On November 12, the Nordic Council of Ministers staged an event highlighting the role of urban farming and biodiversity conservation in developing food systems that will be capable of withstanding the pressure from a rapidly growing and increasingly urbanised population.
Great opportunities in local and sustainable food production
The New Nordic Food Manifesto, which laid the foundation for the highly successful New Nordic Food movement, emphasises the value of pure, fresh and locally produced seasonal foods and a more sustainable food production. Since 2004, the principles of the manifesto have driven an astonishing growth in food innovation, with an outset in local and traditional Nordic produce. Based on similar values, urban farming is enjoying increased popularity around the world, and has become an integrated feature of urban planning strategies and city lifestyle in Nordic cities.
Innovative partnerships between the city and its rural surroundings are a win-win possibility to create a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable food system.
According to Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the rise of urban farming is a symptom of a prominent shift in the way people view food in Nordic cities, where a new everyday diet is taking shape.
“The urban publics interested in urban gardening also have a great demand for innovative and sustainable foods from rural areas,” Høybråten says, adding that this brings sustainable growth and jobs to rural communities. “Innovative partnerships between the city and its rural surroundings are a win-win possibility to create a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable food system. Nordic Council of Ministers supports this development in Nordic cities and we aim to bring the best examples on sustainable city food policies to the rest of the world.”
Cities need to take action to increase food security
The World Bank predicts that by 2045, the urban population will have reached 6 billion. According to the FAO, climate change will directly impact food security in the growing urban areas, requiring cities to take action to reduce food losses and increase availability of healthy foods, while at the same time cutting emissions from transport.
“Our cities have a proud tradition of producing food and growing vegetables, often as a reaction to resource scarcity in times of crisis,” says Signe Voltelen, urban farming consultant at SLOW. “Today, the context is different. We’re facing grieve climate issues and have to react to the changes in demography, with more people now living in cities than in rural areas.”
Apart from contributing to a more social and attractive city lifestyle, urban farming addresses some of the most important agendas in today’s society. Local and sustainable food production is the core of urban farming, but it also addresses health issues, including lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and climate mitigation and adaptation.
Research shows that emissions per kilogramme of vegetable grown in an urban garden, using household wastewater and composted organic waste, is two kilogrammes lower than from an equivalent quantity of purchased vegetables. “Also, urban farming can play a role in climate adaptation measures to react to the more and more frequent cloudbursts in cities,” Voltelen says. “Green roofs can be used to delay rainwater runoff and prevent sewage overflow.”
Urban farming should play a key role in educating the population of the urban communities about the value of good quality, local and seasonal produce, and in strengthening the relation between consumers in the cities and the food-producing rural districts.
Urban farming educates about quality local produce
“Urban farming alone won’t be able to provide entire cities with locally grown crops, because to do so, you would need much more space,” says Kristian Skaarup, co-founder of Denmark’s first rooftop farm, ØsterGRO. “However, urban farming should play a key role in educating the population of the urban communities about the value of good quality, local and seasonal produce, and in strengthening the relation between consumers in the cities and the food-producing rural districts.”
The concept of urban farming is booming all around the world, and Nordic cities are no exception. Apart from Østergro, prominent examples include Ekostaden Augustenborg, a sustainable urban neighbourhood in the City of Malmö, and the rooftop farm and restaurant at Sveavägen 44 in Stockholm.
New Nordic Food goes Moroccan
At the event New Nordic Food goes Moroccan – urban farming at COP22, the Nordic Council of Ministers wanted to demonstrate the values of New Nordic Food and the steadily growing urban farming movement, and honour the strong Moroccan agricultural tradition.
“The principles from the New Nordic Food Manifesto are applicable everywhere: to use organic produce that’s in season and grown locally with a strong awareness of the social and sustainability aspects of the production,” says Michael Funch, the Nordic Council of Ministers’ COP22 Project Manager. “Given the importance of food production with regards to the climate change agenda, we thought it was an obvious choice to bring New Nordic Food to Morocco.”
One key point was to show the interconnections between the Nordic countries and Morocco, as many of our plants and kitchen garden varieties have deep roots in Northern Africa.
For the event, SLOW put together a four-course meal, created from Marrakech’ seasonal harvest and best in-season produce. All ingredients were biodynamic and organic, produced in the nearby fields by local farmers and food producers.
“Each course represented the values of New Nordic Food and different urban farming projects in the Nordic countries and in Morocco,” says Voltelen. “One key point was to show the interconnections between the Nordic countries and Morocco, as many of our plants and kitchen garden varieties have deep roots in Northern Africa.”
Biodiversity conservation - fundamental for the world’s food security
Another valuable aspect of the urban farming culture is its contribution to conserving biodiversity. Voltelen has been active in a group of urban farmers fighting for a change in the Danish and European seed legislation, which, until recently, banned the exchange of seeds between farmers.
“It’s a natural cycle to collect seeds and share them between farmers,” she says. “When you harvest seeds from your own plants and use them locally and regionally, the seeds adapt to the local environment they grow in, the changing climate conditions, and the diseases that they’re exposed to. This is the best way to conserve a robust seed.”
NordGen, the Nordic Genetic Resources Center, plays a key role in conservation and sustainable use of Nordic seeds and plant species. The centre operates with two types of conservation, in-situ, where the seeds are conserved in nature and on farms, and a gene bank, where seeds are deposited and frozen. NordGen’s gene bank currently contains 35,500 Nordic seed varieties and 580 species.
When you harvest seeds from your own plants and use them locally and regionally, the seeds adapt to the local environment they grow in, the changing climate conditions, and the diseases that they’re exposed to. This is the best way to conserve a robust seed.
“We have an important responsibility, which is to conserve these seeds for present and future generations,” says Lise Lykke Steffensen, Director of NordGen. “The Nordic growth cultivation is under pressure, and we cannot count on using genetic material from other places. We need plants that can live and grow in Nordic climate conditions, with bright summer nights and dark winters.”
New Nordic Food goes Moroccan was part of the extensive Nordic programme during COP22. All events from the Nordic Pavilion, New Nordic Climate Solutions, can be seen at the Nordic Council of Ministers’ COP22 website.