Across Bristol there are some extraordinary organisations doing extraordinary work but all of them, of us, struggle with the same thing and that’s bringing in enough cash to continue. About 1 in 9 bids are successful, and when you’re a tiny organisation working in your community fundraising often feels like it’s impossible.
Bristol Local Food Fund wants to create a more accessible funding field. By creating an opportunity for local, grassroots organisations to bid from the pot they are making, it will mean that money goes straight to the grassroots and immediately support food Justin the city. They’re planning on a citizen led panel to make decisions, they’re unashamedly making sure this money will only be available to the grassroots and they’re determined to support communities who are finding their own solutions!! They are creating a change in the funding system, and ensuring that change happens when it’s needed.
Of course we are also aware that life is tough right now. But here’s the thing. A couple of quid makes all the difference but also, shares on social media are really useful. In fact one share, retweet or regram is said to generate around £15 in funds.
So please can you help? Isn’t it time funding went straight into the organisations making change in the ground?
Over the last couple of years we have been creating a space for learning at Speedwell Allotments. Cultivation Place will be home, in 2022, to a whole host of events that will support individuals and communities to grow more food, more pollinator friendly planting and also to look at gardening as a response to both climate and biodiversity crises. All our workshops and courses will be run by people who are experts in their fields, with our primary tutor being our founder, Sara Venn.
We also hope to run some events where we can bring people together for discussions that will create real change across the city and bring together networks to offer support and opportunity to all involved in community gardening across the city.
We will release the courses for next year in January, but in the meantime we will be running our How To Grow course one last time for 2021, beginning on October 2nd-the details are in the link below!
For the last few months we have been working hard behind the scenes on a space at our Cultivation Place at Speedwell, creating what is the equivalent of a tiny urban back garden, or a tiny yard space. We are so aware that for many renters, house sharers and flat dwellers, for people from marginalised communities growing food and creating beautiful spaces feels like something they may never be able to achieve, but we are aiming to set out to prove that is not the case and that anyone can grow some of their own food, no matter how pushed for space they might be. Growing and gardening is a space that many people don’t recognise themselves in and we know that it is vital that we change this, and this is, we hope, a start.
This work is being made possible by Linda McCartney Foods, who are celebrating their 30 year anniversary by supporting 6 community garden and learning spaces across the UK. Their kind funding is making it possible for us to offer several 6 week course to 18-28 year olds who feel they would like to learn about growing in rented or impermanent spaces and how to go about it but for whom access to growing education has never been possible due to costs or just general access issues or not feeling that they are seen in that sector. The 6 weeks will include learning on soils, on composts and composting, on growing plants from seeds and propagation, and give the participants the basis of designing small spaces and how to ensure they have all the knowledge needed to take their experience back into their communities and homes.
This course will be practical, hands on experience that will include lots of opportunity to ask questions, experiment within the space that is being built and give all participants the building blocks of good gardening and growing, using ecological principles. We can offer 6 places per course, and the first course will begin on Monday 19thJuly and be from 11am to 3pm.
If you think this is the course for you or someone you might know drop an email to Sara Venn, our lead, and she will get back to you with further information. Her email is email@example.com. The course will be lead by both Sara and our community facilitator Luke Murray.
To follow what we are up to on this project follow our tags on social media-#GYOwithLinda #EdibleBristol
A slightly dry title but as we move into 2021, we are looking back to the previous year and it’s challenges to ensure we can foresee any challenges to come.
2020 began, as years generally do, with positive plans, many of which had to be cancelled or postponed due to Covid. However, as the year continued we found ways to ensure the gardens continued where safe and our core team of community gardeners at least, had opportunity to continue to grow food for Bristol’s communities. Whilst during the first lockdown it was not possible to get out into the city centre spaces, the gardens at Avonmouth and Speedwell have thrived and enabled us to support the food aid efforts across the city with fresh produce, grown by our core team as they learnt about food growing.
