Climate Innovation Summit // 2017

"A new urban food culture" Session Summary

The session "A new urban food culture " at the Climate Innovation Summit brought together Anna Scavuzzo, Vice-Mayor of the City of Milan, Kate Hofman, Founder of GrowUp Urban Farms, Emeline Felus, Program Manager of FReSH, Marco Poletto, Co-Founder of ecoLogicStudio and Tom Voorma, Food Strategy Project Manager for the City of the Hague.

Key points

  • Cities need to tackle the social, economic, environmental and educational nexus of food production and consumption.
  • Public healthy food policies require funding to preserve quality and avoid inequality.
  • Urban farming struggles to attain a viable scale.
  • Consumers may be unable to afford healthy food, even if education leaves them willing to look at alternatives.

"Food is an issue at the intersection of environment and nutrition."

Anna Scavuzzo, Vice-Mayor, City of Milan


Food contributes 20 % to 30 % of greenhouse gases, while climate change is making it difficult to produce enough food. 

Cities are the most important players in the food system. They are at the forefront of social, economic and environment challenges that require a holistic approach, including education about healthy food.

Consumption and consumers are the strongest levers to change food systems. Worldwide market research shows that as people become more urban, they resort to ‘snackification’, more processed food, smaller portions and with components that are not good for their health. Yet, the other side of “Westernisation” is people who are looking for what is healthy or fits their ethical or environmental values. The trick is to use good trends to reduce bad trends.

Food policies can promote sustainable over cheap solutions, making what is good also cool so as to turn a new paradigm into a habit. This needs to start with schools offering fruits instead of snacks. However, financing is required to preserve quality and avoid inequality. All school meals in Milan are provided by a public catering company that supports local producers with its procurement and offers educational possibilities, linking both goals in one project.

Vertical farming is not about skyscrapers as they cannot compete with the value of commercial or residential use. But urban farm projects can only become a viable B2B enterprise at a sufficient size to achieve economies of scale in technology and deal with major retail customers. Once the technology is fully developed, it could be reverse scalable as a bolt-on to a supermarket or a restaurant kitchen.

Micro algae are rich in vegetable proteins and could be a new stream of nutrients to contribute to reducing in animal farming. Innovation can bring high-tech and community-driven bottom-up projects together, triggering new urban practices of cultivation. Local government can bring technology, business interests and people together to boost understanding of what such repurposing of waste ground could mean and increase their willingness to pay a little bit more for food.

However, there is a real risk that food is a driver of inequality, because only the more fortunate can access good and healthy food. The urbanisation of rural culture is often for elites and inaccessible to parts of population hooked on inexpensive convenient junk food. There needs to be a way to introduce new possibilities to all strata of society. To overcome the lack of physical spaces in cities there would need to be opportunistic uses of areas awaiting redevelopment, and not just trendy farmers’ markets.

Test beds can generate interest and attract a certain level of investment, but there needs to be a right-scale project for a permanent project embedded in the city to demonstrate the viability of an urban algae farm.


Bacteria or insects are seen as things that have to be kept out of cities, meaning that design must imagine spaces to solve this perception issue. Both are potential alternative food sources.

At a glance

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