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Nurturing growth

Research and Process Manager

Tackling food insecurity in the UK with micro-scale vertical farms and inspiring the next generation of urban growers  

The United Kingdom's ever-increasing population and limited land resources present a huge challenge to food production. This, combined with an increasing cost of living issue and over 9.7 million adults and 4 million children facing food insecurity as of September 2022, demands the development of novel solutions.  

As cities and towns grow, green belts that function as a buffer against urban sprawl into the countryside are being sold off for housing development. This raises worries about the reduced amount of land available for food production. Urban agriculture, a concept dating back to ancient Mesopotamia, comprises the production and distribution of food through livestock, aquaculture, and horticultural activities.  

Although this method of farming regained prominence in the early twentieth century, post-war urbanisation has resulted in a decrease in available agricultural land. Conflicting land usage threatens modern allotments and communal gardens, threatening urban agriculture's benefits such as improved physical and mental health, sustainability, and community growth. With the rise of food insecurity and the rise of food deserts in cities, where access to healthy food is primarily reliant on transportation, immediate action is needed.  

However, current constraints prevent the successful implementation of urban agriculture. These issues include a shortage of allotments, overloaded waiting lists, a lack of government backing, and some local authorities converting green lands into residential areas. Access to urban agriculture is frequently restricted to privileged individuals, as the logistics of transferring equipment and materials via public transport present difficulties for people in true need.  

I had an idea whilst contemplating my master’s thesis , which I am sure is not unique, but it is to deploy micro-scale vertical farms ( think horticulture in a shipping container) as a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project in local communities such as schools and places of worship, to mention a few. Why do I think it is a promising idea? They require less land, may be installed anywhere, are excellent for brownfield sites, and can be integrated into existing buildings, whether in use or not.   

Several studies have demonstrated the social and mental health benefits of CSA programmes. It fills the gap in -between supermarkets, shortening the distance to a supply of nutritious food. These programmes can inspire and educate future generations of farmers and urban agriculturalists, thereby fulfilling the vertical farming industry's need for trained growers. The last point  resonates with me because , during lower school, a guest visited my year group with Lego robots and taught us how to program and build to solve various problems. This moment fostered a love for engineering for me, leading me to eventually study it through college and university.  

Despite its potential for addressing the challenges while also reducing the strain on the healthcare system through healthier diets, local and national authorities have provided little support. Many current CSAs in England, and even those with subscription models, rely on financial assistance in the form of grants. The question arises: why couldn't these grants be used to operate a vertical crate farm in partnership with a charity or vertical farming  company  that provides knowledge and support?  

Addressing food insecurity necessitates a multidisciplinary approach, particularly when using vertical farming. The benefits and rewards for present and future generations may outweigh the current costs. National and local governments must play a critical role in advancing and protecting these programmes. As the potential of urban agriculture to reduce food poverty grows, proactive steps are critical for guaranteeing a long-term impact in the UK. Successful projects must be not only efficient but also inclusive and safe, supporting skill development and producing healthy food at a cheap cost to ensure long-term profitability.