Growth Industry: Sharing Spaces for Healthy Rewards

Worldwide, more people live in urban areas now than ever before. In the US alone, more than 60% of the population lives in cities covering just 3.5% of the land area. Of course, cities are great places to live. If you’re a city-dweller, you know how convenient it is having every amenity right on your doorstep and taking just a short journey to work or school.

One of the best things about cities is the fantastic range of food available. Urbanites can call up their buddies and meet at a moment’s notice to grab lunch at a trendy food cart or the newest foodie hangout. An array of global cuisine exists in every city, and exotic ingredients are available from all over the world. But this is also one of the downsides of cities – many of these foodstuffs have travelled half way around the globe to reach our restaurants and supermarkets, clocking thousands of food miles along the way.

We often know nothing of the farming methods or the workers who have grown, harvested, and packed the fruits, vegetables, and herbs we enjoy – and animal welfare and hygiene is a highly contentious issue.

High energy consumables

Consumers in North America and Europe are increasingly aware of the unsustainable practices found in the agricultural industry. Over-use of pesticides and fertilizers can be very damaging to both the local environment and global ecosystems, and the growing market for organic food is evidence that more consumers are making an informed choice in this respect. However, the issue of food miles and carbon emissions is less understood, and there is very little labeling or disclosure required. American food travels an average of 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to table and transporting food is among the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Around 33% of the total global warming effect can be attributed to the food system; however, most of this is due to agricultural production itself. Much commercially produced food is grown in greenhouses, heated and lit by fossil fuels to ensure ideal growing conditions. Commercial growers often use energy-intensive irrigation systems, as well as refrigeration, and tons of protective packaging for transportation, which combine to make this a resource- and energy-intensive business. In the US, each of the 120 million households produces around eight tons of greenhouse gases annually due to food consumption alone.

By replacing just some of their shop-bought food with home-grown produce, each household could cut this by ten per cent. Total US emissions could be cut by 96 million tons every year, the same as taking 20 million cars off American roads. Local, seasonal food offers a solution. When grown outdoors using minimal resources, it reduces food miles, cuts carbon emissions, and gives us fresher, healthier produce. But in cities, land is valuable and space for growing is limited, so it’s important to make the best use of the space available.

Green gold

Increasingly, those lucky enough to have a garden are taking matters into their own green-fingered hands. More than 42 million Americans grow at least some of their own food, allowing them to enjoy tasty, organic crops within minutes of harvesting. They’re saving money, too: research has shown that home-grown food can produce a return of 15 times the original investment in materials. Or, as guerrilla gardener Ron Finley says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.” If more of us grew seasonal fruit, vegetables, and other food such as local eggs or honey, we could reduce the quantity of energy-intensive, mass-produced food we consume.

By sticking to organic and sustainable methods, we can limit the harm to the environment and feed ourselves healthier, more wholesome food. What’s more, we can improve our physical and mental well-being by working outside, in nature, and by offering our skills to those less able, sharing both the space and the fruits of our labor.

Alfrea offers shares in health, wealth and flavor But what if you don’t have a garden? Millions of urban dwellers would love to grow their own food, or maybe keep a few chickens, but have no outside space. A new concept from Alfrea aims to solve this through the sharing economy, offering members a way to maximize the use of land – urban or rural – by matching people with space and those without.

People with unmanageable or unused space can rent it out to those who need it, so they can grow food and flowers, or keep chickens, goats, or bees. For anyone who thought they couldn’t grow their own food due to lack of space, this is the perfect opportunity to grow and eat fresh, seasonal, organic produce, enjoy the benefits of a healthier, lower carbon lifestyle, and save some money.

The new community launches on 22nd April (Earth Day), but keen participants can get the inside track on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google+.


The tricky truth about food miles

Food’s Carbon Footprint


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