A meeting in London provided an ideal combination – debate about food production and the opportunity for convivial eating. Hannah Salomonsson reports.

Speakers, from left to right: Paul Walker, Tim Waterman and Paul Smyth
Speakers, from left to right: Paul Walker, Tim Waterman and Paul Smyth

The Landscape Institute London’s Seasonal Sessions were launched on September 14th with ‘Cultivating the City’ – an event focusing on urban food production.  For this occasion the branch had teamed up with Dalston Eastern Curve Garden and FARM:shop Dalston to create a delectable feast for all the senses.

In a dense urban area where few residents have access to gardens or balconies, Dalston Eastern Curve Garden has created an opportunity for local people to try their hand a growing their own food – an ideal venue for a day of talks on food and the city from various points of view, ranging from conceptual landscape installations to large scale urban agriculture initiatives. During the talks – which were facilitated by Tim Waterman – the speakers Heather Ring (Wayward Plants), Paul Smyth (Something & Son/FARM:shop Dalston), Paul Walker (Enfield Council) and Joshua Zeunert (Writtle School of Design) shared their experiences and dreams for ‘cultivating the city’.

The ensuing panel debate showed how urban food projects can help underpin social cohesion, bring people closer to nature and help reduce food miles. It also became clear that we may need to re-think what urban food is – can our green spaces be both beautiful and productive through a new utilitarian aesthetic including edible ornamental plants? And what role do landscape architects have to play in this process? Furthermore, there was discussion about how large urban agriculture schemes can be put into action through using areas with less competition for land use such as the margins of cities. However, it was agreed that these schemes are likely to face challenges and will need to demonstrate not only social and environmental benefits but also financial viability.

The event came to an end with an evening dinner reception at FARM:shop Dalston, a disused terraced building turned into a quirky, experimental site for aquaponic food production. Through a colourful feast created by Something & Son from locally sourced produce (much of it from the FARM:shop nursery itself) delegates could experience the theme of the day in a very real way. While discussing over a pint (or three) of east London ale how urban agriculture can become a key factor to create true sustainability, it became evident that finding new ways to cultivate the city can help ‘put the ‘culture’ back into agriculture’.

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