Railroads and Radishes

by growingpeople

The train I used to take on my commute from Stratford to Liverpool Street is raised significantly from ground level, and from it you have a wonderful view of London’s potential. Overgrown and abandoned back gardens filter past, beneath hundreds of concrete balconies piled together like teetering jenga blocks, and metal fences guard empty space, grey and desolate but for a pile of wooden palettes. Watching this scene from the train window, I used to mentally add up all the little squares of concrete and disused gardens like an jigsaw puzzle, and imagine the resulting urban patchwork of “land” as acres and acres of useable growing space.

If every garden and balcony in London were used to grow edibles, however many or few, communities would be contributing to a more sustainable way of feeding themselves, founded on the principles of eating produce grown locally, organically, and in season.  I don’t suggest that the inner-city provides enough space for us ever to feed ourselves entirely without the need for commercial agriculture in the surrounding countryside, but the point is that there is a vast amount of unused space dotted around London’s residential areas, which could be used productively, not only to feed ourselves, but to provide valuable community space and educational opportunites for our children.

When I first started running grow-your-own workshops in 2009, I was struck by two things. Firstly, the lack of knowledge young people have about where food comes from, how it’s grown, and how it’s supplied to the capital. I remember one sixth-former commenting on how lucky we Londoners are to be able to buy exotic food such as bananas and oranges, while people in “Africa and South America don’t have those kinds of fruit, do they?”.  Another student refused to eat the peas we’d grown in the school garden, because he only liked “the frozen ones”.  Secondly, the students I’ve taught (for the most part!), from nursery to college age, have experienced an overwhelming sense of pleasure at picking their first own-grown cherry tomato or unearthing their first potatoes, appearing as they do like buried treasure in the soil. Shrieks of “that’s amazing!” from a little girl at a nursery on the Harrow Road who had just pulled up her first bright red radish and nibbled her first lettuce leaves were all I needed to be convinced that Londoners of all ages can and should be getting their hands dirty in the garden.

I founded growingpeople because I believe that Londoners have everything to gain from turning their patch of garden, patio, balcony or window sill into a productive space, be it to grow a pot of parsely, or all the ingredients for a vegetable stew.  growingpeople is about sharing skills and knowledge, so that a school group may take those skills home and share them with their parents, or so that members of a housing association may share them with their neighbours. I want this website to help prove to the sceptical that time and space are no boundaries when it comes to gardening, and that it is possible to have a job, a family, nothing more than a patio, and still manage to grow a tomato or two.

The Resources page, where I’ll post inspiration and ideas for getting started, is coming soon, and I’ll use the blog for sharing useful (and some useless!) information on issues surrounding gardening, food growing and sustainable living.

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