Urban Food Growing

Urban Food Growing

Copyright Autumn Barlow 2023

How any growing space, large or small, can grow food in an urban environment

Veg in a small space

There’s an 82.9% chance that you, dear reader, live in an urban area – just like 82.9% of the UK population as a whole. (Reference.

And if you are lucky enough to have some outside space, it’s less likely to be rolling acres of green land – perhaps you have a balcony, a scrap of lawn, or a concrete yard.  

While there are growing movements to bring people together to make use of public land, such as Incredible Edible’s Right to Grow campaign, what veg can you grow if you just have a small square of paved space?  

Absolutely loads, it turns out! 

When Ben met Mark...

Ben Vanheems of GrowVeg takes us on this inspiring tour of a small, concrete front yard. It’s the creation of Mark Ridsdill Smith, of Vertical Veg, and don’t be misled by the reference to dollars in the title – this is a British garden, subject to our delightful British weather.  

The tiny space is packed with containers brimming with a variety of fruit, veg, and flowers that have been chosen for attracting pollinators – and just because they “look nice” too. High value foods, such as blueberries and microgreens, cost quite a bit to buy but you can grow them more cheaply yourself. In fact, Alice from Garden Organic explains all about growing microgreens here

If you are interested in Mark’s wormery, and want to try to build one yourself, check out what the Scottish Wildlife Trust write here, and soon you could have a teeming colony of happy compost-makers too. 

Mark also references the amazing heritage variety of pea, ‘avi joan’, which is just one of the hundreds of heritage seeds that Garden Organic seek to protect. Find out more about the Seed Detectives and their work here

Urban food growing – beyond your front yard... 

All these little patches of paradise are wonderful, but nature needs a way to move between them. Food growing and wildlife gardening can spark conversations with your neighbours and friends, and perhaps you’ll inspire more people to get growing – that would be a great way to start connecting up these isolated patches of land. 

If you don’t have any outside space of your own, you could be inspired by examples like this by Incredible Edible, who look to the urban food policy of Havana, Cuba. Find out more about their “‘popular gardens’ (huertos populares) which were launched in 1991. These gardens are small plots of state-owned land that are turned over for cultivation by individuals and community groups, primarily as a solution for providing food security. Most of the land is made up of otherwise disused pockets of land and they are leased out for free to residents, who usually live very close to the land they are assigned. Within the first 5 years of the launch of the popular gardens, there were over 26,000 plots taken up by Havana’s residents.” It’s a model which could work in the UK too! 

For a UK example, see what’s happening in Blackburn with Darwen. These old greenhouses in Witton Park were derelict but now, just 18 months later, with the support of The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, they are burgeoning with life. This video reveals all. 

A space for everyone 

So, whether you’re starting small with some microgreens on your windowsill, or you are banding together with a group of volunteers to restore abandoned glasshouses to grow food for your community, there’s help and inspiration out there.  

You don’t have to do it alone. Garden Organic can help with all the advice you need about growing food. The Wildlife Trusts are here to support your wildlife-friendly activities. Incredible Edible have local groups all over the UK where you can connect with others on the same journey. And don’t forget The Women’s Institute has a thriving network across England and Wales, with talks, events, help and campaigning on a wide range of topics which include food security, gardening and more. 

If you pledge your growing space, you can opt in to hear more from any of these partners. 

 pledge your growing space here