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Green Spaces Project of the Month

April 2004 - Ryton Organic Gardens near Coventry
Contact: Jowanna Lewis, tel. 024 7630 8209, or 0845 0641164
organicfoodforall@hydra.org.uk - www.hdra.org.uk

As more and more people become concerned about what goes into their food, especially those with children, organic gardening – gardening without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides – is becoming increasingly important to many people, including Britain's many ethnic communities, as a way to enjoy healthy food without harming nature.

The Henry Doubleday Research Association has been studying and developing organic gardening techniques since 1985. They have 3 organic show gardens in England: Audley End organic kitchen garden near Saffrom Walden in Essex; Yalding historic garden near Maidstone in Kent; and Ryton Organic Gardens near Coventry in Warwickshire. All are easily accessible by public transport or by road and would make an interesting day out for any community group interested in gardening in an environmentally friendly way.

• Yalding tells the history of gardening in Britain as you walk through an ancient woodlands, medieval physic, knot and paradise gardens and a 19th century artisans plot, borders inspired by Gertrude Jekyll's ideas, before reaching a 1950s 'Dig for Victory' Allotment.

• Audley End, a Victorian kitchen garden linked to a Jacobean house and run in partnership with English Heritage, supplies organic fruit and vegetables to the very famous, very posh Dorchester hotel and restaurant in London, rather tending to support the image of organic food as being affordable only by well off people – an image which is now being challenged.

• Ryton Organic Garden, the focus of this case study, is the headquarters of HDRA and a showcase for organic gardening. As well as many fascinating gardens, Ryton is home to the magnificent Vegetable Kingdom, a vast collection of historic seeds and display of vegetable history. It's worth quoting at length from their guidebook, to get an idea of how relevant this is for ethnic communities today:

“Britain has a wonderful heritage of vegetable varieties that has grown and evolved over the centuries. Successive waves of visitors, immigrants and returning explorers have brought vegetable seeds with them. The Romans introduced lettuce and garlic, for example; in the 9th century, Arabs and Jews brought cauliflowers and aubergines, whilst the exploration of the New World by Columbus paved the way for the arrival of tomatoes, potatoes and runner beans. This continues to the present day with Afro Caribbean and Asian immigrants bringing with them vegetables, such as kalaloo, that they would have grown back home. The role of The Vegetable Kingdom is to highlight this aspect of Britain's heritage and to show how important vegetables are to our health and well-being.”

Ryton Organic Gardens is home to the Organic Food for All Project, or OFfA for short.

As the name suggests, the idea is to make tasty, healthy food affordable to all by helping people to grow their own vegetables really cheaply. OFfA will provide training and support to socially excluded groups who are not currently growing their own produce, to get them growing organically. Even if you have very little space you can grow food easily on an allotment, wasteland, garden, balcony or window sill. Volunteers will be recruited and trained to act as mentors to novice organic gardeners. OFfA will work with local community groups, health workers, councils and businesses to help everyone get the most out of the project.

Potential groups are being identified now, and ethnic community groups or multicultural groups from all around the UK are very welcome to get involved. 12 groups have so far signed up from Leeds, Birmingham, Nuneaton, Yeovil, Watford, Kingston, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Isle of Wight. They are hoping to get started growing food this summer. The first mentor training will take place at the end of June, and a second series of training events is planned for the Autumn.

Training will cover all key aspects of organic growing including soil and what grows where, crops and crop rotation, what plants grow well together, spaces for growing and what methods to use, composting, seed saving, sowing, harvesting, storing food and recipes. The whole of Ryton Organic Gardens will be used as a teaching resource, so trainees will have a chance to see the herbs and flower gardens, fruit trees and bushes, the bee garden, paradise garden and so on. But the main site for training will be the demonstration allotment. Mentors will be provided with a tool kit and supplementary information to enable them to support their groups. A hotline has been established, offering fact sheets and advice, to further support OFfA volunteers.

More groups will be targeted next year with a major advertising campaign, and the project will run for three years initially, hopefully much longer. Jowanna Lewis, Project Co-ordinator, will be promoting the project through HDRA membership, as well as Centres for Change, the sustainability centers network, London 21, LA21 officers and the Centre for Alternative Technology. OFfA will also work with GPs as a way to reach out to otherwise `hard to reach' groups. Jowanna hopes that by advertising widely the project will reach beyond the usual WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) networks to include a more diverse audience. She has identified a need to translate fact sheets into community languages and is looking for volunteer translators.

The project is funded by donations from HDRA members, and sponsorship from KETTLE Organic potato chips, and is seeking further funding and additional partners.

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