At Avonmouth the aim was to grow enough crop that we were able to support the efforts at Avonmouth Community Centre, who were busy ensuring people who were vulnerable had food available to them. Our produce went into the shopping bags of the people who would usually access our produce through lunch clubs at the community centre. From the beginning of lockdown right up until mid December a weekly harvest helped to support this community, whilst also supporting our team to learn lots about food growing with nature, in the space on Platform 2 of the station at Avonmouth. This work, supported by Severnside Community Rail Partnership, will continue into 2021 and we cannot wait to be able to open up volunteering opportunities to more of the Avonmouth Community once it is safe to do so. This year, when possible, we will focus on Wellbeing Wednesdays in the garden, welcoming people to garden, to sit, and to enjoy being outside in the space.
At the Speedwell site, where we had hoped to run courses and workshops starting in 2020, we moved our focus to growing as much food as was possible in order to support the food aid effort going on to ensure fresh food to all. Our core team and facilitator grew quantities of food we knew would be well received across the city, including potatoes, kales and cabbages, salads, pumpkins and squash, onions, garlic, shallots and chillies. We were thrilled to be donated plants from the nursery at Blaise that enabled us to grow more crops and we look forward to working with them in the future and would like to thank the council’s officers and Deputy Mayor Asha Craig for delivering them on what must have been one of the warmest days of the year!
Crops from Speedwell were sent to Bristol Food Union to support care leavers, the Aidbox Community and to Co-exist Community Kitchen, and all were used to directly feed people struggling to access affordable, healthy food. All these crops were gifts from us to the communities, grown by people learning more about food growing, food sovereignty and edible landscapes.
We also used our social media channels to support more people to grow food successfully across the city, with our founder sharing skills around growing crops, composting, growing without a garden and plenty more! She even worked out how to make a compost bin from a food waste bin and showed that not only was it possible, but it was also successful. We will continue with this in the months to come. If you don’t follow our social media we are on all the usual channels with our skill sharing on Instagram at @EdibleBristol.
However, 2020 was not only about Covid, but also about an awakening of the social conscience of many, and the realisation that many of our systems are built on white supremacy and colonialism. We are super conscious that farming is one of the least diverse occupations in the UK and that land access is a serious issue for anyone wanting to become a new entrant farmer, or wanting to set up community growing spaces. And with that we realised that by many across the city we had been firmly put into the community gardening sphere, when in fact Edible Bristol was always around creating local food economies, starting with community growing of course, but leading to empowered and diverse communities sharing their food cultures and finding their own solutions to the global issues of climate, biodiversity and inequality. This year to come will see us firmly represent ourselves within the food justice movement, acknowledging that we need to share more about our efforts here and why it is so important for us and for Bristol.
Fortunately once the first lockdown ended we were able to get back to some of the city centre gardens so we focussed our time on the gardens at Millennium Square, the Bearpit and Castle Park. Our team have completely reinvigorated the gardens in Millennium Square, filling them with crops that will see us through the winter and into spring when we will of course continue to grow seasonally appropriate crops that are available to anyone who might need them. Our plans include the crops we use every day along with culturally appropriate food stuffs that we know some of our communities struggle to access. As soon as we can open up drop in opportunities for people to get involved we will.
The Bearpit is always a challenging space as it’s large and has had several but we are working on a plan and there will be exciting news soon which we will leave to one side for a post of it’s own! However, we can confirm that the Castle Park garden was tidied and planted with onion, shallots and garlic just prior to the second lockdown, and those crops will be poking though as we type…..
So as we move into 2021 out primary focus is on creating more opportunities for people to volunteer, to work across diverse communities to work to get as much culturally appropriate food as possible grown across the city and to support new community gardens across the city to not just begin, but to thrive. Everyone would have the opportunity to understand where their food comes from, and to engage with their own farm to fork journey, and whatever that looks like, from windowsill to allotment or community garden, our true want is to support that and ensure the necessary skills are shared.
There will, however, be one change. Since we began in 2014 funding has been more and more challenging and so we are taking control by offering courses and workshops at the Speedwell site, beginning with a 6 week, How To Grow course, focusing on the basics of how to run and manage a growing space. There will be lots of other courses available too, as well as practical workshops and one off weekend opportunities. We will ensure that everyone can access these opportunities by offering free spaces to those who would otherwise not be able to join us, and we will be sharing more about this in the weeks to come. We are also beginning a cut flower club which people will be able to sign up for to get a bouquet of flowers each week from April to October which again we will be able to tell you more about shortly.
All in all we are excited about the year to come and hope to see many of you soon, either at a garden, a course or an event. In the meantime please stay safe.
