Urban Agriculture for social inclusion, health, and well-being

The Ultimate Guide to Social Farming in urban areas - Become a changemaker!


Yes! Barcelona is the World Sustainable Food Capital of 2021! This means that Barcelona will promote more than ninety sustainable food projects and different urban food policies will be published over the year. This is important since Barcelona also wants to make significant progress towards the goal: Generate resilience against global risks and social inequalities. Indeed, Social Inclusion is high on the EU policy agenda in 2021. So to every sector or industry that wants to make a positive social impact: It is time to shine!


Here at Groots, we are also seeking opportunities to make a positive impact in our communities. Urban Agriculture is promoted as a healthy, social, community-led practice for the city’s residents that helps to improve physical and mental health. However, is this true and how does this work? We wanted to know if and how Urban Agriculture contributes to Social Inclusion. In this post, we’ll explain what Social Farming means in urban areas, check some relevant academic studies to explore why Social Farming in urban areas matters, give examples of Social Farming projects in and around Barcelona where Groots is involved, and point out how this social transformation of Urban Agriculture may benefit your company/institution/association. Let’s build together a healthy and resilient community!




What is (Urban) Social Farming?


Social Farming can be defined as a process of integration and empowerment of groups at risk of social exclusion, by way of their participation in agricultural activities. These activities add new meanings (beyond production) to agricultural practice, providing a specific social function that improves the quality of life for vulnerable populations. Groups at risk of social exclusion are for example people with intellectual functional diversity or mental health disorders. It offers an employment opportunity for those at-risk groups, while also improving physical and mental health, autonomy, self-confidence, economic independence, and interpersonal relations, among other aspects of life. Generally, Social Farming is a phenomenon in rural and peri-urban agriculture areas, although it is beginning to expand in core urban areas through projects such as community gardens and social gardens.


In addition, Urban Agriculture is an increasingly popular approach to addressing the negative social and health effects of cities. Urban agriculture, urban farming, or urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas, for example, rooftop areas are used for the production of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.



And why does Social Farming in urban areas matter?


Social inclusion is high on the EU policy agenda in 2021. For example, in March 2021, the European Commission adopted the Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021-2030, to achieve further progress in ensuring the full participation of persons with disabilities in society. Let’s check some relevant academic studies to see what they say about Urban Agriculture and Social Inclusion!


Study 1: A recent study from 2020 for the Barcelona Municipal Institute for People with Disability (IMPD) found that Urban Rooftop gardening can be used to promote quality of life among people with intellectual disabilities or mental health disorders. Urban Rooftop gardening was associated with better personal development and suggested enhanced physical and emotional well-being, sense of purpose, social inclusion, interpersonal relations (including new perspectives on the urban environment and the changes in social roles), and general quality of life.


Study 2: Another study conducted in Catalonia analyzed the business model and social impact of 105 Social Farms located in Catalonia and calculated the ‘Social return on investment (SROI)’. The SROI measures the value of the benefits relative to the costs of achieving those benefits. It is a ratio of the net present value of benefits to the net present value of the investment. For example, a ratio of 2:1 indicates that an investment of €1 delivers €2 in social value. This study found that the social return was an average of €3 per €1 invested for the Social Farms in Catalonia!




Study 3: In addition, a recent study from this year analyzed survey data from 74 urban agriculture sites in France, Germany, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States to quantitatively assess the relationships between Urban Agriculture types, farmers and gardeners’ motivations, and the social impacts of Urban Agriculture. This study states that the social benefits of urban agriculture include improved health and wellbeing, economic opportunities, social cohesion, and education. For example, they asked 155 participants: ‘What kind of effects, has gardening/farming had on you?’


Respondents reported positive impacts of Urban Agriculture on items relating to social cohesion, health and wellbeing, economic opportunities, and education. The strongest positive benefits were reported in participants’ overall moods and physical wellbeing. Almost none of them reported negative impacts on any of the six items. See Figure 1 below for their answers on the impacts of Urban Agriculture engagement.


