Get growing with an innovative food-growing project in East London

One of the easiest ways to address our personal carbon emissions is to grow more of our own food.

Get Growing (GG) is a unique food-growing project in northeast London. Over the 2009 growing season, GG has successfully trained people living in Hackney to grow food in their own homes. Using face-to-face home-based sessions the Ready, Steady, Grow! project took more than 30 residents through a programme where they learnt how to survey, assess and design their space for food growing. They were then guided through the season so that they now feel confident about their food growing abilities.

In the monthly sessions, in addition to training on growing food, GG raised awareness about the current global food system, which is responsible for over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and also the stranglehold that major seed companies have on growers – to which the participants are now able to relate as they are growing food themselves. During check-ins, participants vocalised the way that growing food has changed the way they look at food, the prices they pay, the varieties, seasonality and methods used. People are now composting, using wormeries and harvesting rainwater in their gardens. They have learnt how to apply the principles of organic gardening, permaculture and the maxim ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ in their gardens. There has been had food growing in old fruit boxes, children’s toy trollies and drawers that were found on the street. All gardens have saved seed in preparation for next year’s growing season.

GG were able to provide the gardeners with organically grown seedlings, grown with the help of volunteers, in an unused section of the Growing Communities glasshouse. Combined with their own seed sowing, these seedlings meant that participants enjoyed a greater rate of success.  A mix of heritage and organic varieties were specially selected for each garden, based on what participants enjoy eating and their space availability. The choice of seeds also challenged perceptions of the vegetables we eat, for instance growing beans which are purple rather than just green and courgettes that are yellow: varieties rarely found in the shops. The multi-functioning nasturtium – of which you can eat the leaves, flowers and seeds and which provides colour and beauty to the garden – was also the cause of much delight. One gardener was asked by a stranger on the street for some nasturtium seeds because she thought they were so beautiful and couldn’t find them in the shops.  She left with a handful of seeds that will grow next year.

GG organised two events for participants: a winter seed sowing workshop and a harvest festival.  This was an opportunity for everyone to come together, so they could share experiences and feel part of a movement.

The learning outcomes from the project don’t end with the participants, but went far beyond: to friends, neighbours, children, teachers, activists and many more. Some benefited from sharing tips, others seeds, seedlings and home-grown meals.  The seeds saved in the gardens are also trickling out into Hackney and beyond. GG estimate that over 300 people have benefited  from this project.  

The yields of this project are far greater than the wonderful harvests that the participants enjoyed. The sense of achievement that the participants felt by successfully growing food has been palpable. One participant, in particular, began the year with no confidence whatsoever, and now she is planning her spring sowings and giving advice to whoever will hear it including running a class at her son’s school, which this year will teach all classes food growing on the school grounds. Another has applied for funding to run a gardening club at the school she teaches at. And another has big plans for his council estate.  

Although GG had faith in the positive effects that growing food has on people, they have been blown away by the impact this project has had on the participants. No one dropped out and everyone was harvesting a good amount from their window sills and gardens. All plan to keep on growing food next year.

This is well summed up by one participant, who says: “It has been wonderful experience and I have a new enthusiasm which I feel has enriched my life in lots of different ways.”  

“Get Growing is delighted to have been awarded a grant from APE. These funds will be crucial in the delivery of a community-focused project to get more food grown in the city. We are very excited about the opportunity this gives us to grow seeds for people in Hackney and train them in food growing skills – so vital in building resilience in the face of climate change.”

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