Recently the city declared both climate and ecological emergencies. Whilst we are aware of how large scale, industrial farming can be detrimental to the environment often gardening and horticulture are seen as “green” and sustainable and sadly often they are not. In light of the crises we face both as a city and a planet we are going to unpack this in a series of posts, and in our skill sharing this year, so that everyone has the opportunity to learn how they can garden in a way that supports both the climate and ecological emergencies.
Soil is the foundation of life. And there has been much talk and research into soils and where they are and are not healthy over the last decade. What we know is that urban soils, in parks, allotments and gardens, is generally healthier than our traditional farmlands and this is often down to traditional techniques of gardening and growing, of leaves being left to mulch borders in parks and to traditional mulching techniques on allotments. The first thing many people do when taking on allotments or gardens is create a compost bin and we will be talking more about composting as the year goes on, but composting is really the ultimate circular economy, taking waste and creating compost to put nutrients back into the soil the waste came from. Unfortunately as a city we don’t compost green waste and make it available to gardeners, although the green waste is composted and can be purchased in large quantities of 15 tonnes and more if you can take that quantity!!
Of course healthy soils are important for more than just growing. Soils have their own ecosystem, full of life, and once we appreciate that there are more organisms in a teaspoon of soil than people on the planet, suddenly keeping it well and supporting those organisms becomes a vital part of the way we look after the land we steward. And the best way to do this is to add organic matter on a regular basis, which of course ideally we would make. However, it’s very difficult to make the amount of compost that the garden needs and it’s almost inevitable that we will all need, at points, to buy compost to make up the shortfall.
Our aim at Incredible Edible Bristol is to create spaces that are healthier in the city, but also to ensure that in doing so we are not harming other areas of the planet. Creating healthy soils and buying in compost can be a minefield as the majority of compost contains peat, extracted from rare and important peat bogs that are vital in the fight against the climate emergency as they are important carbon sinks. They also are home to important flora and fauna found nowhere else and mitigate against flooding by holding onto flood water and slowing the flow of it as it goes downhill, meaning drains and culverts are more likely to cope with the quantity of water. They are known to be as environmentally important as rainforests are to the tropics and yet each year more than 7,000 hectares are dug for gardening and horticulture. Many people assume that this has always been the way, but in fact it was only begun on the mid 20th century, and just is not necessary for good growing.
With this in mind we have always used peat free products and whilst it can be more expensive, there are peat free options at the DIY superstores that are fine for mulching and soil improvements and are pretty much the same price as peat composts. We are thrilled to hear that Riverside Garden Centre, our local, independent garden shop in Southville, is now only selling peat free bagged compost and is working with it’s supplier of plants to go peat free and so soon it will be easy in the city to be peat free. In the meantime if you do go to a garden centre or nursery that doesn’t stock peat free, ask them why, and refuse to buy peat.
We are also supporting Peat Free April, a campaign calling for the end of peat extraction for horticulture, which you can follow across the social media channels.
So if you want to look at how you garden in light of the ecological emergency, the first step is to go peat free, and call for peat free growing across the city. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Bristol was the first peat free city in the UK?
As we move forwards, creating spaces for food with communities, we are very aware of creating food for all the communities in the city, and not just humans. Growing in an ecologically friendly way has never been so important, and especially in the parts of the city where there is huge competition for space. The Edible Fishponds gardens, on the busy Straits Parade are one of these spaces so we have set about creating gardens that can be sanctuaries for all.
To do this we have planted an orchard. Both spaces have had 5 new trees planted and as we carry on into the year those trees will be underplanted with herbs and edible flowers that will support humans and pollinators alike.The trees are quite mature and so will establish quickly and begin to create a harvest over the next two years, which will be available to the community of the area, as of course will be the herbs and flowers.
We’ll continue our monthly work parties in the gardens over the next months, putting in some small hedges of lavender, ensuring the trees get mulched and watered regularly, and ensuring the gardens continue being beautiful and productive. If you’s to come along keep your eyes on our work parties calendar and just pop along and get involved. Everyone, as always, is welcome. See you soon.
As we head into 2020 we thought it might be good to look back at our achievements in 2019 and look at plans coming in 2020. In many ways 2019 was a difficult year so before we go onto achievements we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone across the city who helped and supported us through last year.