Fig. 1. Impacts of urban agriculture engagement. Participants (n = 155) were responding to the prompt, “What kinds of effects, if any, have gardening/farming had on you?”


Examples of Social Farming by Groots and IMPD


Here at Groots, we are also seeking opportunities to make a positive impact in our communities. In collaboration with Institut Municipal de Persones amb Discapacitat (IMPD), the Barcelona City Council, we have created urban gardens for people with functional diversity and children. Users participate in all cultivation activities and take on more and more responsibilities due to the training from Groots. In most of our gardens, people with functional diversity deliver the food to soup kitchens, thus effecting a role reversal in which garden users actively offer help instead of receiving it. Besides, the urban gardens help to transmit the importance of sustainable agriculture and healthy eating to children. Furthermore, thanks to the urban rooftop gardens located in schools, people with disabilities and children, who do not usually interact with each other, can work together in an inclusive project.


In addition, young migrants employed by Groots also assist in these gardens to share the knowledge they obtained in our indoor farm. In this way, we try to bring everything and everybody together! Find below a list of the Urban Rooftops we established with the IMPD to see some real examples of how Social Farming comes to life in urban areas!


Rooftop 1: Francesc Macià School

A vertical garden designed by Groots on the rooftop of the Frances Macià school located at Plaça d'Espanya. The maintenance and activities related to this garden are carried out by 3rd-grade students together with people with disabilities from the Tres Pins Day Center of the Sant Pere Claver Foundation. The produced food goes to the school kitchen. Find HERE a video that gives a good impression of the activities in this vertical urban rooftop garden!


Rooftop 2: Municipal de Persones amb Discapacitat (IMPD)

A small vertical garden designed by Groots located at the rooftop of the building of the IMPD at Carrer de València, 344. Participants from ENEIDA come to the garden to grow leafy greens and larger vegetables like tomatoes, beans, and peppers. The users experience all stages of plant production, from planting the seed to harvest and deliver the grown crops to a soup kitchen! Find HERE more information about this project!


Rooftop 3: AVINYÓ 15

A fully accessible urban rooftop garden at Carrer d'Avinyó, 15, Barcelona, and is therefore used by associations with mobility issues. The produced food goes to a nearby soup kitchen. Mostly leafy greens can be grown here. The maintenance and activities related to this garden are carried out by Sínia, DAU and Tallers Sant Jordi.



Rooftop 4: AVINYÓ 7

A rooftop garden located at Carrer d'Avinyó, 7, Barcelona. It has an area for leafy greens and an area for large vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, etc). Associations that operate in the garden are DAU and Tallers Sant Jordi.


Rooftop 5: ESPAI JOVE LA FONTANA

A small terrace garden located in Gracia with an area for leafy greens and an area for larger vegetables. This rooftop garden has been recently awarded with the Vila de Gràcia Awards 2019 for ‘Best action in defense of sustainability and the environment’! Currently, the associations Club Social Mental Gràcia of the GRUP ATRA and ACIDH are taking care of the garden.


Rooftop 6: PALAU FORONDA

Our newest rooftop garden located at Ronda de Sant Pau, 45! This rooftop garden has also an area for leafy greens and an area for larger plants. The maintenance and activities related to this garden are carried out by the Centre Condal, CPB Septiclub, and SRC.


INDOOR FARM GROOTS

At our Groots Indoor Farm, we are also seeking opportunities to make a positive impact in our communities. This is why we are committed to the incorporation of young migrants into the team in collaboration with the EDUVIC cooperative. Find HERE a video with some background about the cooperative. We hope that the work experience they acquire with us will facilitate their social and labor insertion.



How can Urban Social Farming benefit your entity?


So what’s in there for you? See below a list of some benefits of Groots Urban Rooftop Farms for your entity!




Promotes healthy eating habits by growing herbs and fresh vegetables.



Promotes self-cultivation and consumption of fresh and local products.


Promotes healthy living habits related to outdoor activities.