City Farms Boosts Employment

CSD report investigates value of city farms training

29 June 2012

Roots to Work, a report by the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development, investigated how city farms create training opportunities.

When Justin Pearson dropped out of sixth form aged 17, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. ‘I’ve always been an outdoors person,’ he says, ‘and I’ve never liked classrooms. You hear people talk about how difficult it is to get a job, and they’re the ones with qualifications – but they’re still struggling.’

Justin’s love of the outdoors led him to volunteer with Cultivate London, a community food-growing project based around West London. Now, Justin is picking up new food-growing skills.

Justin is just one of a growing breed who are finding employment opportunities in roof-top honey farms and parkland vegetable patches. In Roots to Work, a report published in partnership with Capital Growth, the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development (CSD) looks at how urban agriculture projects can create job opportunities.

Targeting vulnerable groups

Out of the 23 London agriculture groups interviewed for the report, 20 include unemployed people and/or those with physical or mental disabilities, addiction issues, homelessness, English language barriers, and long-term unemployment. 12 out of the 23 projects were purposefully targeted at people in one or more of these situations.

With unemployed individuals susceptible to a loss of confidence and depression, a key finding within Roots to Work reveals that working physically, outdoors and in a natural environment, contributes to mental well-being.

For young people in particular, working outdoors with plants and animals can encourage them to overcome fears and limitations – something that a traditional classroom education struggles to do.

From work experience to employment

‘Our success story is a guy who started volunteering with us over three years ago,’ recalls an interviewee. ‘He did a City & Guilds qualification in conservation and started doing work experience placements one day a fortnight with our maintenance team, then moved on to one day a week and then two days a week.

He applied for the first job he’s gone for in 15 years and, at 52, was offered the position. He’s been transformed but it took three years – it’s not a quick fix.’

In the future, Roots to Work recommends that such projects find a common way of quantifying their impact, to help show and compare what they achieve collectively.

Mayoral approval

London Mayor Boris Johnson has welcomed the CSD report, and praised urban agriculture for its social and educational benefits.

‘The report reveals what many people doing this important work already know – that urban agriculture can transform people’s lives and lead to a better quality of life,’ writes Johnson in the report’s foreword.

Reactivating a love of learning

Ian Larkin found himself at a low ebb when he lost his sales job in 2010 after 22 years in the role.

Ian volunteered at Organic Lea workers’ cooperative. Very quickly, he rediscovered his love for learning. ‘I came along one day and enjoyed it,’ he says, ‘so I started coming to all the days that volunteers could attend.’

After taking an informal apprenticeship for six months, Ian gained a Certificate in Permaculture that gave him an understanding of management of agriculture as well as growing and propagating.

‘It’s given me a tremendous all-round knowledge of food and vegetable growing, so that now I can go off and start my own business,’ says Ian. ‘Now I’m more relaxed, more confident about the future, more hopeful and more inspired. It’s given me a great zest for life.’


Our research reveals that three quarters of young people demand skills-based training to achieve their ambitions Read full research article