Knowledge for better food systems

Allotment Food's Global Warming Potential, interview with Claire Carter

About the project

This project is investigating the global warming potential (GWP) of produce grown on an allotment. I will attempt to find a suitable comparative figure to represent the UK commercial horticultural sector. This is to determine the difference and magnitude of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for allotment grown produce compared with those grown commercially. This exploratory desk based study is for a particular allotment site. The life cycle analysis (LCA) approach is being applied to quantify the GHG emissions of all inputs to processes and waste disposal during the growing of fruit and vegetables on the chosen allotment. Data regarding quantities used of fertilisers, pesticides, mains water, seeds/seedlings, tools, machinery and transport have been supplied by an allotment committee member and preliminary calculations are underway.

Questions we are addressing

Through this project, we consider whether locally grown produce should have a larger part to play in the UK planning for future food supply. The government has been quoted as being “entirely committed” to allotments and is also dedicated to reducing GHG emissions by 80%. At the same time government has pledged to meet housing demand with a supply target of 240,000 homes every year by 2016. The land potentially suitable to build those new homes on may currently host allotment sites and could lead to conflicts between policy goals.

Future of the project

It is expected that the project will be completed by late March and I am providing a report to FCRN, which will then be available on the FCRN website. This project considers the yield information, equipment and products used on a particular allotment site. It would be interesting, as a follow-on piece of work, to consider how the data for this allotment site compare with studies for other allotment sites. This exploratory study will provide a base for further investigation as to whether locally grown produce has a part to play in the minimisation of GHG emissions. We hope that this project may also serve to inform allotment growers about ways to minimise the GHG emissions arising from allotment food production.

Expertise and collaboration needs

While there are many LCAs that look at the commercial production of particular types of fruit or vegetable there are very few studies that consider the whole of an allotment site or even home grown produce. I would therefore welcome details regarding any LCA studies into allotment grown produce! Also, if anyone has built on Tara’s studies into the GHG emissions figure for the (commercial) UK horticulture sector, some information in this area too would be much appreciated.

Big questions for food climate research

The biggest issue is the sustainability of the current food supply. By this I mean not only addressing environmental and economic impacts but also future societal changes and needs. Economic factors have been the only consideration far too often and for far too long. Now it is generally accepted that environmental concerns need to be addressed but this is still almost always second to economic considerations. There is also a fast emerging need to consider the effects of climate change on communities in combination with the resource pressures from the predicted rise in consumption patterns and population levels across the world. If the climate change projections are correct, some countries that are currently providing a key role in meeting food needs will no longer be able to do so. Hence alternative food supply sources and/or dietary changes will be needed.

About the people in the project

I am a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) practitioner based in Brighton with an MSc in Sustainable Development.

Contact details

Claire Carter Tel: 07913 274423 Email