Last year saw our work with Severnside Community Rail Partnership increase as we supported the creation of the Secret Garden at Avonmouth station, working with community payback groups and corporate volunteers. The garden, under the supervision of our facilitator Luke, has gone from strength to strength, and is supporting lunch clubs at Avonmouth Community Centre with vegetables. This year will see us continue to work with the local community to grow more food and the garden continue to support outdoor learning and experiences in the Avonmouth area.
The work across the Urban Food Trail continued and the gardens are now becoming well established. The trees in Millennium Square saw their first good crop of fruit and many of the perennial plants really began to crop well. As we move forwards the Millennium Square gardens will be seeing a redesign over the next months, but we will ensure they remain as productive as possible.
Work in the Bearpit was put on hold for most of last year as we felt it was an unsafe space for our volunteers but once Bristol City Council had cleaned the space and it became safer we spent a few work parties down there, beginning a big tidy up and bringing the garden back to where it ought to be. Again as we step into 2020 we will be continuing this work, bringing food and nature to the city centre and working to create an urban harvest that is available to the whole city.
Another project we were thrilled to be a part of was the city centre’s Business Improvement District’s Greener Bristol campaign, which saw 36 individual raised beds installed a cross the city, all growing fresh herbs, fruit, salads and vegetables for people to help themselves to. This has been a fantastically successful project and we look forward to working on the beds as the year continues. We will be adding both nature friendly plants that support pollinators in the city and more vegetables and edible flowers to the beds over the coming months and invite everyone to help themselves to the crops.
We also engaged with our first team of core volunteers who are all committed to joining us at least once per month and to whom we offer some more structured learning about all things food growing and Incredible. We will be taking in new core volunteers every six months or so, with the next team being advertised for later in January and it has been fantastic to meet and work with such a great bunch of people and support them to learn more.
Finally this year will be the year we open our Learning Zone at Speedwell Allotments, where we will offer courses and workshops as we were doing previously. We have achieved a massive amount of progress at the site, and will continue to do so in the first few months of 2020, and we are excited to officially open the site and begin to support more people to grow in spaces across the city, and grow well and successfully!!
So as we move into 2020, Happy New Year to you all and here’s to a great year of growing both food and community!!
Recently we worked with Bristol Waste on their Waste Nothing campaign, supporting the families taking part in the Waste Nothing campaign to learn some gardening and food growing skills. The aim of the campaign is to cut these families waste collections , not just of waste going to landfill but also cut down the amount going to recycling, especially of single use plastics. You can learn more about the campaign here.
The aim of our afternoon with the families was to introduce them to some growing techniques and talk about what sustainable gardening looks like. Most of the families have some experience of growing so we chatted about lots of things that we think might be interesting to everyone. We are super aware that whilst we all assume gardening is green, it really can be absolutely the opposite and we wanted to work through that with the families so they were confident moving forwards.
We began by talking about plastics and as we recently wrote a blog about this, we won’t repeat ourselves but we will just reiterate that Bristol Waste are not recycling any plant pots so the best thing to do is recycle them yourself by growing plants in them, or giving them away to community gardens, groups or schools where you know they will get used. Our blog about plastic use is here
We also spoke about compost. All the families have been given wormeries as part of the campaign but we would always suggest a compost heap of some type as wormeries will provide a very limited amount of compost. There are lots of compost bins available to buy, from the plastic dalek type to some very plush numbers that ensure your heap heats up fast, producing compost faster than a standard heap. You can also make your own with pallets and soon we will be, we hope, supporting better composting through workshops and a project we are working on with some UWE students who are looking at ways to heat your heap that are both sustainable and affordable. In the mean time we will shortly be putting together a blog on how to get the best from your heap as we believe it’s a vital part of creating a circular system in the garden. However, most people struggle to make enough compost and have to purchase some, whether it’s for seed sowing, containers or as a soil conditioner. We would urge everyone to ensure the compost they are using is peat free, and therefore not taking peat out of our precious peatfields that are the UK’s equivalent to rain forests in that they capture carbon and support rare and endangered flora and fauna. We use either SylvaGrow or Dalefoot Compost.
