With more people than ever living in cities, how do we reconcile our need for fresh fruit and vegetables with the challenges of life in an urban environment where the time and space for gardening are limited?
Thankfully, there are many ways to grow your own fresh produce in the city, which go beyond the traditional solution of the allotment. Here are just five.
1. Create your own window farm
Here’s proof that you can grow food in the smallest and most urban of settings. Window farming allows you to grow plants vertically inside your house or flat with the roots resting in water with added nutrients, a system called hydroponics. There’s no need for outdoor space or even any soil.
These “farms” can be as complex or simple as you like. There are now more than 45,000 window farmers around the world collaborating to find new ways of growing food.
Save space by going soil-free. Image: Jon Kalish/Flickr/Creative commons.
2. Guerrilla gardening
At its most basic, guerrilla gardening involves the cultivation of land that you have no legal right to use. As such, it’s about much more than growing fruit and veg, since projects tend to have broader aims to do with reclaiming public space and transforming derelict or neglected parts of the urban landscape.
At its best, it is a creative and inspiring example of direct action. Think of “seed bombs” used to transform a demolition site into a haven for pollinating insects, or lavender and sunflowers being added to a traffic island under cover of night.
3. Join a community garden
Unlike allotments, community gardens are focused on doing things together with others. They’re perfect for people who don’t have the time or skills required to work an allotment on their own, and the the camaraderie of working together and learning from more experienced gardeners provides huge social benefits beyond the food they produce.
The Gardens Community Garden in Haringey. Image: DCLG.
4. Community-supported agriculture
So-called “CSA” projects are still relatively new in the UK but the idea behind them is simple: to create a direct connection between farmers and consumers and take back control of the food system from supermarkets and large corporations. Some schemes are similar to existing veg box delivery services where you simply pay to sign up and receive regular vegetable deliveries in return.
However, others allow you to be much more than just a “consumer” as you spend time working on the farm in exchange for produce. In this way, you can get some fresh air and exercise while learning new skills and meeting like-minded people. From the farmer’s perspective this also means a guaranteed market and extra help on the farm. Interested? You can find your local scheme here.
5. Urban foraging
Do you like the idea of finding your own food but you’re not keen on gardening? No problem. If you know where to look, urban areas also offer plenty of opportunities to find good food for free.
Parks, cemeteries and neglected canal towpaths often offer lots of edible species, from the relatively common blackberry and elderberry to more unusual tasty treats that you can use to spice up your meals. For example, hedge garlic – or Jack by the hedge – can be a fantastic addition to salads, while hawthorn berries and crab apples can make a fabulous jam.
Found in shady urban wastelands, “Jack by the hedge” is delicious in salads. Image: Nick Saltmarsh/creative commons.
Of course, you need to be careful about possible contamination or misidentification but, if you’re unsure, why not see if your city has a forage walk that you can join? That way, you can learn first-hand about what’s safe to eat.
Shops, supermarkets and restaurants also throw out lots of perfectly edible food every day. An increasing number of people are foraging in bins for bread, tinned beans or even beer. This hunt for ready-made food is known as “skipping” or “dumpster diving”. Like many of the other methods described here, it’s not just a means of feeding yourself but a political act that highlights the wastefulness of the global food system.