize what they have. They can also become part of a community project.
Simply due to their scale, these projects are not yet about to replace traditional farming. However, what they might lack in scale they make up for in growing awareness of what is possible, And they each offer opportunities for people to get involved, in turn helping encourage wider consideration of how we might grow sustainable food practices.
If people spend more time buying and picking sustainable food then that is only a good thing. The projects are innovative and smart and they prove that anything is possible when we put our minds to it.
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Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.