Edible verges become a natural larder

Anneli Edmonds Walker, ten, presented the chairman of Donnington Parish Council with a bouquet after he officially opened the edible verge C140736-3

Anneli Edmonds Walker, ten, presented the chairman of Donnington Parish Council with a bouquet after he officially opened the edible verge C140736-3

A £400m government scheme to support fresh, local and seasonal food was announced this week.

However, some Observer residents are already one step ahead, as Laura Cartledge discovers.

A project, which has transformed an unused piece of land into an ‘edible verge’ is hoped to be the first of many.

The patch of earth, found near the postbox and behind the bus shelter in Donnington, Chichester, has become an open-air community supermarket of sorts.

“We have beans, tomatoes and courgettes coming, the beetroots are bulging, we are full of spinach and many different kinds of herbs,” said Anita Van Rossum, project co-ordinator and trustee of Transition Chichester.

“We have a sign which explains people must help themselves, it is for everyone. It is a lovely way of being together in the community, it is a very social thing to do.

“The plot has gone amazingly, everyone is just stunned at how beautiful it is, it is more beautiful than we could possibly have imagined.”

While this might be the first of its kind for the area, the concept has its roots elsewhere.

“I believe it started in Yorkshire. It is the most incredible project and now there are many areas where people have turned over unused land. There is even a bus route in London where the stops have community plots,” said Anita.

As well as producing food for the table, it is hoped the initiative will offer food for thought.

“It is part of a bigger picture. It is about reducing food miles and for the food security – we are too reliant on fossil fuel.”

The fact Britain is now more reliant on food imports than at any time in the past 40 years, highlights the importance of such issues.

“We import so much of our food it really is important we start to produce as much as we can in this country,” said Brian Turbefield, chairman of Donnington Horticultural Society.

“I have, for some time, been seeing in the press about guerrilla gardening. It’s a case now of, instead of growing flowers where we shouldn’t, why don’t we grow vegetables where no-one would object?” he said.

“I thought it would be a good idea to get the ball rolling in West Sussex by doing it in Donnington.”

Having highlighted an ideal spot, Brian set about doing just that.

Armed with packets of seeds, courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Edible Britain campaign, permission from the county council and compost donated by 
the Woodhorn Group, work soon began.

“It is about having a vision for the future then working back from that,” said Anita.

“I can see this happening all over, I really think that will happen.”

The hope is the verge will inspire others and it seems it has already caught the attention of Pat Alderton, chairman of the Bognor Regis and District Horticultural Society.

“I think we would be interested, it’s about finding the right piece of land,” she said,

“There is a lot of help available if you go about it the right way,” said Brian.

“I know people have busy lives, but half an hour of relaxing in the garden would do them good. Hopefully it will get more people to have a go.

“To grow a little bit of food is great, it’s the best hobby there is it’s good for you physically, spiritually and mentally.”

Get involved

There is a meeting at Donnington Edible

Verge every Friday from 5pm-6.30pm, open to all.

The Bognor Regis and District Horticultural Society meets on the fourth Thursday of most months in the Jubilee Hall, Chalcraft Lane, Bognor Regis at 7.30pm. Speakers are engaged to talk on matters, mainly horticultural, and visitors or prospective new members are welcome.

Held by Chichester District Council, the Local Food Fare, on August 29-31, will celebrate the best locally-made and produced foods from within the district and surrounding areas. The event will run between 9am-5pm on East and North Street, Chichester.

The Big Bite, Artisan Food Festival, on September 13-14, promises food, fun and entertainment. Taking to Hotham Park in Bognor Regis, the weekend aims to encourage ‘more consumers and businesses to buy local’.

Transition Chichester boasts a range of Grow Chichester projects, from a grow-your-own support group to the community orchards in Oaklands Park and Whyke.

There are also two community gardens, the Oaklands Park community garden is currently in the design and building stages, while Bishop’s Palace vegetable plot is up and running.

How to start growing your own

Brian Turbefield, chairman of Donnington Horticultural Society, is hoping the edible verge project will inspire others ‘to have a go.’

What would he recommend for beginners?

“Radishes are great for children to grow as they are quite fast and mixed lettuce in a little row would be very good.

“Runner beans are always number one for growers and only take up a square metre for a wigwam structure, I plant them in stages – as soon as the first show flowers, I put in the next ones.

“Raspberries are great and I’ve never seen such a crop as I have this year, I am picking a bowlful every day.

“As for herbs, of course everyone should grow mint, while parsley grows better in a bowl, I use an old washing-up bowl with holes in the bottom.

“Even now, in mid July, there is so much you can be planning like French beans and another lot of tomatoes. Everyone plants tomatoes early, but if you plant some more in July, you will have them long into the autumn.”

The figures

The public sector in England spends £1.2bn every year on food and drink.

Up to £600m is spent on imported produce, £400m of which could be sourced from within the UK.

The new buying standard, announced by the government for 2017, means just over half of the £400m will be up for grabs by British farmers.

Prime minister David Cameron said the plan was a ‘triple win’ which would concentrate on supporting farmers, creating more jobs and investing in business while making sure ‘people in our country have a healthier lifestyle’.

Contact information

The Edible Britain campaign, www.projectdirt.com.

Transition Chichester’s projects, www.transitionchichester.org or projects@transitionchichester.org.

Donnington Horticultural Society, www.donningtonhorticulturalsociety.org.uk

The Big Bite, Artisan Food Festival, www.bigbitefestival.co.uk.




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