Developed countries

But, anybody who thinks that urban farming is only a phenomenon primarily of poorer countries, should have a look around parts of New York City. In the Bronx, for instance, an astonishing range of vegetable gardens sprang up in the 1980s, prima­rily in areas where drug-related gang warfare resulted in houses being burned down and gar­dens left abandoned. With the help of people from the New York Botanical Gardens, local people turned dozens of vacant lots into thriving vegetable gardens. Many also grew crops for the sake of their children who they wanted to teach about growing vegetables and keeping chicken and rabbits.

In California, too, urban farming is widely practised. In the university town of Davis, some enlightened developers some years ago decided to build a ‘per – maculture’ suburb. They surrounded new eco­houses with vegetable plots and orchards. Even good quality wine is now produced right in the middle of Davis.

In the USA, the growth of farmers’ markets has been a remarkable phenomenon in recent years. Despite the enormous dominance of supermar­kets, farmers’ markets have been an extraordinary success, not only in California, where the growing conditions are best, but also in New York. There are now over 3000 farmers’ markets. In the UK, too, there has also been a resurgence of farmers’ mar­kets, from nothing about ten years ago to about 300 in 2002. And allotment growing has maintained its popularity within cities, though today it is less and less done by retired men, but increasingly by women who want to grow some of the vegetables for their families.

In the UK there is also urban food production. For instance, in Nazeing in Essex, just outside London, one can see how farming has come under pres­sure. Like Heathrow, Nazeing used to be a major centre for vegetable growing, in a landscape full of greenhouses. But few growers could compete with cheap, imported vegetables and many had to abandon their plots. The few that are left now grow only one crop: cucumbers. These are grown hydro – ponically in greenhouses that look as clean as operating theatres. The growers are mainly second generation Italians. That is because the people who used to own these greenhouses couldn’t make them pay any more. The Italian prisoners of war who had been their labourers during and after the war, took over the last remaining greenhouses, partly because they could draw on additional sup­plies from Italy. When it isn’t cost-effective to grow cucumbers in the winter in England, they truck them in from Italy instead.

On the outskirts of Bristol, attempts have recently been made to set up new organic market garden schemes. For instance, at Leigh Court outside the city, an organic vegetable box scheme was set up in the 1990s. But it is difficult to compete with cheap, imported crops – three quarters of the organic vegetables consumed in Britain are actu­ally trucked and flown in from elsewhere, at great energy cost. But some initial steps to revive peri­urban agriculture are now being taken.