Friday, September 10, 2010

The Urban Foodshed

'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard
It is Spring in the southern hemisphere and like most home food gardeners, I have been busy sowing and planting the summer crops.  The news that the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has called an emergency meeting to discuss another looming food crisis has given a certain edge to what is usually a peacful and satisfying pastime.  Once again, global food prices are soaring, with wheat, oil-seed, sugar and meat all at unprecedented premiums.  Riots, that resulted in the deaths of seven people and scores of injured others, broke out in neighbouring Mozambique this week as the government tried to hike up bread prices by 30%. 
Fava Bean flowers
The food price surges are the result of an ever-increasing demand and a critical shortage of supplyWeather has made a big impact on the poor harvests of the northern hemisphere.  It was an unusually hot Summer over much of Europe and Asia bringing drought and wildfires.  There has been unusually wet weather across Canada, and of course, the catastrophic floods in Pakistan. But, of course, the problem goes a lot deeper than the weather- a resilient food system can withstand such shocks.  The bigger picture is that the global food system is far from strong and hardy; it is patently unsustainable and the need for transformation is urgent. 
Garden Pea
One of the 'bright green' ideas to facilitate this transformation is the urban foodshed.  The term seems to have first been coined by W C Hedden in the 1929 book "How Great Cities Are Fed". It is analogous to a watershed, referring to the geographic areas that feed the urban population centres. Mapping the urban foodshed enables a city to answer the questions - Where is our food coming?  And, how best can we enhance and protect our food system?  The urban foodshed is also being increasingly used as a framework to envision local and sustainable city food systems as the antidote to global and unsustainable ones.
Strawberry flower
Many international cities on the road to sustainability have strategies in place to to enable and strengthen local and regional food systems.  A local urban foodshed is often defined as being within 100 kilometres of city and the regional urban foodshed within 300 kilometres.  Common 2020 international goals are to have at least 25% of the food consumed in city coming from the local foodshed; and 65% from the regional foodshed (which encompasses the local foodshed).  The advantages of a local and sustainable urban foodshed are not least, lower food prices, local supply and reduced carbon footprint
Rosa Tomatoes
Growing some of our own food is an action that just about everyone can take, and many individuals are nowadays inspired to get their hands dirty.  City food gardening is blooming all over the world, and not just in the suburban backyard. Urban community gardening projects abound, and city-dwellers are also growing fruit, vegetables and herbs on balconies, decks, rooftops and walls.  There's a growing awareness that the city landscape can, and should be edible.  Urban food gardening is no longer regarded as  a hobby for the green-fingered; but for the green-minded, it is a lifestyle strategy for food security, health and sustainability.

Here you will find a useful paper, "Foodshed Analysis and its relevance to Sustainability" by CJ Peters et al 2008


  1. I'm happy to see campaigns to raise kid's awareness to the issues of foodshed and healthy food:

  2. Thanks Heidi for your encouragement and your link.