Growing Cities: The Urban Agricultural Revolution

Growing Cities: The Urban Agricultural Revolution

I am co-founder and director of Wilder, an environmental social enterprise based in London that creates spaces for wildlife and people. Some of our projects include de-paving and transforming concrete spaces into lush wildlife-friendly gardens.

Leanne Werner on the Palais des Congres Montreal with environmental scientist, Eric Duchemin, AU/LAB Download 'Leanne Werner IMG_2287'

We are working with universities such as King’s College London to increase biodiversity on its campus, and advising the art gallery organisation, Tate, on actions to increase biodiversity on all of its sites, as well as creating a wildflower meadow on the Thames riverside of Tate Modern in London.

I initially applied to the Churchill Fellowship to look at how food growing in cities can increase biodiversity with the aim of incorporating this into my work. Through my travels across North America, I soon realised that urban agriculture can, and should be, a transformative force reshaping the fabric of our cities and our relationship with food and each other. This movement, which advocates for growing food in urban areas, not only enhances local sustainability but also tackles critical issues such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and community wellbeing.

"As climate disasters intensify, with wildfires and floods displacing entire populations, the imperative to embrace sustainable practices is becoming ever more pressing."

The urgent need for change is self-evident. Conventional agricultural practices, reliant on chemical inputs and monocultures, have strained rural ecosystems, leading to depleted soils and biodiversity loss. Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlight that a global temperature rise above 1.5°C poses severe risks to food security and ecological stability, necessitating immediate action. To make matters worse, the United Kingdom, like many nations, heavily relies on imports for fresh produce, leaving us vulnerable to climate-related disruptions in the global food supply chain.

Urban agriculture offers a promising alternative. By cultivating food within city limits, communities can reduce their carbon footprint associated with 'food miles' while simultaneously alleviating pressure on rural landscapes.

The environmental benefits of urban agriculture are multifaceted. Local food production enhances biodiversity, improves air and water quality, mitigates floods, and fosters ecological resilience. Furthermore, shifting towards locally grown produce promotes healthier dietary choices, contributing to positive public health outcomes and reducing the burden on healthcare systems.

Urban roof farm - Toronto Metropolitan University Download ''
Joyce Dallas 'Keep Growing Detroit' volunteer Download ''

After eight weeks of travelling across North America looking at urban agriculture initiatives, I became convinced of its potential. The pioneering efforts of North American cities in urban agriculture provide valuable insights for urban centres like London facing similar challenges. Cities like Toronto, Montreal, Detroit, Vancouver, and Portland are at the vanguard of urban agriculture, and have implemented innovative policies such as mandatory green roofs, expansive rooftop farms, and inclusive 'agrihoods' to integrate agriculture into urban planning. My report, published in May 2024, explores these initiatives and looks at what we could learn.

As climate disasters intensify, with wildfires and floods displacing entire populations, the imperative to embrace sustainable practices like urban agriculture is becoming ever more pressing. While it may not offer a singular solution to the climate crisis, urban agriculture represents a critical component of a holistic approach towards building resilient, equitable, and sustainable cities.

Ultimately, the success of urban agriculture hinges on collaborative efforts, innovative policies, and community engagement. By nurturing urban ecosystems of agriculture, cities can forge a path towards a more food-secure and harmonious future, reconnecting residents with nature and fostering a sense of collective stewardship over our environment and well-being.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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