How self-sufficient can Birmingham be? Should we even bother trying?
She reckons that what they’ve done in Todmorden can be done anywhere. Hundreds of Tod people grow veg and fruit in their front gardens just for other townspeople to pick and eat.
Todmorden is a small place, only some 15K people. Pam doesn’t think they’ll achieve their self-sufficiency target in Tod by 2018, but it didn’t seem too unrealistic for them to set it . . . In contrast, could Brum feed its citizens?
Not possible in the foreseeable future . . .
And here’s the nub of it. According to Wikipedia, Birmingham is 267.77 km2 and there are just over 1M of us, packed in at 3739/ km2.
For the sake of simple arithmetic in this argument, let’s say the average person chomps their way through the produce from a thousand square metres or a tenth of a hectare (that’s assuming, incidentally, damn good soil and pretty intensive farming).
Translated into feeding all of us million Brummies, we need 1000Mm2 (1000km2, so nearly four times an area of the city itself) under the plough to keep all of us going.
(It’s calculations like this that leads me to think that Tod won’t actually ever become self-sufficient as they’ll need 1,500 hectares of fertile highly intensively farmed land to be so, which they don’t have. (Yet?!) Plus, the Pennines might be great for growing lamb, eggs and some veg and fruit, but it ain’t a paradise for, say, bananas, oranges or rice.)
Back to Brum. What could we do in self-sufficiency terms?
Allotments. We have more than any other city. Around 7K of them. Assuming each is 253 square metres, our allotments total 1,771,000 square metres; i.e. 177.1 hectares. Each hectare can feed 10 people, so that’s nearly two thousand of us sorted.
So only another 998,000 to feed . . . From gardens? Foraging? Incredible Edible-style propaganda gardening? Come on!
It’s these kind of rough and ready calculations that tell us feeding a city population just won’t happen through growing-your-own. And even with exciting technologies such as hydroponics, vertical farming and the like, we’ll still need to bring in a lot of what we need.
So why bother at all?
Here are two sets of arguments. The first is the every-little-counts argument. Clare Devereux of Brighton & Hove reckons their allotments and gardens produce 0.14% of what they need.
What if that could be nudged upwards to, say, 1%? Add in vertical farming and nudge local supplies up a tad more to, say, 2% or even 3%?
What impact would that have on their economy? On the tastiness of their food? On society as a whole?
Planting, nurturing, harvesting are all great activities. And if they don’t take your fancy, then preparing and sharing tasty fresh food is bloody fantastic.
The Todmorden Incredible Edible has blazed a brilliant trail, vividly demonstrating just how wonderfully dramatic an impact a light-touch, help-yourself, kind focus on food can have, and what we can learn from their generosity, enthusiasm and sheer hard work.
(The photo above is of some of the people involved on Aston Villa’s allotment.)