Next time you see a sad, abandoned bit of street with dead KFC bags piling up around the overflowing rubbish bin – why not install a grow bag or one those massive bags that builders use – fill it with soil and….. grow….
As you can see, this is what they have done at the John Scurr Community Centre in Tower Hamlets – and how verdant it looks…
Over in King’s Cross Global Generation have gone further and hi-jacked unused skips for their crops. They have created a mobile farm in the middle of the King’s Cross development site. When the builders start work they just move to another as yet undeveloped part of the site. They grow herbs, chillies, apples, sweet potatoes and cabbages both in their skips and in planters made out of scaffold boards.
And just behind King’s Cross in the Camley Street Natural Park, Urban Bees have a thriving community of bee hives. They also run bee-keeping training courses, and family bee walks and sell King’s Cross honey. (Image courtesy of Insider London.)
But they are only three of the myriad of social networks, community groups and charities scattered across London (and many other cities) colonising abandoned corners, building sites and any square meter of land on which they think they can grow something.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a Food Talk at the Impact Hub in King’s Cross – Who’s going to make our food in the future? The three speakers were from Growing Communities who run thriving urban farms in Hackney and Dagenham, Capital Growth which is an umbrella organisation enabling a whole range of different growing and education initiatives across the city, and the Calthorpe Project in Grey’s Inn Road. This has been run as a community garden since, in the early 1980s, local residents persuaded Camden Council to give them use of a derelict site in Grey’s in Road instead of giving permission for its development into yet another massive block of office.
The ‘mission’ of all these groups is to create a more sustainable food system, growing locally, and organically and involving local communities as growers, as traders and as consumers. By selling the produce that they grow through box schemes and local markets they aim to be self sustaining although most need ‘topping up’ either by local authorities or by funding charities.
But because of the social benefits that they bring in their wake this support is relatively easy to access. They all run training schemes and all work with local schools and groups of disadvantaged residents – the elderly, unemployed, mental health sufferers etc etc. One of the interesting aspects of the Calthorpe Project, for example, is that gardening there is one of the few activities that the large local population of Bangladeshi women would be allowed out of the house to do.
An added bonus that the groups would, rightly, claim is that their flourishing farms are also delivering benefits to the built environment in terms of encouraging wildlife, better drainage, healthier soil and generally raising environmental awareness.
Meanwhile, engaging the local population in looking after the farms and growing and selling the foods means that many of them will be eating far fresher, more nutritious food than if they only ever shop in a supermarket.
Moreover, engaging the local population in the farms – and especially in pop up schemes like skips or the grow bags in dirty corners – really develops a community spirit, pride in the environment, involvement with neighbours and a generally safer environment for all. What is there not to like?
To learn more – and especially about volunteering with any of these groups, all of which rely heavily on volunteer labour, check in to:
Urban Bees (King’s Cross)