Five years ago, Growing Communities, a not-for-profit organisation based in Hackney, took over a site of concrete and glass which had been producing bedding plants for Dagenham parks and gardens. When it closed as a council operation, Growing Communities stepped in with the aim of enhancing their supply of locally grown produce beyond their Patchwork Farm in Hackney. The site now produces about 5 tonnes of veg a year. In the spring, there are leeks, spring greens, spinach and multiple salad leaves. In summer and autumn, salad and tomatoes, as well as chillies, cucumbers, squashes, beans, aubergines, courgettes, strawberries and melons.
The conversion to this productive wonderland has all been overseen by head grower, Alice Holden with help from a small team of professionals and dedicated volunteers. On the day I visited this included Hannah, who oversees a Big Lottery project called Grown in Dagenham (which aims involve local people in the life of the farm and help them develop new skills) and Ken and Dave, extraordinary experts in wheelbarrow work!
Growing Communities started out in 1996 by setting up a veg box scheme to provide a practical, viable and sustainable alternative to the damaging, supermarket-led food system. It wanted to enhance awareness and understanding of the need for a sustainable and resilient food system to meet the challenges posed by climate change and resource depletion and to prove that such a system could work and thrive.
A number of key principles were articulated such as food farmed and produced ‘ecologically’, food sourced locally, seasonally and directly, food production which is both economically viable and independent of corporate interests, and food production which fosters community. With these principles enshrined in Growing Communities, the result is a project which is a resounding demonstration of how community-led trading projects can create real change.
Not only was interest generated in local food, but that interest was at a level which enabled Growing Communities to set up new growing activities within Hackney. The Growing Communities office now not only manages a weekly fruit and veg bag scheme with almost 1000 members alongside a weekly, highly successful Farmers’ Market – both of which are sourced from its own farms or local organic and sustainable growers – but also directly oversees salad and vegetable production from its own Patchwork Farm across Hackney and the Dagenham Farm.
The Dagenham project was funded by the Local Food Fund, part of the Big Lottery, from March 2012 to March 2014, when it also became fully certified as organic. The growers’ salaries are now financed through sales of produce.
For more information on Growing Communities and the Patchwork Farm see Growing Communities website.
You will also find pictures from Dagenham Farm in the book, Unlikely Heroes, which documents my visits to small scale sustainable farmers and growers in hard copy. It is currently available via a Feeding Body and Soul webpage. Click here.
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC!]