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Growing food in the heart of the city

Nina Shishkin-Smith
By Nina Shishkin-Smith

In a bustling city of almost 9 million people, it’s hard to imagine that Londoners would be able to find any space at all to grow their own food. Yet the desire to buy local is as evident here as it is anywhere else in Britain, amongst increasing concerns about the impact that food transportation has on the world around us. We meet the people growing their own.

While volunteering with CPRE London, I’ve discovered that protecting green space in the city can also be a way of enabling us to grow our own produce. There are a lot of markets and wholesalers bringing fantastic food into London from farms all over Britain, but what about those who are growing food right here in the city?

'There’s even a business that grows herbs and salad greens in an abandoned tube tunnel!'

There’s a quiet network of inner-city growers producing organic fruit and vegetables to sell to Londoners, either through handy box schemes or at local farmers’ markets. They use a variety of spaces, often allotments and community gardens but also yards and shared green spaces where you might not expect to find food growing. There’s even a business that grows herbs and salad greens in an abandoned tube tunnel!

The city’s gardens and green spaces are a veritable treasure trove if only you know where to look, and projects like these show that the greening of public spaces can move beyond the aesthetic and actually benefit community businesses and provide food for local Londoners.

Here’s a closer look at a few of the projects finding new and resourceful ways to grow produce in the heart of the city.

Growing Communities

Based in Hackney, east London, Growing Communities is a network of people who have come together in support of sustainable farming and locally sourced, organic food. They hold a weekly farmers’ market in Stoke Newington and run a box scheme that incorporates fruit and veg grown on London farms as well as from the surrounding areas. Patchwork Farm, one of Growing Communities’ two London sites, is made up of twelve market gardens dotted around Hackney. The other is Dagenham Farm – a larger scale operation producing around five tons of vegetables every year.

Vertical Veg

Founded by Mark Ridsdill Smith, Vertical Veg is a handy resource for those who want to grow their own food but have little space to do so. With only a balcony for outdoor space, Mark began learning how to successfully grow vegetables. He started the project to show fellow city-dwellers that it’s possible to produce your own food even in a restricted space, and is now inspiring his more than 200,000 followers to do the same!

Growing Underground

Beneath the busy streets of Clapham lies a secret. Started in 2013, Growing Underground grow herbs and salad greens in a disused tube tunnel to sell to wholesalers and at the world-famous Borough Market. Using hydroponics and LED lights, their plants aren’t troubled by changes in weather and so can grow all year round. On top of this, they’re passionate about selling locally – truly earning their spot as one of the forerunners in what is, in their own words, an agricultural revolution!

The drive behind these projects is often a desire to produce locally and so reduce the impact that mass transportation of food has on our environment – and they prove just how efficient and productive inner-city spaces can be when it comes to growing food. On top of this, real connections can be forged between grower and consumer – something all-too rarely seen in the age of the supermarket.

Adults and children in a community garden

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The legacy of Ethel’s vision and determination lives on thanks to the continued efforts of the Friends of the Peak District, and she remains an inspiration to everyone within CPRE