A key challenge in inner cities is the lack of green spaces, making the idea of growing your own food a dream seemingly reserved for people living in rural and suburban areas.
However, Christina Wheatley, creator and project manager of Edible Rotherhithe, has found a way to promote sustainability and healthy eating by bringing gardens closer to home.
In an age dominated by digital media, and living in a world which demands immediacy and instant connection, it is perceived to be particularly difficult to encourage children and young people to disconnect and spend more time outside. For those raised on the internet and social media, commonly referred to as Generation Z, getting out and about in green spaces is more likely to involve a visit to Kew Gardens to get those likes on Instagram, rather than growing fresh basil and parsley on a windowsill.
As London continues to grow, so does the demand for more housing. With its population increasing by approximately 120,000 per year, it is expected that by 2021, it will reach 9.3 million and to keep up with this growth, Mayor Sadiq Khan announced his plan to start building at least 116,000 affordable homes by 2022.
However, 47% of London’s overall area is still designated as green space — which is very high for a major city — so there is still room for families living in or near its centre to get into self-sustainable foods and healthy eating. The success of initiatives such as the Walworth Community Garden Network is proof that growing your own food in urban areas is achievable.
"They can watch their food grow"
After moving back to London from the Isle of Wight, Christina first recognised the need for a gardening project when the children on the estate where she lived, thought that the green tomatoes in the plant beds were apples. This prompted her to create Edible Rotherhithe, based in Surrey Square Primary School in SE17, and then extend it out to the local community, so both children and adults can learn about gardening and sustainable food growth.
“We’re showing them that they can watch their food grow and they get a feeling about it and they enjoy it. It does change what they eat and how they eat,” said Christina, whose commitment to promoting healthy eating, particularly in children, comes from the prevalence of fast food takeaways in the area.
In south London, the popular chicken shop Morley’s has 63 branches, whilst Sam’s Chicken Shop franchise - the preference of those living in west and north-west London - has 34.
“The Old Kent Road is covered with KFC, McDonald’s, chicken shops and other fast food restaurants, and there is a lot of obesity in the area,” Christina observed.
However, the availability of fast food has not discouraged children from participating in Edible Rotherhithe’s after-school gardening club. Christina said they take great pride in knowing how to plant vegetables and being able to take them home to their families. She believes the programme is successful because it promotes engagement with and immersion in nature, with a hands-on approach.
“One of the things we find, especially in this area, is a lot of the kids live in tower blocks, so they don’t have a garden, they’ve got nowhere to grow anything. This makes the availability of gardens in schools and local communities even more vital in built-up areas."
Other gardening initiatives around London include Capital Growth, Incredible Edible, Mobile Gardeners and Surrey Docks. The Greater London Authority (GLA) is keen for all schools to have their own growing project, and a recent survey suggests that at least 25% already have one.
"Talent Works has been able to do all the things that we as a Board can't do"
As a charity, Edible Rotherhithe depends on funding from public aid organisations such as Tesco’s Bags of Help Fund and the Greggs Foundation community grants. To grow their knowledge and skills, Edible Rotherhithe links up with other groups and organisations within the local area, and this prompted a partnership with London College of Communication’s Talent Works initiative, which offered technical and communications support.
Christina said: “Talent Works has been able to do all the things that we as a Board can’t do. My skills are putting the plants in and creating gardening networks, not anything technical. So, to have that help from LCC available to us has been fantastic.”
LCC student Elizabeth Connor, who helped to make a promotional video for Edible Rotherhithe, said: “It was really cool to work for clients who really appreciate what we did and maybe wouldn’t have the budget to outsource this type of work.”
The charity hopes the video will help them raise over £26,000 towards expanding the reach of its activities and carry out more after-school work- shops for gardening and arts and crafts. Christina also hopes that Edible Rotherhithe’s work and philosophy of self-sufficiency can be taken into women’s refuges and detox centres.
This feature was taken from our Business and Innovation Developing Partnerships with the Local Community publication, where all articles were produced by third-year students from our BA (Hons) Magazine Journalism and Publishing course.