Background to Brixton Growing

Just about every bit of the UK has a long history of growing stuff and this area is no exception. London, Middlesex and Surrey are the birth place of many types of apple and other fruit trees, like the Victoria Plum (see Appendix A for a list). As recently as the late 17th century Lambeth and its marshes were still part of the rural hinterland around London; a region of small farms and market gardens that supplied food for the metropolis. Around this time the famous John Tradescants, gardeners to royalty, collectors of curiosities, travellers and importers of exotic plants, were establishing their 3 acre garden and orchard, The Ark, in Lambeth. Here they bred the first London Plane Tree which can be found growing all around London today; the Tradescants are buried in the church yard of St Mary-at-Lambeth which is now the Museum of Garden History, near Lambeth Palace. Myatts Field used to be a strawberry and rhubarb market garden run by Jospeh Myatt; the Walcot Estate in Kennington was a nursery garden and the famous botanist Wiliam Curtis estabished the London Botanic garden near to the Southbank in 1779, which by 1789 contained 6,000 plants but was forced to move by the constant smoke blowing in from London. For more on the history of Lambeth vist http://www.compulink.co.uk/~museumgh/local%20history

Lambeth is still full of parks and tress (about 50,000 of them!). Vauxhall City Farm, set in up in 1977, and Walworth Garden Farm, set up in 1987 near Kennginton Tube, which sit just on the border between Lambeth and Southwark. were both established through the effort sof local people. The Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses is also run by volunteers, who maintain two green houses and several gardens and vegetable patches in the heart of Brockwell Park. Similiar greenhouses are currently being refurbished in Myatts Field. Our area is also home to Roots and Shoots and Trees for Cities, both of which run horticultural training, the Lambeth Horticultural Society and the South London Botanical Institute.

Now community gardening is on national agenda and is increasingly gaining local support. Organisations like the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, the Soil Association, the Royal Horticultural Society, Garden Organic and Landshare are all sources of support and information in the UK. Within London we now have Capital Growth as a source of both advice and funding and many Universities conducting research into urban agriculture. Brixton itself has a thriving Transition Town community and a very active Food & Growing group which is dipping its tow into everything from composting to fruit tree mapping to food co-ops.

This group sprang out of the ABUNDANCE project on the Guinness Trust Estate, a collaboration between UCL and TTB in 2008 funded by Urban Buzz which aimed to explore the role of knowledge-sharing in building sustainable communities. ABUNDANCE stands for Activating Blighted Urban Niches for a Daring Agricultural Network of Creativity and Endeavour, and in this sense all of the community projects you’ll encounter in this pack which have since evolved in and around Brixton are very much in the spirit of ABUNDANCE…. we are indeed now a daring agricultural network, and we would like you to join us in our creative endeavours to activate blighted urban niches!

It is assumed that if you are reading this that you are already quite up on the benefits of growing your own produce and so we will spare you the ordeal of having to read a word more on how great it is for you, your community and the environment (if you’re less clued up on the latter point then we recommended signing up to the free Food & Climate Research Network (FCRN) newsletter). So, enough of the WHY and on with the HOW…!

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