Activity across the Growing Communities Patchwork Farm builds to a climax each week on a Tuesday evening. It’s then that all the salad produce from across the farm patches reaches the ‘mixing and packing station’ of the Old Fire Station Yard on Leswin Road in Hackney. In a flurry of excitement, salad leaves and banter the incoming produce is magically transformed into the award-winning Hackney Salad, ready for distribution through 1000 or so veg boxes and a range of local shops and restaurants.
Growing Communities started out in 1996 by setting up the veg box scheme to provide a practical, viable and sustainable alternative to supermarket-led food in the London borough of Hackney. A number of key principles were ground out and turned into practice – food to be farmed and produced ‘ecologically’; food to be sourced locally, seasonally and directly; food to be produced both economically viably and independent of corporate interests; food to be produced in ways which foster community, just to mention just a few.
With such principles enshrined in emergent Growing Communities culture, the result was soon a project which was a resounding demonstration of how community-led trading projects can create real change. Not only was interest generated in local food, but in addition to a weekly fruit and veg bag scheme quickly with almost 1000 members, the not-for-proft organisation runs a weekly vibrant Farmers’ Market. Moreover, the buying interest around Hackney was soon at a level as to prompt Growing Communities to set up new growing facilities within Hackney – and so the Patchwork Farm came to be born as a collection of ‘patches’ – areas of land which, often initially brownfield and derelict, are now cultivated in a coordinated and integrated way such that the outcome is a plentiful and vast ranging supply of salad leaves. Once ‘magically’ mixed from across the farm these become Hackney Salad – a new, sought after, award-winning, local brand!
Development of community resilience, business and job creation, growing local food within a city, enhancing the environment……whichever way you look at it, Growing Communities is a wonderful example of what can be done by combining community education, business and training. Brilliant stuff, all echoed and represented in the spirit and activity of Tuesday nights!!
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)
Click here to buy the book Unlikely Heroes – the keepsake photobook documenting the agrarian renaissance in England and Wales, and featuring Growing Communities.
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