Digital learning environments for urban growing and their effects on attitudes towards farming and food

This project was awarded a grant through the Leeds N8 AgriFood Pump Priming Fund, and is a collaboration between FarmUrban and the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool. The project focuses on education around food production and hydroponics within Liverpool Primary Schools.

Soil-free urban farming based on technologies such as hydroponics and aquaponics have the potential to transform food production by significantly reducing the time from harvest to consumption, reducing CO‚Äč2 ‚Äčemissions by largely eliminating transport and packaging, creating employment, turning unused space, waste heat and biomass into valuable resources for food production within cities. However small scale urban agriculture is in the early stages of development with prices for technology infrastructure high and not competitive with conventional agriculture. Viable business models and consumer markets only just beginning to emerge.

Critically there is almost no research on how to engage consumers with these new urban modes of food production or to capitalise on the growing trend for the younger generation to use social media to share their passion for food. Les Firbank from Leeds University led a partnership with Jens Thomas from Farm Urban and academics from Sheffield and Liverpool to address this issue by working with schools in deprived areas of Liverpool. The team took simple LED food growing towers and used a gamification approach with interactive digital content to engage children with the technology, plants and food. The children also conducted experiments on the produce they had grown, learning to see themselves as scientists and getting to eat the fruits of their labour, fresh from the towers which is something most of them had never done.

The schools themselves loved the whole content of the project and are keen to run it again. They said it mapped well onto new areas of the curriculum that the teachers were struggling to integrate but brought it to life and made it relevant and real for them.