By Dr Charlotte Hardman, Department of Psychological Science, University of Liverpool

Last week, we (Charlotte Hardman, Bethan Mead, and our Cranfield University colleague Dan Evans) had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend Glastonbury Festival to showcase our research on urban food growing. We were one of several science stalls in the brand-new Science Futures area in the Green Futures field, where festival goers can explore how science shapes our daily lives in new and exciting ways.

Our ‘Can You Dig it?’ stall aimed to communicate the findings of our UKRI-funded research, Rurban Revolution, which focuses on the transformative potential of urban food growing for people and planet. One of our research outputs showed that, if we used all the green spaces in towns and cities for food growing, we could grow 8 times as much fruits and vegetables as are currently grown on farms in Great Britain. This is enough for all residents to achieve the 5-a-day recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption.

Inspired by this, our stall featured a future town where urban spaces are food growing places. Festival goers were invited to place wooden blocks representing different fruits and veggies onto the town to create their own vision for urban food growing, considering things like where are the best spots for growing and are there any areas to avoid. There were some great ideas from growing on rooftops to underground carparks, and even a suggestion that maybe one day we could grow on the moon!

We also displayed a selection of urban soils, taken from a range of locations within one UK city, and festival goers were invited to vote for which soils they thought would be best for food growing. And via ‘Ecosystem Services Top Trumps’, participants were challenged to play the classic card game with a unique spin to learn about the various services (e.g. increased pollination, biodiversity, wellbeing and social benefits) that food growing in different urban spaces can deliver (based on our recent systematic review).

We couldn’t resist the opportunity to collect some research data so we ran a live study in which participants learned about different methods for growing food in urban areas, from more traditional growing in gardens through to high-tech hydroponics and aquaponics. Using magnets and a whiteboard we captured opinions about foods grown via these different methods, for example would you eat a lettuce which had been grown vertically without soil? The data will contribute to our ongoing research on consumer perceptions of urban-grown food (funded by UKRI’s strategic research priority Transforming UK Food Systems).

Highlights over the 5 days included speaking to hundreds of people about our research, whose ages ranged from 1 month to 82! We all learned new things and the quality of conversations with members of the public was on a par and often exceeded those at academic conferences giving us lots to think about. We appeared on the Laboratory Stage for a Q&A session on sustainable food, and were even interviewed by a Radio 1 DJ. And after work, the whole of Glastonbury Festival beckoned, Paul McCartney’s Saturday night set was particularly memorable.

Public engagement is so important and one of our favourite parts of the academic role. After a rest (and several showers!), Team Can You Dig It will be back.