By Becky Thoburn

Grow Grubby has worked with nursery groups, with ‘hard to reach’ families, at food markets, with adult and child pairs, at open days and events and welcomes everyone.

Grow grubby blocksGrow Grubby tries to raise awareness of the issue of food, for now and for the future. Typical topics include plant needs, seasonality, activities that link plot to plate, soil health and growing projects for all. Content is reviewed and updated continually. Strong themes include a ’can do’ attitude along with recycling and reusing what we find, for example, making our own watering cans, drought saving devices and sharing recipes. Instant benefits include a healthier life style, fun learning, useful tips and interesting recipes. Benefits for the future may be that more people will have thought about food, will have a greater value of food, and will be better able to develop an opinion about food matters.

Grow Grubby delivers gardening tips and guidance. We won’t all be great food producers for the future, however we need the value of food to be recognised. We will ALL need to get food from somewhere. It is uncertain whether small patches of food in urban growing is the future for filling our bellies, or whether we’ll form greater working partnerships with our friends in the countryside. But right now this is not our focus; Grow Grubby hopes to help people value food through growing, experimenting, playing, enjoying and eating food. As the cost of food rises, fields seem to be worth more to build on than to use to feed ourselves. As fodder crops fail and the Garden of England (Kent) struggles to raise crops, Grow Grubby aims to make ‘food’ a point of discussion, involving as many people as possible, to welcome all Bristol’s residents, irrespective of their current attitude and awareness, to HAVE A VIEW, to be more aware of food issues. Grow Grubby aims to Provoke Interest. Grand aims, but on a small and human scale, encouraging others to get grubby and have a go.

Gardening is a wonderful, varied, sociable and interesting subject. We should banish the idea of not having Green Fingers. There are so many ways to garden and an allotment site will provide you with a whole range of different advice; tuts and recommendations! It’s great – food growing has an accessible, inclusive spirit, with many people feeling very strongly about their patch. Otherwise non-political and non-vocal folk become enraged and passionately territorial when there is talk of selling green space and allotments.

Here in Brislington, as in many other areas of Bristol, we seem to constantly face the prospect of new builds on our precious land. Some of our land has never been built on. The derelict light industrial sites already have facilities such as water, electricity, drainage and road access, yet are not going to be remodelled for new-build. In the future it will be prohibitively expensive to turn disused light industrial sites into food growing sites. Brislington is quiet, but it is not passive. We see local schools teaming up with a church to create living-learning spaces in the way of allotments in a church garden. Fruit tree planting has happened in parks – only this Spring, BEC (Brislington Enterprise College) students helped to plant some 450 edible species for future foragers, and infants turned out in the pouring rain to plant hedges for wildlife. There is talk of planting trees outside shops and in forgotten corners. In addition, Brislington is fighting the sell-off of old meadows that could be used for food growing or grazing – every bit will help us in the future ( Wick Road Library has just embarked on turning its garden into a community space which has been designed by local children and will show examples of food growing.

Brislington’s showcase allotment site, Talbot Road Allotment and Leisure Gardens, with art sprayed on water butts, helped Forum for the Future welcome visitors and rejoice in all things foodie for the Get growing Trail (11 June). Activities included the One Pot Pledge, gardening shop (items sold, bought with the power of bulk buying), delectable cakes and tea, chutneys, fresh produce, plants, herb challenge and drawing competition. Those involved ranged from experienced gardeners – Bob, a plot holder for 40yrs+ gave a composting talk; Ray, the site Rep was on hand for tours and general info – to local Mums, who ran the shop and scrummy cafe. Plants were grown locally and children enjoyed the minibeast challenge from Grow Grubby. It feels good to see all of this food action in the neighbourhood.

One concern is that although the food future issues will affect us all, if we are not careful we will create intellectual food-ghettos where people feel disempowered, struggle to pay for poor quality food with increasing prices and perhaps consider the whole food debate similar to the prospect of visiting some farmers markets (i.e. not relevant or accessible to them).

One challenge for all of us is how to spread the word wider. Grow Grubby was at the Garden Life Show in Broadmead which was brave and brilliant because it was an unusual place for a green gathering of gardening folk. It had great potential to access new audiences. It is always wonderful to feel the enthusiasm sharing views with likeminded folk but, as residents concerned about our food futures, it is vital to promote appropriate decision making; we should take the issues to as wide an audience as possible.

Grow Grubby is about planting seeds for the future; both practically and conceptually. Inviting others to come to play, to get grubby, to talk, share and laugh about our wonderful heritage and our bright future. We are always interested in innovative or new projects, so please do get in touch. We have 6-week family courses available plus drop-in sessions once a month. All welcome!

Becky Thoburn

This article first appeared in in Bristol’s local food update, July-August 2011