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TheVillage Gardening

East is. . . eats

Posted on September 29 2014 at 3:34:07 0 comments

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Hannah Genders checks out an innovative food-growing scheme in the city centre.

My gardening friend Pete has been on to me for ages about visiting a project he is involved in – it’s called Edible Eastside as it is situated on the east side of Birmingham city centre and is all about growing food.

I had the opportunity to visit last month and I now understand why Pete is so enthusiastic about it.

Edible Eastside is a community food-growing project in a very urban setting. It’s been created to encourage people who live in an inner-city environment to have a small plot of ground and grow their own produce.

The project was set up in 2011 by Jayne Bradley, an enthusiastic visionary who has studied strategies in local food growing at Aston University and wanted to see if the ideas could really work on a practical level.

One of the main projects that Jane studied on her course was the urban farming that has been running so effectively in Havana, Cuba for 25 years.

In 1989, when the United States set up an embargo against Cuba, the city of Havana found it was unable to feed its population, or to afford the transport costs associated with moving food around the country.

There then began a movement to use all the spare scraps of land and brown field sites in the city to grow food for the people who live there.

The project has become such a great success that Havana is now recognised as one of the most sustainable cities in the world, and this is largely due to the food being grown and distributed locally.

On a smaller scale, Jayne wanted to set up a project in Birmingham to see if it could be done – and if it proves self-sustaining, hopefully other projects will spring from it and we could see a revolution in food growing in the UK.

The site where Edible Eastside is based was a disused piece of land behind some buildings off Fazeley Street in Digbeth. The access is through double gates and I understand from Jayne that the whole site was overgrown with Buddleia when they arrived, literally head height, and they were unable to see what was underneath.

The area was cleared and, as the project had very little start-up money (only £2,000), all the raised beds had to be made from what was available – this turned out to be pallets, and actually they look great now the food is growing in them.

The compost comes free from Birmingham City Council and is the recycled food waste from bin collections.

Jayne has negotiated a peppercorn rent of £1 and should have the site for the next ten years. This whole area could be re-developed in the future as the HS2 high speed train terminal, so the project has a limited lifespan at present.

The idea behind Edible Eastside is simple: any local residents with no garden who want to grow some vegetables and fruit can rent a raised bed for £8 per month; this gives them access to the site at any time and with Pete there two days per week to give help and advice, the chance to make a real success of what they want to grow is very high.

When I visited, the vegetables, herbs and fruit looked absolutely amazing – show standard – with courgettes spilling over the sides of the pallet beds and runner beans growing up the chain link fence.

There is a polytunnel where Pete grows tomatoes for everyone to share, and the café area has a cob oven which can be used to make bread and pizzas.

There was a further derelict area at the back of the site, which Pete has now made into a flower garden, right next to the canal, and sitting down there it is hard to believe you are in Birmingham’s inner city.

This is a wonderful project on every level; it is a real community venture, local food and hospitality, whilst offering an oasis of calm in one of the UK’s busiest cities.

For me it points to a future I want to be part of.

For more information or to visit the site, please contact Jayne Bradley on 07970 730646. Pete and his dog Chip are there most Wednesdays and Fridays.


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