Imagine being surrounded by living streets as you walk through your neighbourhood. That’s the vision of Vertical Veg – a GAIA supported initiative in Newcastle upon Tyne. To bring this to life, a partnership of organisations and community activists arranged pop-up workshops right on the street. At the workshops people could learn and start growing in pots and containers at the same time as meeting new people. This added to social cohesion, people made new friends and learned about global environmental issues. Plants grow in many places including bottles and containers that would otherwise have gone into a rubbish bin. Vertical Veg is very much about turning urban grey into green.
The food growing workshops and ‘grow your own’ potting tutorials aimed to encourage as wide an audience as possible to grow healthy food and to create a movement encouraging more and more people to grow in their front gardens, as well as sustaining a community conversation.
The workshops all focused on different things, but were all very practical. After the workshop, people carried home salad or herbs not only to add to meals but also to the site in the front of their homes. Workshops were held on:
- Climbers and wigwams for beans and chillies;
- Hanging baskets;
- Introduction to container growing;
- Salad growing;
- How to grow your own herbs;
- Container building;
- Winter growing.
Workshops that were initially run by experts at growing food in limited spaces soon led to an unlocking or re-engagement in gardening.
This project did not come out of the blue. The project team commissioned a door-to-door survey where community organisers in the Wingrove area talked to residents about how they view the area and if they would be interested in taking part in this project. 59% of residents expressed an interest in Vertical Veg.
Engagement at pop-up sessions, local meetings, fetes and fayres has increased community understanding of climate change and the positive impact individual action can have. Vertical Veg has increased sustainable behaviour and practice with resources used now more efficiently increasing food grown locally and re-use of items that would otherwise have gone to waste.
The programme continues in various forms: the street sessions, three schools in the area will take part and demonstration gardens are being created. A Vertical Veg re-vamp programme will create eye-catching displays to illustrate as many different ways of growing as possible. The project is getting an increasing number of enquiries from community organisations interested in holding ‘one off’ sessions with a view to develop gardening and Vertical Veg sites at community buildings.