Why it is essential we make our boroughs green...
PUBLISHED: 16:13 12 August 2009 | UPDATED: 09:40 12 August 2010
Why does is matter if we grow vegetables in a city? After all, we are all only a matter of a few minutes walk from our local shop, supermarket or street market, where abundant food and produce ar
Rosie Boycott, London's Food Advisor, writes for the Times
Why does is matter if we grow vegetables in a city? After all, we are all only a matter of a few minutes walk from our local shop, supermarket or street market, where abundant food and produce are ranged on the shelves?
It matters, I believe, for several reasons. Firstly, the issue of climate change. Astonishingly, food - from its point of growth, often in some far flung corner of the globe - to the moment you end up throwing away your left-overs, or even items that you've allowed to go bad in your fridge (something that I know I am guilty of at times) accounts for around 40 per cent of the climate change emissions generated in London.
In our search for ever cheaper sources of food, global food co-operatives have been happy to source the world to find the cheapest products they can.
All too often, this means that flavour is sacrificed over the need to breed strains of apples, pears and out-of-season veg that will withstand journeys and still arrive at their destinations fresh and without bruises (even if tasteless).
That process has harmed us in many ways.
We have lost touch with the way that our most needed and vital daily need is produced.
Last week, I spoke to Mike Wohl who runs an imaginative vegetables growing scheme off the Edgware Road out of grow bags on a concrete wasteland behind a tower block.
He told me about a six-year-old who had planted a carrot seed on a Tuesday in the hope that it would ready by Saturday as he wanted to have it for lunch.
A nice sentiment, but what a revelation of ignorance!
Since the Second World War, when industrial agriculture started to boom in this country, the amount of our household budget that we spend on food has steadily decreased.
It used to be around 30 per cent - nowadays, it's around nine or even less. We've forgotten that food is a valuable product.
Britain also holds the dubious title of consuming the most ready meals in the whole of the EU - 49 per cent of them!
Growing your own food connects you back to a simple and life-affirming process. In my work with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, we have been establishing new vegetable growing spaces across the capital - part of our Capital Growth Scheme whose aim is simple: To create 2012 new growing spaces in time for the Olympics.
I have been privileged over the last few months to be able to visit many of them and every time I'm heartened by the benefits.
Not just some tasty food you've grown yourself - fresh and in season - but also by the way that communities come together around food growing, making friends, sharing knowledge and - almost the most important - finding a common aim which helps bind often fractured communities together.
In the East End, the Women's Environmental Network for instance, created gardens in between tower blocks where once ugly concrete areas (where you wouldn't have wanted to walk on your own at night) have been transformed into neat growing spaces and a central area where people can meet for barbecues or just a chat. The space no longer needs police patrols, there is no knife crime and no menace. Once you start growing your own, the desire to protect it seems to follow automatically.
A few weeks ago we built our own veg plot at City Hall. Rows of healthy vegetables within a few metres of Tower Bridge! They look wonderful and in the few weeks that the garden has been in existence a steady stream of volunteers have signed up to help maintain it and woe betide any one who attempted to vandalise our plot!
And here's anther funny thing: vegetable gardens maintained by local communities, never seem to get vandalised.
Don't ask to explain quite why. I can't. But there is something both innocent and inspiring about seeing a row of cabbages, a row of beans and courgettes and tomatoes, growing amidst our concrete jungle that seems to inspire both respect and a little sense of wonder in all who pass by.
It doesn't cost much money and the managers of Capital Growth have small funds to give out to people who want to start a grow your own community project.
If the idea appeals to you check out our Capital Growth web site to see how we might help get you going. I can guarantee that you'll end up with a whole lot more than just some tasty veg for the occasional meal: you'll find friends and community and suddenly, the loneliness and isolation that London can all too often engender, evaporates.
Go on - give it a go. There's nothing to lose. www.capitalgrowth.org.
1. Herbs: Even if you only have a window-sill you can grow herbs in pots. They're mostly easy to tend and cost a fraction of the exorbitant amounts you pay in the supermarket.
2. Potatoes: The received wisdom used to be that you needed a big open plot for these - but they do well in containers too.
3. Carrots: These are very easy and can be grown happily in pots.
4. Radishes: These are really easy and produce very rapid results from seed.
5. Tomatoes: Grow-bags make tomato growing very easy - even if the bags are a little ugly. You can even grow tomatoes in hanging baskets if you get the tumbling variety.
6. Lettuce: Try Little Gems or mixed salad leaves. Again if growing from seeds. phase the sowing so you can get a continuous supply over the summer months.
7. Courgettes: Grown from seed these are easy to sow as the seeds germinate very quickly.
8. Dwarf runner beans: Compact varieties grow well in pots.
9. Rocket: Fast and easy to grow and lovely nutty taste to mix in with salads.
10. Peppers: You can grow chillis or sweet peppers in pots.