We are aware that some people are keen to garden in line with vegan principles and in that case there is a product called Fertile Fibre which is certified as a vegan product
Away from plastic we spoke about buying plants. Many large garden centre groups buy plants in from abroad, despite there being a healthy local supply of plants to access. When these plants come in there is no knowing what they might have been sprayed with, whether they could be harmful to bees and other pollinators or even if they will survive in our climate. Shortly we will put together a list of nurseries and local garden centres that we support at Incredible Edible Bristol. And then of course there is the subject of seeds. The global seed market is run by 3/4 enormous organisations, interested only in profit and selling their product. In the last few years there has been an emergence of local, UK based. open pollinated seed growers and we would always suggest you buy from them first and support an industry that is working on creating seed sovereignty for the UK. For more information about seeds and seed sovereignty take a look at the Gaia Foundation, who are leading the work being done.
Of course saving our own seeds is also a vital part of creating circular economies within our gardens, and is something we can all do. There is loads of info about seed saving at the Real Seeds website.
For Incredible Edible Bristol a sustainable future where we can all share the skills we need to learn more about growing food, creating habitats for nature and supporting the creation of more edible landscapes is key to what we do. If you’d like any help or support to create a garden in a lost or unloved space in your community, where we can support you to create a healthier community, just get in touch!!
There has been a lot of talk about plastics in the garden media and we thought it might be a good idea to try to unpack the issue a bit, with a slant on Bristol and how you might be able to review your plastic use in your garden, on your plot or in your community space.
The first thing we would like to say to everyone is that gardening is not a reason to consume and as a hobby, whether you’re growing food or ornamentals the list of things that are really necessary is quite short. A good hand trowel, a fork, a pair of secateurs and a watering can are probably all you really need, although there are obviously things that as you do more will make your life easier like loppers and hoes. But there certainly isn’t any need for what we like to call at Edible HQ, plastic tat. Plastic gnomes, wind chimes, grass, plastic box balls and the like just aren’t important and we can live without. When buying tools look out for those with wooden handles, or search through second hand shops, keep an eye on internet marketplaces or see if relatives have extras they don’t need, or that need a wee bit of maintenance/mending. Often older, “vintage” tools last for years and are great family hand downs.
And that brings us onto the inevitable question of plastic plant pots. Unfortunately at the moment plastic is the best thing for nurseries to grow plants in and whereas hopefully there are people looking at alternatives at the moment the focus seems to be on creating recyclable pots that are different colours to black and so more easily recognisable to recycling plants as recyclable. However, this still relies on the local authority, in our case Bristol Waste, having the necessary equipment to recycle them, and in Bristol, like in many places, this is not possible. But before we all jump down Bristol Waste’s throat, lets look at plastic pots and how they actually can be recycled within the gardening community.
We all, as gardeners, buy plants and 99.9% of those will be grown in plastic. However, many of us also grow a lot of plants from seed and this is the ideal opportunity to recycle pots within your own garden, especially if you struggle with keeping slugs off your seedlings. Pot them on into 9cm or even 1ltr sized pots and grow them on until they are larger and they are far mor likely to withstand slug attack. For us here in Bristol this is necessary as those pesky slugs love our clay and I am yet to find a space that isn’t home to many a mollusc. However, that’s not all we can do.
Many of you will have seen the Edible Culture nursery in Faversham, Kent, on Gardeners World a couple of weeks ago, and their promise to not let plastic off their site but rather continually recycle their pots by taking the pot off the plant and replacing it with what they call a posipot at point of sale. This is a brilliant idea but of course their plastic pots return to production on site, whereas many a garden centre buys in their plants and probably isn’t aware of where the pots actually came from in the first place. However, as consumers isn’t it our right to demand better from the places where we buy our plants and ask that they take back plastic? They could offer a customer collection point that then people could also take from and they also could, in some places, find out where they could return plastic to in order to make sure the plastic remains in the gardening system as it were. The majority of small independent nurseries and garden centres will start to do this we think, once they know there is consumer demand for change, however, inevitably there will be push back from larger, more supermarket like places, whose stock all comes from central distribution warehouses and who will struggle with this. Making decisions about who you support when buying plants can be difficult but if you find your local independent garden centre or nursery we are sure they will soon enough be on it.
