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Local, Interactive and Well-Fed in Northeast UK
Sarah Rich, 30 May 07
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In the Northeast England town of Middlesbrough, a summer-long community project is about to ensue, during which over 1,000 town citizens will demonstrate the potential for a self-sustaining food supply through small-scale urban agriculture. The project is a part of dott07 (of which Worldchanging ally, John Thackara is Program Director ), a year-long series of community projects, events and exhibitions focused on achieving regional sustainability and exploring how design plays a part in the process.

The Urban Farming component employs design through a collection of garden containers of various sizes placed throughout Middlesbrough, which effectively install an edible landscape in the town's public spaces. That landscape also becomes interactive and encourages community engagement as participants work on their plots throughout the summer. The thousand urban farmers come from a diverse array of local institutions and organizations, including "primary and secondary schools, preschool groups (Sure Start), residential homes, allotment associations, mental health units in local hospitals, and residents’ groups...".

Over the course of the growing season, the urban farmers will hold week-long events to harvest, prepare and eat their goods, working with chefs to create recipes, and then distributing them on postcards. In addition, a design team will create a map of Middlesbrough which will identify current and potential local growing sites. The map works off of the designers' sustainable urban agriculture strategy (Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes) trying to maximize space and reduce the town's ecological footprint while securing a sturdy local food economy. Come September, the Urban Farming project will culminate with a banquet and open-air market in Middlesbrough's main square.

But it's not just gardening and celebration:

[T]here’s a bigger agenda. In pursuit of a healthier, low carbon economy and more sustainable local food systems, awareness needs to be raised of the value, benefits and opportunities for growing and securing food for our towns and cities. Local growers need to be connected to existing and new markets, a new relationship needs to be struck between urban and rural and communities need inspirational and educational ‘soil to plate’ experiences...A key challenge is to do this in poor, post-industrial communities, connect the consumer with the civic and engage directly with the pleasure and pain of self-sufficient living and sustainable use and design of urban land.

Many people have already realized this, and there are numerous urban farming projects taking place all over the world, but dott07 has a unique approach in that it's regionally focused and spans a full year, permitting a long view and a considered execution. Rather than a preconceived demonstration, it becomes a continuous case study in integrated, scalable design for sustainability.

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There is a new sub-acre farming method called SPIN-Farming that is well-suited to this type of sustainable development project. SPIN integrates farming into the built environment, and its approach can be replicated anywhere. It requires minimal infrastructure and provides a specific process for generating significant income from land bases under an acre in size. It removes the two big barriers to entry for first generation farmers – they do not need much land or financial resources to start a SPIN farm operation. By re-casting farming as a small business in a city or town, it makes it possible for many more people to practice farming professionally. More information and photos illustrating how SPIN works can be found at
Roxanne Christensen

Posted by: Roxanne Christensen on 11 Jun 07



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