There is no particular reason why fresh, local, seasonal food could not be promoted as powerfully as the limited number of international foods which are available throughout the year. It is understood that urban agriculture will not supply all food needs and that a degree of imported staple and ‘special’ food will always top up basic food or enliven the pleasure of eating. However, with a well-established local food market, these imports could be kept to a reasonable minimum.
One of the arguments raised against this principle is that developing countries rely on food exports for foreign currency. But as made clear earlier, the prevailing models of trade are not the only options available. The Fair Trade movement demonstrates a viable alternative trading pattern, which supports local production by providing local growers with relatively higher incomes by eliminating a number of unnecessary intermediate traders, etc. Supporting local self-sufficiency internationally would also alleviate problems caused by the unsustainable use of farmland for export crops. As Dr Samuel Johnson noted in 1756 (Johnson, 1756) this would provide a sound base from which nations could develop their economies.
A question arises as to how locally grown food should be distributed within the city. Urban agriculture sites, on the scale of those found in Cuba, circa 1000 to 2000 m2 in area, can rely on farm gate sales and local distribution by small vehicles or bicycles with trailers. A radical shift in marketing strategies could result in the use of existing distribution networks of supermarkets. Doing this would integrate urban agriculture into the complex food distribution network of pan national food suppliers. These distribution networks rely on moving goods from the place of production, to processing and packaging plants, to distribution centres from which they are then redelivered to supermarkets for sale. A well publicised study by Stefanie Boge showed that the components for a 150 g pot of strawberry yoghurt will have travelled a total distance of 1005 km before reaching a supermarket shelf in Southern Germany (Boge, 1993). Such complex distribution and production networks rely on integrated large-scale distribution networks.
Local farmers’ markets provide an alternative distribution model. At these markets farmers bring their own produce into the city for selling. In order to judge the environmental impact of local farmers’ markets in London we undertook a small survey of a newly established farmers’ market located in Peckham, about five kilometres from the city centre. This market is one of those set up by Nina Planck (see Chapter 10). We were interested in assessing the transport requirements of small local markets in a large city. Three differences had been noted in the transport associated with local markets, when compared to a supermarket. Supermarkets use large road vehicles to deliver goods from their central storage depots to their retail outlets. This is in addition to the transport associated with collection of goods from farms and any pre sales processing which may occur. We estimated that 90 per cent of supermarket customers drove by car to and from the supermarket.
By contrast, at a local farmers’ market each stall holder will drive between their farm and the market. For the fruit and vegetables sold at these markets minimal pre-processing and packaging occurs. It was also noted that nearly all of the market customers walked or cycled to the farmers’ market.
Six market holders were surveyed during March 2001. They were asked the round trip distance travelled to attend the market, their fuel consumption, the volume of goods brought to the market, the percentage of stock unsold, the percentage of goods damaged in transit, and the number of markets attended per week. Figure 3.9 presents the results.
We then considered how many people the market could serve. It was estimated that the volume of fruit and vegetables purchased by a family of four would equal about one third of a supermarket trolley per week, which we equated to one tenth of a cubic metre. The average round trip distance travelled by a supplier to the market was 160 km, and allowing for goods unsold and damaged in transit, on average each supplier sold 4.5 cubic metres of goods. Thus on average suppliers travel about 3.6 km per family fed.
As we had observed that most supermarket users drove there by car, and that farmers’ market users did not, we concluded that the distance driven by farmers to urban markets would probably be no more than the distance driven by supermarket users. Supermarkets would in addition require the delivery of goods to the store, which as noted
return diesel product back per week
involves significant distances. Although this study is small and does not provide conclusive evidence, these results are interesting because they are based on peri urban agriculture. Once urban agriculture is introduced to cities, the distance travelled by farmers will be further reduced.