Of course there is also the opportunity to give pots away. Schools, early year centres, youth groups and community gardens may all take pots at certain points in the year and be really grateful for them as they are expensive to buy and surely no one wants to buy more plastic if they can avoid it.
Of course there are alternatives.Coir pots, pots made of bamboo, pots and seedling trays made of cardboard pulp and even made with newspaper are available and can be made. You can also start seedlings in yoghurt pots as long as you put drainage holes in, or loo roll holders which are ideal for beans and peas, and we would encourage everyone to see what works for them as there are alternatives the home grower can use that would never work on a nursery!!
Finally a word about the recyclable pots. We have seen some and they were ever so flimsy and when we bought a couple of 9cm ones split when we removed the plants from them to plant out, so we are really disappointed that they seem to be single use and then straight to recycling even though we can’t recycle them in Bristol. We hope that the garden centres around the city know that it’s pointless buying plants in them as they can’t be recycled but we have seen some. We believe the larger sized recyclable pots are better quality and less single use like but we have yet to see them. So our thoughts for now are to look after any that you do buy and that they will last you forever if you do. Our Sara reckons the pots we grow in are at least 10 years old as she saved them from a skip at a nursery she ran years ago.
Lots of folk have also commented on compost bags and what can be done with those. We keep ours and use them as recyclable waste carriers in the gardens where we don’t have a compost heap. However, the good news is that our new, favourite compost, made in the Lake District by Dalefoot Compost from sheeps wool and bracken that would otherwise be waste products, comes in really thick carrier bags that can be turned inside out and used for growing potatoes or lining raised beds or hanging baskets and used year on year. Whilst of course that’s not ideal they are definitely not single use which is a good start for change. However, if we all create our own compost the amount we will need to buy in will be far reduced and when talking sustainable gardens we think the first thing every garden needs is a compost heap/bin. At the moment we are involved with an exiting project with UWE, looking at how we can help support good composting-more on that soon.
What we hope is that soon there will be legislation about all this and a date set for when plastic needs to be removed from the gardening industry and that there is political will both nationally and locally to ensure that happens.
Incredible Edible and Me
It’s been almost a year since I met Sara Venn and the amazing folks at Incredible Edible Bristol and it’s one of the best things to have happened to me over the past few years.
At the time of meeting I’d had a pretty rough couple of months. I’d lost my job, my relationship and ended up with nowhere to live. During this time something inside of me had changed, something fairly fundamental, it felt like something was missing – but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Turned out what was missing was gardening, and volunteering.
I’d found somewhere to live but I was still feeling a little blue. I decided I needed a hobby. A hobby that would keep me active, teach me new skills and allow me to meet new people. So, on a whim, I took over an allotment plot. I’m still not a hundred percent why. I’d never grown anything up to this point. The plot was overgrown and overrun with weeds. I had no money. I was woefully out of my depth. So I applied to go on Monty Don’s Big Dreams, Small Spaces telly show, as you do. My reasoning being, you may as well go hard or go home. But the above problems would become even more apparent on TV, and I knew that Monty’s visits would be fleeting. I needed a proper mentor. So I contacted Sara at incredible Edible. I asked, she said yes. The job got done – and done well.
Since then I have tried to attend an Incredible Edible work party weekly at least – work and weather permitting. I am always amazed at the general awesomeness of all the other volunteers. At how easy everyone is to get on with. The knowledge that is shared. The creativity. And ultimately, the passion everyone has and just gets on with the job required and to a very high standard. The spaces that have been transformed, especially at Bristol’s Bear Pit, has been nothing short of, well, incredible. I’m especially looking forward to spending a bit of time at the Incredible Edible garden at RHS Malvern.
Then there is the act of growing itself. Why didn’t someone tell me how rewarding it was? Sometimes it involves a workout worthy of any trip to the gym. Sometimes it’s an exercise in gentle reflection, or mindfulness. The results of my own attempts at growing have been mixed at best, but when it goes right, you get a real sense of achievement. Then there’s the research and planning element. It ticks a lot of boxes.
When I took over the allotment I had no idea if I’d enjoy it or keep it going, but thanks to the gang at Incredible Edible I think I’ve found something to fill that missing part of me. I’ve learnt so much and had such an enjoyable time volunteering over the past year that I don’t think I’ll ever stop.