An avid food gardener can get a little claustrophobic in London – at least that's what I find when I'm there for more than a few days, staying in my friend's third floor apartment in Crouch End. There's Kew Gardens, of course, and though it's a little out of town and built on a rather grandiose scale with few vegetables in sight, last time I visited I stumbled across a dozen or so domestic-sized allotments under the management of Kew's student gardeners, including one which was being cared for by a young Kiwi on a horticulture scholarship! But, on the whole, it seems that most inner-city Londoners forsake the opportunity to grow vegetables in their backyard and, instead, head for the supermarket – which is exactly where I discovered the most surprising food garden of all!
Food from the Sky, one of a growing number of inner-city food gardens, is a high-rise roof-top vegetable garden grown entirely in containers (most of them recycling bins). This, in itself, isn't particularly unusual but Food From the Sky, which looks out on church spires and apartment penthouses, harvests its own rainwater, and which is accessed via an external flight of stairs not unlike scaffolding, has one big difference. It grows on top of a large suburban supermarket with which it enjoys a fascinating symbiotic relationship.
This roof-top jungle of edibles is a community garden with an organic focus and, apart from its one funded co-ordinator, is staffed entirely by volunteers. A magnificent green house with walls built from recycled plastic bottles threaded on a lattice of number 8 wire and topped with a polygal roof allows for year-round growing. Pretty hanging sculptures and wall art attest to just how much this urban food-farm is cherished. Plastic cloches shelter young seedlings from the wind, herbs and flowers are dotted here and there among the tubs of veges in order to attract beneficial insects, and a vast range of salad greens dominate the line-up of healthy vegetables. But the most interesting aspect of this roof-top garden lies eight metres below.
Once a week the garden, which has a food-packaging licence, calls on volunteers (who are able to take home some free food for themselves) to harvest, wash, and pack the vegetables ready for sale in the same supermarket which gives over its roof-top to the garden! It's a wonderful circular relationship between shoppers who are able to access fresh, organic, locally grown food; community volunteers who enjoy gardening and companionship, and the supermarket itself. What could be better?
As urban New Zealand embraces community gardens, perhaps someone out there might think of following Food from the Sky's UK initiative and check out the possibility of gardening close to a supermarket or greengrocer which would feature its produce on the shelves. I do hope so because there is something very comforting to both gardener and shopper in knowing that the food they grow and eat is right at their own back door. You can read more about this idea by visiting www.foodfromthesky.org.uk