So what’s the connection between Growing Communities and an indoor climbing centre – particularly one set up in the somewhat surreal location of a castle high on a mound in the middle of Hackney? Well, obvious really isn’t it – both want to produce local organic fruit and veg!
Growing Communities had 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. The aim was 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. Not only was interest generated in local food, but that interest was at a level which enabled Growing Communities to set up actual food production sites within Hackney.
When the proprietors of the climbing centre decided they wanted to convert their cafe in a ‘local organic’ establishment, they set about converting the land surrounding the castle mound on the south side into a small market garden in which much of the produce used in the cafe could be grown. With Growing Communities close by also seeking to boost local interest in organic and sustainable food production, a small section of this land was offered to Growing Communities, and in January 2010, Ida Fabrizio and Sophie Verhagen started growing salad at the new Climbing Centre patch of the Hackney Patchwork Farm. Sophie has gone on to become an employed grower working at Clissold Park and Springfield Gardens, and Ida now shares the Climbing Centre patch with Sonia Cropper whilst also now running the growing for the Climbing Centre.
When I visited Ida was away so Sonia was doing the weekly salad picking alone. As the produce gradually found its way into containers for transport away from the site, it was heartening to talk with Sonia of her experiences in London as a self-employed grower and gardener. Sonia was optimistic for the future of local food, pointing to an increase in work from her in London in roof top gardens. One there for my next tour with the potential to top the climbing centre as the least expected place to find organic veg and salad!
For more on Growing Communities and both their Patchwork Farm in hackney and the newer Dagenham Farm see the Growing Communities website. along with the posts here immediately preceding this one (navigation buttons at the bottom of the page or use the Latest Posts menu, top right). Since my visit, Growing Communities has handed the patch back the Climbing Centre so that Ida is now growing there on one large integrated plot to supply the ultra-local food of the Castle Café. Sonia has moved to another of the Growing Communities patches.
Click here to buy the book Unlikely Heroes – the keepsake photobook documenting the agrarian renaissance in England and Wales, and featuring Growing Communities.
[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!]