Dirty Weekends Sowing Your Seeds in the Back Garden

For six months in 2007-2008, Otesha joined forces with Goldsmiths Enviroclub to explore peoples’ attitudes to food and the environment.

Here’s what Charlie, chair of the Enviroclub, had to say about it:

Our main focus was to encourage students and the local community to grow their own food and learn a little about sustainable living.  We also wanted to strengthen the relationship between the local community and the transient student population, and help people learn to cook delicious things with seasonal produce.

To find out whether people were aware of links between food and the environment, and why people chose what food they ate, we put a sofa on the high street and provided tea and cake in return for inspiring conversations.  We found that many people didn’t realise there was an environmental link, some didn’t care, and others simply didn’t know what they could do about it.  But there was an all round positive attitude towards growing your own fruit and veg, if only there was somewhere and some time to do it!

Together we came up with a plan to create a garden for the community of permanent and student residents alike where people had the space to learn about and grow plants and veg.  We are currently in the process of securing two plots of land: a small plot of land within the University for a pilot garden (‘The Back Garden’), and a larger plot within the local area of New Cross for the full project.

A project update from Charlie, October 2009:

After a few changes of location, we have finally kicked off the Goldsmiths College Garden.  It’s a smallish (but actually much easier to tend!) brick triangle bed in a secluded courtyard, with an already well-established kiwi plant and a path through the trees, just like a secret garden!  We pulled up all the weeds and began some plans of what we could ever possibly hope and dream of putting in there, with the helpful knowledge of a local permaculture expert, Merlyn.  With visions of stag beetle loggeries, zip wires, and a stage for musical theatricalities we set to work and planted a whole host of plants that would provide food for us and nutrition for the garden itself – lettuces, tomatoes, potatoes, a Japanese ginger, a yam, squashes, cabbages, and comfrey.  We laid a temporary path of concrete slabs on top of the bed so we could reach the middle, which we are going to replace with upturned logs and empty glass bottles that will look a lot nicer!  We ended up spending a good three hours on it, but it looked totally different by the time we had finished and we were very proud of our new garden!

Keen to show off our hard work to all and sundry, and to let people know how much fun it had been, we had a garden party for the Goldsmiths Summer Fair in June.  Complete with bunting, paper cranes, and some very well-painted signs, we invited people into the garden for music (on our specially created stage that fits just nicely over the potatoes..), some home-made wine, and the ceremonious planting of a fig tree.

The far-too-soon arrival of summer thwarted our progress for a while, but has allowed the garden to do its stuff and get completely overgrown with cabbages and tomatoes.  It also allowed the other half of our master plan, the community garden, to come to fruition!

We have been granted a rather large spot of land in the local area to start a garden in, in collaboration with Network Rail who are helping us to set it all up with some supplies and helpful advice – and the land of course!  We are in the process of getting together a team of people to manage the project, with someone from the local school, the surrounding residential area, and from college, to really get a community garden going that can go on and on.  So, after all our hard work planning and talking and planning some more, this year looks set to be one of digging, growing and creating some really exciting projects!