Middlesbrough Leads The Way In Urban Food Production

Posted on: 14 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Food should be grown in all our inner cities, says Michael Wale, just like they are doing in Middlesbrough.


Cuba has led the world in starting to grow food in the inner cities. It is time Britain did the same, as food shortages start to happen. In the North East, Middlesbrough is leading the way.

Will Allen has started it in America, where one of Chicago’s parks is given over to vegetables, which are then sold to the City. But in England with acres of spare parkland still under the rule of the neanderthal parks departments there has been no progress at all. Even Boris Johnson’s lengthy environmental policy for London did not have a word about allotments or providing locally grown food for those living in the innermost parts of the capital.

The warnings about future food shortages can already be seen across the world. In Mexico there were riots because of the lack of means of making tortillas, because 25 per cent of the American maize crop has been used to make bio fuel.

Elsewhere the price of rice has risen, where it is a staple diet, and in Argentina the farmers have gone on strike, because the Government wanted to up the tax on exported soya, which they produce, to 42 per cent. The result is they have boycotted sending food into the cities with the result that food shop shelves, even in the capital Buenos Aires are empty.

Here the ever grasping supermarkets have raised their prices but not passed the results onto the farmers, who have been faced with ever increasing feed prices for their animals.

So the more we can provide for ourselves the better. Four thousand people want allotments across London, but cannot get one. More and more people want home grown, or local food, because of all the food scares and the over-use of pesticides.

Last September Middlesbrough’s energetic plans came to a climax with a Town Meal, staged in the city centre, attended by a staggering 8,000 people. The idea was to collect all the locally grown food from the 264 new inner city growing sites on one day and serve it up to the public. There was also a plan to bring the countryside into the town, but because of diseases like Blue Tooth at the time, this had to be abandoned. But there were collections of smaller animals like rabbits and chickens for children to meet. This year the plans are even more ambitious, and Middlesbrough are offering advice and help to any other cities who want to follow their experiment.

Ian Collingwood is a consultant and project manager of the idea.  "The way we are looking at it now is that we are looking longer term," he tells me. 

"We’re looking at the scale of production, and test it through one of our schools. One of our county groups are looking at schools having large scale growing areas to produce food. We’re also looking at a site within the community. We’re setting up communal gardening clubs, we’ve already brought more allotments on stream, and we are looking at the spare ground in the middle of town beside the art gallery.”

Last year's town mealWhen the plan was started last year 264 growing sites were earmarked, most of them in schools.  City dwellers were also encouraged and helped to grow food in containers wherever they could. New growing sites are getting more ambitious like wasteland at the back of a group of 1930 council houses.  After their gardens were made a lot of land just lay waste for years, and has become an eyesore with fly tipping of rubbish. So there is a plan not only to clean up the site, but use it for growing as well. They might be made into community gardens.

Middlesbrough is very aware of what has been happening all those miles away in Havana, where more and more inner city land is being used to grow and supply the locality with their own food.

As for this years Town Meal, which will be held a little bit earlier than last year with September 6th already pencilled in, Ian Collingwood has picked up an idea from nearby Sedgefield racecourse.

"They had pig racing there recently and it was a great success. I would like to see that event come to the middle of our city on Town Meal day."  

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