Joe Howe, Andre Viljoen and Katrin Bohn
The literature on urban food growing emphasises its importance in terms of community development and as an agent for urban regeneration, reducing discrimination, tackling crime and generating economic benefit.
The brief overview to follow can be supplemented by making reference to the seminal text by Jac Smit, ‘Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities’ published by the UNDP in 1996 and the web sites of the Resource Centre on Urban Agriculture and Forestry (www. ruaf. org) and City Farmer (www. cityfarmer. org).
One of the strengths of urban food production, that has been identified in both European and North American literature, is its capacity to make a practical and highly visible difference to people’s quality of life (Garnett, 1996, Howe and Wheeler, 1999; Hynes, 1996).
‘food growing projects can act as a focus for the community to come together, generate a sense of ‘can-do’, and also help create a sense of local distinctiveness – a sense that each particular place, however ordinary, is unique and has value.’
Hynes (1996) sees tackling crime as one of the prime achievements of the community garden movement in the USA. Often situated in urban areas with very high crime levels, community gardens have been active in rehabilitation work by offering alternatives to drug use, selling drugs and by preventing other criminal activities.
In the UK the authors are aware of schemes in Doncaster where vandalism reportedly stopped once local land was used for orchards and other community activities.
Garnett (1996a) suggests that urban food production provides an excellent means of involving groups who are often discriminated against, such as women, ethnic minorities and the elderly, in sociable, productive activity. Urban food growing has also often provided a valuable means of expression of local or ethnic identity, for example through growing culturally significant produce. A well-known example of this in the UK is the Ashram Acres community garden in Birmingham used by its local, mainly Asian residents.