When visiting friends in the country I get envious when I see local farm shops and lush vegetables patches. For those of us living in the urban smoke rather than the bucolic countryside, the idea of local food is a little different.
Local food growing in the city
To have enough space to be self-sufficient in my part of South London would require a bank balance far in excess of what my CPRE salary allows. But my desire to eat local food with its freshness and lower environmental impact remains, so what can I and other city dwellers do?
Not long after I moved to Brixton I discovered Brockwell Community greenhouses. Tucked away in the middle of Brockwell Park is a walled garden that was once the larder for the Brockwell Hall. It is now run as a charity specialising in horticulture and education. At the weekend you can visit the garden and see the huge range of produce being grown, including some wonderfully exotic fruit and vegetables introduced by Brixton’s different diaspora. It’s a great place to learn how to grow your own fruit, vegetables and herbs, and in the summer you can buy the produce to try for yourself.
Community gardens are seeing a surge in popularity across London. The inner London boroughs tend to have the highest concentration of community gardens - there over 150 registered in Hackney alone. For the confident grower with a real commitment to grow your own, an allotment is always an option. There are over 700 allotment sites in Greater London, though in this area these are in short demand and most have waiting lists.
With my new found horticultural skills I can produce food even closer to home on a small scale. A few weeks ago I planted up my window boxes with their annual lettuce crop. Not much space needed and with some regular watering they are beginning produce tasty leaves for summer salads, which should keep going for a good few months. Add to that a few pots of herbs and a couple of tomato plants (which I’ve learnt grow just as happily trailing from a hanging basket as standing proud in a veg patch) and I will have a few home-grown treats to feel proud of this summer.
Last summer I found an extra way of enjoying home grown veg. The local freecycle network (an online non-profit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free locally) had people offering up their gluts of produce. I pedalled over to leafy Herne Hill and picked up a bag or two of windfall apples and damsons, now packed away in the freezer waiting to be enjoyed as a warming crumble on a winter evening.
But why limit aspirations to fruit and vegetables? Before I moved to my current house I rented with a group of friends in Camberwell and we had a smallish garden. One fine spring morning I introduced Clarissa and Jennifer to the garden. These plump brown hens scratched away happily, ate up our kitchen scraps and in return laid delicious eggs for us all to enjoy. I was not alone - an estimated 500,000 British households now keep chickens in their backyards.
For the rest of our fruit and vegetables I need to head to the shops, but here too I can choose local. If I wake early enough on the weekend we have two farmers markets bringing English produce to within pedalling distance. It’s a pleasant way to choose our fruit and veg for the week, with varieties you would struggle to find in a supermarket, and kinder on the purse than you would think.
Reading back my blog so far I fear I come across a bit smug. I enjoy sourcing local food and growing my own. For those of you for whom that isn’t ‘your cup of tea’, it’s still easy to eat local food. Box schemes that specialise in local and organic food deliver a weekly helping of produce to your front door and schemes, such as Hubbub, have started to do this with a wide selection of produce from local shops. These services give all the convenience of a supermarket delivery with the bonus of greater variety and providing support for local shops, selling local produce.
Interest in local food is increasing and due to this new suppliers and services are launching all the time. Look out for new initiatives and let us know how easy it is to buy local produce in your area.
Find out more
Find out about CPRE Avonside's campaign to promote the Avon Green Belt as a source of local food for the cities of Bristol and Bath.