The rise of urban farming: Freightliners Farm
Rural farm life does exist in London, believe it or not. It exists in the form of the urban farm or ‘city farm’, and the capital has quite a few of them.
One of these city farms is on our doorstep: Freightliners City Farm in Lower Holloway. The only urban farm in the London Borough of Islington, Freightliners Farm is a community-led, charitable organisation. Free for all to visit, there are vegetable, fruit and herb gardens, a farm shop, a vegetarian café, and an animal farm.
The first city farm in the UK was established in Kentish Town in 1972, with the country having been influenced by the activities of community farms in the United States. Freightliners City Farm has operated on its current site since 1978.
Urban farms like Freightliners City Farm (so called because the animals used to be kept in railway goods vans at the farm’s original site behind King’s Cross Station in the 1970s) provide members of the community and visitors with the opportunity to escape from city life and experience a rural farm environment in the middle of an urban setting. Visitors to the farm can interact with animals, and learn about animals, farming methods and rearing livestock.
A series of programmes and events are held for visitors, schools, and volunteers at the farm. By coming to the farm and taking part in the activities, visitors and volunteers can gain new skills and learn about farming, while such activities are proved to have a positive impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of those who get involved.
Freightliners City Farm, now in its 40th year, is facing a funding crisis as project grants are harder to come by. While insisting that the farm will remain free to visit, Freightliners has launched a ‘Five Ways to Help’ campaign to help raise vital funds.
Money is needed for renovation work, and the farm aims to raise £30,000 to stay afloat and continue to serve and enrich the local community. Freightliners City Farm is an important community asset well-worth preserving.
Why are urban farms so important?
Urban farms, or community farms like Freightliners, tended to be associated with school and hospital gardens. There was an emphasis on individual learning, holistic therapy, and community cohesion. City farms are usually run by local people and supported by a volunteer workforce. This helps to bring communities together while giving people the opportunity to work together as part of a community. As a result, city farms can be hailed for boosting community cohesion.
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Research carried out by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens has sought to establish the real value of urban farms and community gardens. The research established links between urban/community farms and improved quality of life and wellbeing. Urban farms and community gardens were found to have a positive impact on the following:
- Social interaction, inclusion and integration
- Physical and mental health
- Stress and anxiety
- Healthy eating and exercise
- Confidence and independence
- Personal development and the acquisition of new skills
- Environmental and agricultural practices
- Farming and sustainability
- Knowledge of plants, animals and food growing
- Connectedness to nature and the outdoors
- The local economy
- In addition to acquiring new skills and learning about nature, farming and the environment, urban farms present people with social opportunities and allow them to make new friends. The research also found that community farms encourage socialisation and promote inclusion, irrespective of age, gender or background.
Though urban farms can contribute to sustainable food production – and many support food growing – most are not yet able to produce food on a large enough scale to feed local populations.
Urban farming on the rise
We called this article the ‘rise of urban farming’ for a reason, and that’s because there is growing awareness of the benefits of urban farming and the value of city farms like Freightliners in Islington. More urban farms are opening in the UK, including in London and other UK cities like Manchester, but many of them are struggling financially. Though communities can see how they add value, it appears increasingly difficult for farm organisers to procure the funds necessary to sustain their activities.
However, we can expect more urban farms to appear in the UK and across the world in the future, as the benefits of urban farming continue to be recognised and needed.
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