My urban garden is your garden. Real stories from the London´s grow-your-own movements

By Carlos Martín Tornero

The tradition of gardening in the City has mushroomed. Thanks to TV programs like Channel 4´s Landshare, championed by the chef and broadcaster Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the interest in home-grown food has been boosted in London. Now the TV programme has evolved into a vibrant online community.


Channel 4´s TV series "Landshare"


Here in London, the concrete jungle, how the food gets in our plates is not a frequent question. In down town cities it is unconsciously taken for granted that our feed comes straight  from the supermarket. Nowadays there is a mental distance between the urban world and the countryside.  However, a new movement has emerged to fill that gap: the “growing-your-own” communities.

During the last years the number of people with an interest in home-grown food has remarkably soared. That has had a reflection in the sales of vegetable seeds for instance, but above all in the allotments waiting lists of local authorities. In populated areas like Camden, London, can reach up to 40 years.

Moreover, around 100,000 people in Britain wait for a plot, according to the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners. What is frequently ignored is the fact that Councils must provide 20 plots per 1,000 residents, under the 1908 Small Holding and Allotments Act, a provision that is not being enforced properly.

A urban plot at Coram Fields, Central London

It is at this point where grassroots initiatives and the dynamism of civil society have come to play their role. The number of organisations that matches garden owners and people who are willing to grow their own food has mushroomed. For the journalist and expert in collaborative consumption, Rachel Botsman, it is an idea so simple yet brilliant that she wonders why it has never done before. She has wisely named those communities “garden dating agencies”.

One of the most popular is Landshare with 58,526 members and championed by the chef, writer and broadcaster Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Landshare was originally a TV series aired on Channel 4. KEO films´ managing director, Zam Bering, one of the masterminds behind this TV program recalls that the idea came out four years ago when they were following six people in Bristol who applied to the Council to get a plot of land to grow on.

Then they decided to create as well an online community to bring together those who have land to share with those who need land for cultivating food. Zam Bering considers that the capacity for individuals to grow their own food will help to scrutinise the quality standards of our over-industrialised food production system. Even though he feels that its effective impact on economy is limited, land sharing “is changing the way people shop and live their lives”.

Zam Baring, Managing Director of KEO films and one of the masterminds and producers behind Landshare.

Carlos Martin Tornero talked to  Zam Baring about Landshare. Listen here:


That is the case of Luke Hasell. He got involved within the group influenced by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He thought that Landshare was something inspirational and a great way of re-connecting people’s lives with land and growing.  Luke is more optimistic about the significance of land sharing communities: “58.526 members so far is great but imagine if the whole nation as a whole shared their assets, garden, land for the benefit of the local communities!

Luke Hasell, green entrepreneur

To such extent he believes in this idea that he has developed his own project called The Community Farm (www.thecommunityfarm.co.uk). This is a business aimed to re-connect people with the food in which they buy, cook and eat and get directly involved in the production. The project is funded by a very unique investment share offer where the public is invited to get directly engaged in the development of a farm and invest in the future of it.

The investing reached £125,000 a remarkable effort in the middle of a recession. Luke conceives this kind of initiatives as the future of consumerism and education as the only way that the next generation can be expected to be better. He says goodbye remembering his motto: “shake the hand that feeds you“.

Not all members of this community share Luke´s optimism. Jessica Hodge appears to be more sceptical. She owns a massive garden in an urban area of South London. She enjoys gardening but her plot is bigger than her needs.

Motivated by the idea of giving gardenless people the opportunity to grow vegetables she joined the community.  Rachel does not think that this practice has a significant effect on the economy or the environment. She reckons that growing your own food is actually more expensive for most people, unless it is done on a significant scale.

A urban plot in London

However, Landshare has for her a positive impact on people’s sense of community. In her view is more a medium that allows people to know each other locally, which is even much important in urban areas. In fact, Rachel met her neighbours thanks to Landshare: “people who literally live in the building next door approached me through Landshare and now have a patch in my garden. We even got chickens together though those got stolen in December”.

One of the oldest members of Landshare is Kim Parkinson, from Bloomsbury, London. She registered when it first materialised looking for a plot to grow on but so far she is still waiting. In the meantime, she has got involved in another movement to combat her feelings of frustration.

Kim does “guerrilla gardening”, a practice that can be defined as the illicit cultivation of someone else land, frequently neglect and public spaces. “I scatter seeds where ever an appropriate crevice presents itself, and I cultivate fruit and nut tree seeds on window sills”. Then she freecycles or gives to other good causes when they reach about 15 cm.

A grow-your-own garden in Bloomsbury, central London

These grow-your-own trends might be seen by many people as an extravagance but their demands are building the case for a better distribution of the land. As these movements claim, if all the 33.558 acres of cultivated land in the world were distributed evenly between the world´s 6.6 billion population there would be half an acre per person. That means half a football pitch each. Let´s start the ball rolling, they would say, at least for those who want to play.

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Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

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