Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Urban growing

By Stephen Balfour


There has been a renewed interest in urban food growing in recent years, which has resulted in an increased demand for allotments and in the number of community garden projects springing up in Scottish towns and cities. Reasons for the increase are varied and the benefits wide-ranging: community cohesion, improved mental and physical health, access to fresh produce, increased biodiversity, clean air, and improved local greenspaces.

In Scotland there are currently two strategic developments that could help enhance the potential of urban food growing.

In 2015, the Scottish Government made it obligatory for every local authority to develop a Local Food Growing Strategy to identify potential food growing sites and encourage food growing activities, making the provision of food growing spaces a consideration in local authority planning.

Secondly, there has been a move towards the creation of cross-sector food policy partnerships in Scotland’s three largest cities. I coordinate The Sustainable Food City Partnership Aberdeen (SFCPA), which has developed cross-sector partnerships with; Aberdeen City Council, Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE), NHS Grampian, Aberdeen Health & Social Care Partnership, as well as other community and voluntary organisations, local businesses, and educational institutions. We bring together key stakeholders to explore practical solutions and develop best practice on a range of issues:

  • Promoting healthy and sustainable food to the public.
  • Tackling food poverty, diet-related ill health and access to affordable, healthy food.
  • Building community food knowledge, skills, resources, and projects.
  • Promoting a vibrant and diverse sustainable food economy.
  • Transforming catering and food procurement.
  • Reducing waste and the ecological footprint of the food system.

By taking a ‘whole systems approach’ to food we engage a variety of sectors to learn from best practice. Aberdeen Sustainable Food City is hosted by CFINE, a social enterprise that works to cooperative principles which underpin the organisation’s and activities: equality; cooperation, collaboration and partnership; mutuality and reciprocity; recognising that everyone has something to offer; and enterprise.

Together, the food partnerships and Local Food Growing Strategy could start to understand the complexity of urban food systems – tackling the inequalities and waste that the system produces through a reorientation towards more local food and shorter supply chains, as well as addressing health and environmental issues within local communities.