Tuesday, 1 July 2014

big yellow taxi reversing

In a quiet back street close to my building, a small car park has been turned into a community food-growing project. Apparently a few local residents have been trying to make this happen for the best part of a decade; I heard about it last summer when a planning notice went up and I put my name down straight away. When the raised planters were installed in January I was delighted to be given a tiny individual plot.
While I was busy working there one day in the spring, I noticed the Joni Mitchell song playing in my head, and laughed; 'paradise' might be stretching it (though we do have an apple tree) but we're certainly bringing a little bit of life back to this grotty old parking lot. What was a car-dumping, fly-tipping, drug-dealing sort of place is now a veg-growing, skill-learning, food-poverty-reducing, connection-making sort of place instead.
27 June
Although we're very fortunate to live in an area with ample green space - shared lawns right outside the building and a large park just around the corner - there's no outside space here to call our own: not even a windowsill. I have houseplants, of course, and have tried growing salad leaves indoors, but that can never compare to the rich experience of real gardening, can it? My little plot may be just six foot by three, but it has weather (good and bad) and bugs (good and bad). My composting problem, so long-running that it was mentioned in my first ever blog post, is now solved as well.
Weekly progress 4 April - 20 June
I'm trying out the square foot gardening method; I've managed to find plenty of guidance online rather than buying the book. I'm not being absolutely strict, for example I've just used the sandy topsoil that was in the planter already (enriched at the outset with a bit of rotted manure and recently mulched with municipal compost), but it seems like a good way to keep my plot organised and it allows me to cram in far more plants than I could with conventionally spaced rows. Although the space is very small I've got plenty of variety, and it takes just enough work to be enjoyable rather than too much for my limited energyWe're already eating home-grown veg at least a couple of times each week, and hopefully there'll be a lot more produce in the coming months. (For anyone who wants more gardening details like plant names, bug sagas, and produce, I'm keeping a weekly log on Flickr.)
Peppermint and a little radish
And then, of course, there's the community aspect of it. I often enjoy the peace and quiet of being at the garden alone, but there is nothing like a shared project to get people chatting. I think we all want to live in friendly neighbourhoods where people talk to each other, but without something to talk about it can be difficult to create that sense of community. This gardening project makes for easy, natural conversations between the gardeners (even when there's a language barrier - an elderly woman who only speaks Portuguese hugged me last week when I told her my name!), and it doesn't stop there: passersby are fascinated by the garden and very often stop to ask me what I'm growing, how the plots are divided up, or who can join in. My local council gets a lot of things wrong, but the investment they've made here (working with the charity Groundwork) is definitely money well spent.

The project seems like a great example of the "think global, act local" idea. While I'm not suggesting that growing a few cabbages with your neighbours is going to save the world, I do believe that tiny projects like this can feed into much bigger causes in subtle ways. With the very small scale of the growing that we're doing, all of us will still have to buy vegetables, so the impact on 'food miles' won't be enormously significant. I think it will affect people's thinking, though, and that's always where real change has to start. If you need bees to pollinate the broad beans that you've lovingly nurtured from seed, the news stories about the bee crisis and David Cameron's plans to overturn the EU neonicotinoid ban might hit home for you a bit more. Unusual weather patterns attributed to climate change become directly relevant when they're making or breaking your gooseberry crop. And the personal interactions between people from different backgrounds, who might otherwise never speak to each other, can't do any harm for wider social justice and peace.

But mostly I'm in it for the veg.

A few gardening links:
Alys Fowler's Edible Garden television series
The Real Seed Catalogue
Incredible Edible Todmorden