Urban horticulture may hold the key to providing local populations with their supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, according to a study published in Nature Food.

Researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom analyzed the city’s gardens and green spaces and found that they cover 45% of Sheffield—a figure similar to that of other UK cities. By growing fruit and vegetables in just 10% of the city’s gardens and other urban green spaces, the local population could meet their “five-a-day” need. Currently, just 16% of fruit and 53% of vegetables sold in the United Kingdom are grown domestically, so such a move could significantly improve the nation’s food security.

The study also investigated the potential for soil-free farming on flat roofs, using hydroponics and aquaponics, which could allow year-round cultivation with minimal lighting requirements, using greenhouses powered by renewable energy and heat captured from buildings, with rainwater harvesting for irrigation. The researchers believe the high-yielding nature of soil-free farming means this could make a significant contribution to local horticulture.

Jill Edmondson, environmental scientist at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study, said in a press release: “At the moment, the United Kingdom is utterly dependent on complex international supply chains for the vast majority of our fruit and half of our veg—but our research suggests there is more than enough space to grow what we need on our doorsteps.

“Even farming a small percentage of available land could transform the health of urban populations, enhance a city's environment, and help build a more resilient food system.”


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