Our purpose is to explore how quality of urban ecosystems and environments, nature-connectedness and health can be understood in a novel and timely way.

Engagement in home food growing has been identified as having protective effects over well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic [1]. Environmental quality of urban food growing and large-scale production usually focuses on the differences between mass-production agriculture and urban allotments [9], showing there to be greater soil carbon within urban areas leading to sensationalising headlines that there are only 100 harvests left in the UK. However, the quality of soil within urban areas, particularly comparing roof gardens with ground level has not been addressed.

Urban lettuce growing as part of the Rurban Revolution project.

Soil is an essential aspect of food growing and soil health is well understood in large-scale agricultural food production. The impacts of healthy soil on human health through nutrition is also well documented, yet there is limited recognition of how understanding the quality of urban soils impact on health and wellbeing beyond allotment sites [8]. By combining objective and subjective assessments of soil quality in urban food growing locations with assessments of their impact and relationships with human nature-connectedness alongside mental and physical health we will consider how nature-connectedness and health outcomes vary with urban eco-system quality and how the characteristics of an individuals exposure, activity and engagement in and with these ecosystems matters.

What we will do? We will compare objective (soil chemistry, biological activity and physical measurements) and subjective (perceived quality) assessments of urban soils, exploring how these may impact health and well-being in urban food growers and novice growers (self-report, psychometric assessments). We will use a citizen science approach to assess and improve growers (novice and experienced) understanding of soil health and ask if this supports greater nature-connectedness, health and well-being. We will consider how wider environmental outcomes of improved health and wellbeing, mediated by better urban environments and nature-connectedness, can be understood and valued. (For more information see our Approach page.)

Why is this important? Current food production models have detrimental effects on environments, prompting calls for innovative, holistic solutions. Recent findings indicate that UK urban spaces could produce up to 8x current domestic fruit and vegetable production [10] and yields from urban food growing may be greater than conventional agriculture in some settings [11]. Concurrently, rates of poor mental and physical health are increasing in the UK and increasing urbanisation of population centres is driving a disconnect from nature, which has further negative health impacts [12]. Research shows that exposure to nature and urban agriculture has potential beneficial effects of mental and physical health and diet quality [7,8,13]. Developing novice growers’ interests in soil health and providing a greater understanding of whether perceived quality correlates with measured soil health metrics will inform future projects and assess the feasibility of simple soil assessment measures that could be implemented in BIC’s rooftop farm in Cardiff. The growing presence of rooftop ‘farms’ globally is evident, and the team is in active dialogue with rooftop farms in Paris, New York and Melbourne. The proposed £5m investment model being developed in Cardiff will be the largest site in the UK (40,000sqft), combining commercial and community growing activity, reaching up to 500,000 people annually. The project results will directly inform future work and investment here.

The research project was developed and funded as part of the Quench Network linking the quality of urban environments with nature connectedness and health.


[1] Mead, B. R., Davies, J. A., Falagán, N., Kourmpetli, S., Liu, L., & Hardman, C. A. (2021a). Urban agriculture in times of crisis: the role of home food growing in perceived food insecurity and well-being during the COVID-19 lockdown. Appetite, 105508-105508.

[2] Richardson, M., Hunt, A., Hinds, J., Bragg, R., Fido, D., Petronzi, D., Barbett, L., Clitherow, T., White, M. A., 2019. Measure of Nature Connectedness for Children and Adults: Validation, Performance, and Insights. Sustainability, 11, 3250. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11123250

[3] Tennant, R., Hiller, L., Fishwick, R., Platt, S., Joseph, S., Weich, S., … & Stewart-Brown, S., 2007. The Warwick-Edinburgh mental well-being scale (WEMWBS): development and UK validation. Health and Quality of life Outcomes, 5(1), 1-13.

[4] Jenkinson, C., Layte, R., Jenkinson, D., Lawrence, K., Petersen, S., Paice, C., & Stradling, J. (1997). A shorter form health survey: can the SF-12 replicate results from the SF-36 in longitudinal studies?. Journal of Public Health, 19(2), 179-186.

[5] Mead, B.R., McGale, L.S., Williamson, R., Broadbent, C., & Hardman, C.A., (in preparation). Consumer acceptance of urban-grown food: a rapid evidence review.

[6] Crotty, F., McCalman, H., Powell, H., Buckingham, S., Marley, C., 2019. Should farmers apply fertilizer according to when their daffodils are in flower? Utilizing a “farmer-science” approach to understanding the impact of soil temperature on spring N fertilizer application in Wales. Soil Use and Management 35, 169-176.

[7] Jimenez et al. (2021) Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 18, 4790.

[8] Soga, M., Cox, D. T., Yamaura, Y., Gaston, K. J., Kurisu, K., & Hanaki, K., 2017. Health Benefits of Urban Allotment Gardening: Improved Physical and Psychological Well-Being and Social Integration. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(1), 71. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14010071

[9] Edmondson, J.L., Davies, Z.G., Gaston, K.J., Leake, J.R., 2014. Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture. Journal of Applied Ecology 51, 880-889.

[10] Walsh, L. E., Mead, B. R., Hardman, C. A., Evans, D., Liu, L., Falagán, N., … & Davies, J., 2022. Potential of urban green spaces for supporting horticultural production: a national scale analysis. Environmental Research Letters, 17(1), 014052.

[11] Payen, F.T., Evans, D., Falagán, N., Hardman. C.A., Kourmpetli, S., Liu, L…..Davies, J. A. C. (in preparation) How much food can we grow in urban areas? Food productivity and crop yields   of urban agriculture: A meta-analysis.

[12] Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., St Leger, L., 2006. Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promotion International, 21(1), 45–54. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/dai032

[13] Mead, B. R., Christiansen, P., Davies, J. A. C., Falagán, N., Kourmpetli, S., Liu, L., Walsh, L., & Hardman, C. A. (2021b). Is urban growing of fruit and vegetables associated with better diet quality and what mediates this relationship? Evidence from a cross-sectional survey. Appetite, 105218. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2021.105218

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