More than half the global population lives in cities. WHO figures show that in 2014, 54% of the world’s population lives in cities. This figure has increased from 34% in 1960.
The realization that our cities cannot continue to be fed like before has caused people to search for sustainable solutions for feeding our cities. How can we guarantee enough good, clean and fair food, and protect the environment for future generations?
The project Eating City is looking for answers. Eating City is a network of bodies, organizations and foundations that want to transform urban agriculture. The aim is to transform urban agriculture into a system for social and economic development. It seeks to create a learning community that learns by itself.
A conference held at Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre gave some concrete examples of how this is possible. The starting point is simple: education. People need to have enough information to understand that food is not merely a good, but something that carries deep social and economic implications. Consumers need to realize that they can orientate the market without bending to its will; consumers can work in close collaboration with producers for a better food system.
Slow Food is involved in this process. In Milan, an educational project has been set up involving schools, growers and citizens. The project “Feeding Milan: Power to Change” was launched in 2009 and started by promoting agriculture in the area surrounding the city, an area often ignored by citizens. Farmers’ markets provide the opportunity for the countryside to enter the city and provide a meeting place for producers and citizens. The result is that many more people are able to learn more about food and appreciate the taste of fresh local produce. In addition, urban citizens have been able to learn when, where and how the food they eat is produced.
The idea crosses cultural and political boundaries. In Beijing a farmer’s market has provided the answer for several young producers who have returned to the fields with the intention of practicing sustainable forms of agriculture. This is something of a rural revolution in China, a country that holds 7% of the world’s arable land but uses 35% of the world’s pesticides. The market is the ideal place for farmers to establish direct relationships with consumers and explain how their food was produced, allowing people to pay a fair price. This is an important step forward in the way we appreciate food. Low food prices often hide a large environmental and social cost of what we are buying. It’s not just farmer’s markets either. In the Norwegian city of Stavanger urban allotments have taken the place of factories.
A movement such as this starts at street level, but that doesn’t mean it can’t gain political traction. In Scotland the movement has found support from institutions, which have launched enlightened food policies. The institutions play a fundamental role in the diffusion of food culture: just think that 70% of all canteens in Europe are run by institutions! It’s clear then that governance at all levels can positively influence our production chains, and create new jobs derived from urban agriculture to bring good, clean and fair food into the city.