Have been meaning to mention this for a while now – I have been helping out a little with PLANT (People Learning about Nature around Tayport), a branch of the Tayport Community Trust. A ponderous name, I know – but what a catchy acronym! For simplicity, we tend to call it a community garden group:)
This has blossomed into a new interest in community gardening and related projects and I have been discovering the delightful variety of community group activities and enthusiasms around Fife and beyond.
The last one of these knowledge-harvest events was in Newburgh on the 30th of May, focusing on creating edible public spaces, and organised by the local resident and a SAMH’s man, David Ross (@GardensbytheTay), under the auspices of EATS – a Fife council initiative (SAMHs collaborated with EATS when it first started in Kirkaldy). EATS stands for Edible And Tasty Spaces (great name AND acronym;) and was championed by the council’s own Kevin O’Kane.
Peter Mannox of the wonderful North Fife blog has already provided a brief summary of the proceedings with some great pics thrown in. Here I some golden nuggets of wisdom from each speaker which made most impression on me and may come in handy in developing our community spaces.
EATS history repeats itself – Kevin O’Kane
Kevin told us the story of EATS project and what struck me was how long he’s been trying to put his ideas of growing communal food in public spaces into practice. The Fife council started on EATS in 2012, on the back of the popularity wave of edible public spaces brought on by success of the Incredible Edible Todmorden hitting the headlines in 2007. It is a small but growing project which is tentatively moving further afield from its native Kirkaldy with help from local groups.
But Kevin has admitted to thinking along similar lines since 1998 and was able to first put thought into practice when a new community park, containing a community orchard, was created in 2001 by the council. In the long term, this fruit garden was unfortunately not well maintained and was removed in 2010 (although some of the fruit trees still remain).
- This illustrated to me the incredible volatility of such projects and how they are subject to fleeting fashions in community growing.
Luckily for us at PLANT, the community garden trend is on the up and the council looks favourably upon the use of the public spaces for edibles:) Perhaps the long term success may be more likely when the top down council initiatives join up with existing community groups to develop locally relevant ideas, with majority of maintenance again done by the locals. It would be nice if there was also some edible-targeted £ available from the council as well, but given the current economic climate…
Lesley Riddoch calls for the power to the communities (and also for more huts!)
This is the first time I became aware of Lesley – now you know that I live under a rock;) What a great woman (and an excellent speaker)! Endless energy and many hats – very well summed up in her Twitter profile (@LesleyRiddoch):
“Journo, broadcaster, writer, cyclist, marine energy fan, gammy knee-holder, PhD student, Norwegian learner, Nordic Horizons organiser, Scotsman columnist”
Obviously a fervent believer in the power of local communities, she’s just published a book called Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish. Drawing on this “account of Scotland at the grassroots” she gave some incredible examples of Scottish resourcefulness, with relevance to creating edible spaces.
- When trying to get a community together around a project it is important to find local/personal connection with the land and its uses – most places have some historical links such as the French monastery apple orchards of Newburgh. This can bring community and generations together.
- Life experience and enthusiasm beats formal academic and management qualifications – draw on it!
She also emphasized an issue which I keep hearing about in this country – the complexity of Scottish land ownership (and its monopolisation on the hands of the few) as one of the important barriers to communities taking control of their spaces. She writes regularly about the need for land reform in Scotland – here is a recent piece on Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, before Scottish parliament this month, and how it may be able to address some of the issues.
Oh – and, you know, huts:)
Edinburgh’s Edible Estates with Greig Robertson
Greig is a self-confessed social entrepreneur, “trying to make a living from making good things happen” for over 10 years. His ideas for community self-built eco-housing had not quite worked out but his research in Denmark inspired some successful work with community growing projects in Edinburgh.
The new interest precipitated the creation of Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association (here is the potted history – no active website for the group exists any more) which allowed for the development of his community growing model for such spaces. He is now using the same principles for a more ambitious community growing project at run-down council estates – Edible Estates at Wester Hailes (name stolen from Fritz Haeg with permission).
- Community space design included small raised beds allocated individually + a communal food forest of fruit trees and bushes. Individual raised beds ensured minimum conflict, perfect for beginner growers to cut their teeth on, did not require much investment of their time, maximised number of people involved. It was also a motivator for those with grander ambitions to find more space to grow edibles!
- Engaging community members in design (especially in Wester Hailes) and getting them to build their own raised beds etc (minimum contractor landscaping/build) to ensure buy in, ownership and friendships.
- There will always be some objectors to the projects – but they are a minority and often with antisocial attitudes. Even at the relatively deprived council estates, 10-15% of residents are “dying to get involved” – especially in project which make visible difference to their surroundings (despite the lack of faith from the council itself).
The Tenement Greens project seemed to be fairly successful (although with the funding running out they seem to have lost their online presence and I wonder how long-lived they may be without such a central push). The success was no doubt due to the fact that the greens are fairly enclosed and private spaces with a limited number of users. I am keen to see what happens in the open spaces of the council estate at Wester Hailes.
Alan Carter’s tips for edible communal forest gardening
He outlined the benefits of forest gardening: better pest control due to interplanting and increased architectural complexity, lower maintenance and greater aesthetic value throughout the seasons.
A great public food plant, such as a mirabelle plum (a yellow variety of which I remember grazing on as a child in Poland, they were everywhere!), is:
- low maintenance
- survives picking
- with a long picking season
- hard to pick, e.g. lots of small fruit vs big fruit such as apples (the effort ensures that some is left for others)
Other tips on growing in public spaces:
- Make sure that it is easy for the council workers to work around the plants
- Use tubes to protect from rabbits and herbicides.
- Use own-root trees instead of grafts as they will regrow true to type if damaged.
Comprehensive list of edible forest plants suitable for Scottish spaces is on his blog. Apart from the mirabelle (or japanese plum), my favourites were the day lilies with their edible flowers. I also wouldn’t mind trying out the variegated perennial kale 🙂
David Ross guides through Newburgh EATS inspirations and the community orchard
David (@Gardensbythetay) brought the idea of EATS from his work with them in Kirkaldy and set up a community garden on a sad piece of lawn in front of the Newburgh Library. This involved loads of negotiations with the local powers-that-be, and a promise not to grow a field of spuds and cabbages. The results are stunning, productive and have taught the local brownies where the potatoes come from. This is what it looked like last year.
He also showed us the 10 year old community orchard, linking to the area’s fruit growing past. It is conveniently placed next to the local school and used by them on a regular basis. They run workshops – not just on pruning, planting etc but also teaching kids when the fruit are ripe for picking (which prevents premature harvest).
- Engage with the local bodies and be prepared to convince them of your case
- Gardening in public and getting local kids involved is the best PR (and helps limit vandalism)
- Complex interplanting of vegetables and insect repellent companion plants such as marigolds is likely to minimise pests.
- Use the harvest as an excuse to share food with the community