On a beautiful sunny day, there are few places nicer to spend time than in the garden or on the allotment. I visited the FoodSmiles community growing project last week over near Hammonds End Farm, on the edge of Harpenden, and we were surrounded by trees, with horses playing in the fields near by. It was an idyllic, relaxing place to be, yet it has also been a hive of activity in the past few months.
Kickstarted by some members of Transition St Albans and Candice Luper, the Sustainability Officer at St Albans Council, FoodSmiles St Albans developed from a steering group of keen growers. The idea is that members help with whatever needs doing, whether preparing the beds or tending seedlings and plants, and in return, share in the harvest. There are similar Community Supported Agriculture schemes around the country, but this is the first in our area.
The site near Hammonds End was chosen as it was the right size for the group, and farmers Stuart and Howard are very supportive of the scheme. Work started in April to clear and plough the land. Site coordinator Naomi Distill gave me a guided tour and explained how the site had been divided into 22 beds ready for planting, along with three polytunnels. The group received donations from Aylett’s Nursery of tools, wheelbarrows and water butts which has really helped them make swift progress.
The seeds and plants are grown organically, and the group make their own organic compost. We could see rows of plants starting to thrive, along with further seedlings in the tunnels. Already the group has planted out swiss chard, broad beans, leeks, kale, swedes, parsnips, beetroot, potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli. The art school on the site made characterful scarecrows for the plot, which watch over the seedlings with mixed results; pigeons have managed to eat the mangetout. Inside the tunnels we spotted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and courgettes, and the herb beds nearby were looking very healthy too.
The group plan to focus on vegetables at the moment, but fruit bushes and trees may follow at a later stage. I asked Naomi why she had got involved, and Naomi explained that although she already looks after an allotment, she wanted to help with the initiative to get it going and to “grow a true new source of local food”. Naomi explained that they may take on another site in St Albans in the future.
At the moment the group has about 10 spaces left for new members – email the secretary at email@example.com or follow them on twitter (there is no website). Members pay an annual fee of £50 or £100 and commit to one or two working parties on site each month, on Wednesdays afternoons and evenings until dusk and on Saturday afternoons. FoodSmiles aim to be at the St Albans Farmer’s Market on July 13th if you would like more information. You can also follow what the planting is, and the daily tribulations and successes are on twitter @FoodSmilesStA. They are also on Facebook at foodsmilesstalbans.
Radio Verulam Environment Matters presenter Amanda Yorweth arrived just as I was leaving. Amanda explained why she helps: “I really want to see the project happen, and want to help others get growing, whether they have done it before or not”. I love that people with a great idea are actually putting it all into action, and already seeing the results of their hard work.
[heading] Open Food Gardens
Now in its fifth year, this event is always very popular. This is a wonderful chance to visit local gardens to see how you can grow fruit, vegetables and herbs, in whatever space you may have. You can ask for advice, and seek inspiration. Organised by Transition St Albans, the aim is to encourage more people to grow their own food and it’s an enjoyable way to meet your neighbours. We have taken the children along in the past and we have been inspired to grow vegetables for the first time this year, alongside our rampant fruit bushes and herbs. If we can do it, anyone can.
Parking can be tricky near the open gardens, so walk or cycle if you can. Sadly, dogs (except guide dogs) are best advised not to go along and wheelchair access is restricted as some of the gardens are tiny with narrow paths. You may also be interested in the informal monthly drop-in sessions on garden skills sessions run by Heather Teare and June Whetherly from now till September (see transitionstalbans.org for more info).
Open Food Gardens 2014 programme
Each garden is open 3-5. Suggested donations of £2 for adults.
▪ Saturday 5th July, 2 The Almonds (off The Poplars), AL1 1UZ
▪ Sunday 13th July, 24 Oaklands Lane, AL4 OHR
▪ Friday 15th August, 23 Gresford Close, AL4 OUB
▪ Sunday 7th September, 104 Marshalswick Lane, AL1 4XE