8th July 2014

Using open data to engage government and communities

Viv Alexander

City Farmers is a community interest company, set up by Helen Steer and Pete Boyce in 2011 after receiving GeoVation funding in the GeoVation Challenge to help Britain feed itself. City Farmers helps local government and communities engage with sustainability issues through data, mapping and activism. They particularly focus on issues that involve food, micro enterprise and local economies.

City Farmers map image

The project began by researching existing growing provisions, communities, projects and challenges within Lambeth. The team specialises in using open data to create multi-layer maps, which have proved incredibly valuable at visualising and framing the problems, enabling conversations between individuals, communities, charities and government. It has developed a range of maps showing food growing, crime, education and various other types of ‘data topography’. City Farmers also support and create grassroots projects, run workshops and organize collaborations.

They started with a geographical focus on Lambeth, including specific areas such as Vassall Ward, one of the most deprived areas in Britain. Now more established, they have worked across South London, in Hackney, and even as far afield as Wales.

One example of a project they’ve set up is Grow Beer, a replicable small-scale social enterprise. It involves a group of growers producing hops across their local community in gardens, parks and community areas, then working with a microbrewery to produce a truly local beer. The project celebrates beer, growing and community, plus it is an excellent way to get people excited about regional food and drink. It has expanded to eight groups across London and the UK, plus one in Germany and offers free support to amateur hop growers and those who want to set up their own local project (growbeer.city-farmers.co.uk). Helen was named as one of the GLA’s 2014 London Leaders for her work in sustainable business with a focus on this micro enterprise project.

The team have also co-published a children’s book, Mission:Explore Food, with GeoVation winner the Geography Collective. The book encourages families to think about their food in a playful way: not just making or eating it, but also considering where it comes from and goes to.

Amongst other projects, City Farmers are currently working on a local food strategy with Lambeth and Southwark public health and local government. Pete has been named a Director of the Lambeth Food Partnership which is facilitating this process. He also leads their working group on food-related enterprise.

Find out more on their website 

You can find out about other GeoVation winners in our GeoVation booklet

If you would like a copy of the GeoVation booklet sent to you, please email us at champions@geovation.org.uk