Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Small-scale, urban allotments yield food, healthy soil, study finds

Date:
April 25, 2014
Source:
British Ecological Society (BES)
Summary:
Soils under Britain's allotments are significantly healthier than intensively farmed soils, researchers have found. This is the first study to show that by growing at small-scale in urban areas, it is possible to produce food sustainably without damaging the soil. As a result of the findings, planners and policy makers should increase the number of allotments available, the authors say.

Allotment plot in August at the height of the growing season.
Credit: copyright Mike Edmondson

Soils under Britain's allotments are significantly healthier than intensively farmed soils, researchers have found. This is the first study to show that by growing at small-scale in urban areas, it is possible to produce food sustainably without damaging the soil.

As a result of the findings, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, planners and policy makers should increase the number of allotments available, the authors say.

One of the greatest challenges facing the growing human population is meeting rising demand for food without undermining the soils on which food production -- and other services such as carbon storage, flood mitigation and locking up pollutants -- depends.

Intensive farming often results in significant declines in soil organic carbon stocks, as well as reducing the ability of soils to store water and nutrients, and damaging soil structure, which can lead to soil erosion.

Working in Leicester, ecologist Dr Jill Edmondson from the University of Sheffield took soil samples from 27 plots on 15 allotment sites across the city. She also sampled soils from local parks, gardens and surrounding agricultural land.

She measured a range of soil properties, including soil organic carbon levels, total nitrogen, and the ratio between carbon and nitrogen (which are all directly related to the amount and quality of organic matter in the soil) as well as soil bulk density, an indicator of soil compaction.

Compared with local arable fields, the allotment soil was significantly healthier: allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen and was significantly less compacted.

According to Edmondson: "We found remarkable differences in soil quality between allotments and arable fields. Our study shows how effectively own-growers manage soils, and it demonstrates how much modern agricultural practices damage soils."

Allotment holders are able to produce good food yields without sacrificing soil quality because they use sustainable management techniques. For example, 95% of allotment holders compost their allotment waste, so they recycle nutrients and carbon back to their soil more effectively.

As well as being good news for urban soils, the results underline the value of allotments. "An estimated 800 million city dwellers across the world participate in urban food production, which makes a vital contribution to food security. Our results suggest that in order to protect our soils, planning and policy making should promote urban own-growing rather than further intensification of conventional agriculture as a more sustainable way of meeting increasing food demand," she says.

There are around 330,000 allotment plots in the UK, covering more than 8000 hectares, and demand is growing, with more than 90,000 people currently on allotment waiting lists in the UK.

However, the heyday for allotments was during World War Two, when 10% of the UK's food came from less than 1% of its cultivated land thanks to the expansion of own growing under the Dig for Victory campaign. At that time, one in three households in Leicester had an allotment but following a national decline in demand, today Leicester's allotment plots number only 3200 and cover just 2% of urban green space although the city is the second highest provider of allotments nationwide.

As well as protecting soils and boosting food security, own growing offers other health benefits, says Edmondson: "Using urban land, including domestic gardens, allotments and community gardens for own-growing is an important and often overlooked way of increasing productivity whilst also reconnecting urban dwellers with food production."

"As well as improving food security, studies show that own-growing has direct physical and mental health benefits, and can provide access to sustainably produced fruit and vegetable crops without the associated food miles."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by British Ecological Society (BES). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jill L. Edmondson, Zoe G. Davies, Kevin J. Gaston, Jonathan R. Leake. Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12254

Cite This Page:

British Ecological Society (BES). "Small-scale, urban allotments yield food, healthy soil, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140425075027.htm>.
British Ecological Society (BES). (2014, April 25). Small-scale, urban allotments yield food, healthy soil, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140425075027.htm
British Ecological Society (BES). "Small-scale, urban allotments yield food, healthy soil, study finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140425075027.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: San Diego Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

Raw: San Diego Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

AP (Sep. 20, 2014) The San Diego Zoo has welcomed two Cheetah cubs to its Safari Park. The nearly three-week-old female cubs are being hand fed and are receiving around the clock care. (Sept. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

AP (Sep. 19, 2014) A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. (Sept. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins