Why talk of grow-your-own (GYO) is irrelevant and unhelpful

In the last 24 hours, a TV news planner and a city councillor have been in touch about grow-your-own (GYO) as solutions to (with the TV guy) getting kids to eat more veg and (the councillor) to food security in the face of threats from climate change et al.

The irrelevance: Growing food in urban environments has many benefits, but it cannot reach anywhere near the scale needed to provide for more than a minuscule fraction of the population, as this cheery little video points out:

(Translation for Birmingham: An apple a day = 1.14 million apples every day = 416, 100,000 per year. And 5-a-day for this city alone = 2,080,500,000. Yup that’s 2bn portions of fruit and veg; over 120bn for everyone in the UK)

The profit margins on fresh produce along the whole supply chain is a miserly 0-2.5%. When businesses have to scrape a living, they either leave the sector, or move into niche markets and/or diversify and/or scale up. (No surprise then that huge companies dominate the food sector and the UK.)

You can add in another point about scale, too. And that’s about the hard physical effort it takes to grow even small quantities of food for yourself. There are ~10K allotments in this city (so less than 1% of us rent one) and a fair few of them are unoccupied. No surprise, it’s hard work, it can be frustrating too sometimes, what with the weather and slugs who view our food as their food.

Despite all that, growing food in back gardens, allotments, school and community gardens has many social and personal benefits as well as the production of fruit and veg. GYO is also picturesque and easy to understand. But (and it’s a big BUT) it diverts attention away from the risks to our food supplies and what we need do.

And because the dangers are urgentwe need do stuff now, rather than faff on about the irrelevant. Evidence-based, pre-crisis thinking is necessary now.

The risks are outlined in this (brief) Briefing Note. As for mitigation of these risks and how we might build resistance, it’s a huge, difficult task. Nonetheless, we made these three recommendations in our recent report Global Risks to UK Food Supplies.

If you prefer watching stuff rather than reading stuff, this far-from-cheery video outlines the major risks to our food supplies — climate change, resource depletion, population pressures and increasingly volatile geopolitics:

note: An indicator that urban food growing is a diversion from the real issues is the Mondelez sponsorship of a the Healthy Lives programme which touches (their word, not mine) 60K primary schoolchildren in south Birmingham and their families . . . which includes local food growing, the sites all branded with their logo.  (All part of their global “$50M commitment to multi-year partnerships promoting active, healthy lives“.)

On this matter, see our blogpost about the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations in her Annual Report 2018, and our comments about her Recommendations 4 and 5.

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