Growing food for health and wellbeing

Today’s blog comes from Ella Hogg, Volunteer Coordinator for Bristol Parks

Back in April, in the middle of some of the strangest times many of us have lived through, the Parks Service joined forces with local food growing groups across the city in a bid to not let any of the plants originally intended for retail, go to waste.

I was thrilled to organise this city-wide plant donation frenzy – across just three days we donated over 3,000 vegetable plants to local groups. Using the networks of our brilliant Communities Team and local intel from the allotment and parks staff, we reached groups in over 30 locations from all over the city. A true team effort resulted in happy faces and excitement for bringing on the incredible plants, all carefully sown by the Blaise Nursery team.

Whilst overseeing the deliveries (big shout out to Rod Pooley and Joe McKenna for being such a dream team on this!), I got to know the local community growing group just a few minutes’ walk from my own home. Since April we’ve pulled together to continually feed, water and bring on the plants donated to the growing group at Strawberry Lane community allotment. Sharing the load with a few dedicated families has meant that instead of spending the evenings watching Netflix or scrolling on social media (although some of this has definitely still happened!), my go-to has become to head down the allotment until sundown. Weeding, it seems, is the perfect mindful antidote to a day spent staring into your own face on Zoom. Seeing the little plants become big and fruitful has given me so much joy and hope, in what has felt at times a pretty dark and miserable period. Time in nature has never been so important.

The added benefit of all this time spent growing, nurturing and learning about “the best way to get a bumper crop of tomatoes”, has been that the harvest has been donated to people who really need it. We agreed a 50/50 split between the community group’s shared harvest and the Matthew Tree Project (MTP). Supporting MTP has allowed us to take even more pride in the juicy red tomatoes, bulging onions, rainbow coloured chard and many other nutritious veggies as they ripen. The MTP team collect a big box of goodness from us most Mondays, straight from the plot. Supporting them means families who are living in food poverty are able to access some of the freshest local produce around.

The best news is, we’re not in any way alone in our approach to sharing the harvest this year. I know from keeping in touch with many of the groups we donated food to, that others have also decided to spread the #BristolFoodKind message wider than their own community organisations. We’ve heard wonderful stories from Incredible Edible, New Roots, BS13 Kitchen Garden Enterprise and many others who are sharing their produce.

The final point to make, is that although allotments are amazing (I’ve discovered so many beautiful spaces through my role in the Parks Service this year!), you really don’t need much space to grow. The simple pleasures of planting seeds (even a window sill pot), giving them some water and love are massively valuable. If you don’t have an allotment or garden, there are parks with community growing projects who would welcome you with open arms. Possibly even a space in your own back yard which could be transformed?

Here’s to a continued love for time in green spaces, and to a hope that Bristol harnesses this energy for community growing to help build a better city for us all.

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