In a study published in Nature Food and reported in inews, academics from the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield used OS and Google maps to investigate the potential for urban horticulture by mapping greenspaces and also grey spaces (such as rooftops) across the city. With just 16% of fruit and 53% of vegetables sold in the UK grown domestically, such a move could significantly improve the nation’s food security.

Dr Jill Edmondson, environmental scientist at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study, said:

“At the moment, the UK is utterly dependent on complex international supply chains for the vast majority of our fruit and half of our vegetables, but our research suggests there is more than enough space to grow what we need on our doorsteps.”

The UK currently imports 86% of its total tomato supply, but if 10% of the flat roofs identified in the centre of Sheffield became tomato farms, with the help of soil-free hydroponics, it would be enough to feed more than eight per cent of the population one of their 'five a day', the researchers say.

Professor Duncan Cameron, co-author and director of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield, said:

“It will take significant cultural and social change to achieve the enormous growing potential of our cities – and it’s crucial that authorities work closely with communities to find the right balance between greenspace and horticulture. But with careful management of greenspaces and the use of technology to create distribution networks, we could see the rise of ‘smart food cities’, where local growers can support their communities with fresh, sustainable food.”