Nine ways food growing can help you meet neighbours

Big cities are not always the easiest places in which to feel part of your local community. But growing food can be a great way to break down the barriers. Here are nine tricks you can use to engage more with your community through growing food  in containers.

Trick 1. Grow food ‘up front’

Food growing is a common language – shared by young, old and people from all backgrounds. If your food growing is visible, you’ll soon find yourself chatting to passers-by as you tend your crops.  You don’t need to grow a lot – even one pot of tomatoes will create interest. And you’ll stimulate even more interest if you:

Grow something unusual / striking
Like purple peas, fat baby achocha or a large trailing squash! The squash below created much local interest for several weeks – the builders next door checked on it every day, and a neighbouring Bangladeshi family hankered after the leaves (a popular food in Bangladesh).


This squash attracted a lot of local interest....

This squash attracted local interest from many different quarters

Grow something beautiful
And brighten up your street – for ideas see Edible beauty: great looking crops for pots.

Grow crops of interest to cultural groups in your area
Lemon grass, chillies, coriander, sweet potatoes all grow well in the UK, for example – see the excellent Sowing New Seeds website from Garden Organic for more ideas.

Trick 2. Offer to grow food or flowers for a neighbour

Or, even better, help them grow their own!  It can be a rewarding and enjoyable project to work on together. Here are some flowers I grew with some neighbours in London.

Flowers I grew with my next door neighbours - they brightened up the street AND attracted insect pollinators for my crops next door!

Flowers I grew with my next door neighbours – they brightened up the street AND attracted insect pollinators for my crops next door!

Trick 3. Share any surplus with your neighbours.

Even in a small space you can have a surplus of herbs, salads, chillies, runner beans or tomatoes – particularly before you go away on holiday. It’s fun (and quite a novelty) to be able to pop next door and give some away!

 

We often had a surplus of salads and herbs – enough to give away to friends and neighbours.

Trick 4. Take a table or stall at your local fete, street party or community event

And talk to people about growing food in containers. Take a container or two a long as prop – and perhaps any spare seeds you have to give away. Contact me  if you’d like any ideas for what to do.

Trick 5. Source food waste from  neighbours or local cafes / shops

Need more food to feed your wormery (or compost)? Why not speak to your local coffee shop (for coffee grounds), food store or restaurant for their waste? Often they have to pay to dispose of it – and will be pleased for you to take it away. You’ll probably make new friends in the process.  At one point I had three wormeries on my balcony – and the local coffee shop became an important additional food source!

Trick 6. Join your local growing club

Find out if there is a local community food growing project or growing club in your area. These are a great way to meet and learn directly from others growing in your area. And you’ll meet other partners in crime to undertake new local initiatives together.

Trick 7. Run a container growing workshop

For your local community group or your estate. Once you’ve got a little experience (you don’t need too much!) share it with your community or local group. A local pub, community centre, cafe, or church hall will probably be happy to host it for you without charge – ask around, it’s amazing what you can discover.

Trick 8. Share surplus seedlings or seeds

Offer spare seedlings (surplus tomato plants, anyone?) or seeds to neighbours. Saving your own seeds is rewarding. The seeds of some crops are easier to save than others. Tomatoes are particularly easy and you’ll get hundreds of seeds from just a few fruits. If there are a few of you growing in your neighbourhood, you could organise a local seed swap or a community plant sale.

Small plants make a great gift  - and it's common to have a few surplus you can give away

Small plants make a great gift – and it’s common to have a few surplus you can give away.

Trick 9. Holiday watering

Holiday watering is one of the biggest challenges of container growing – but also offers a great opportunity to share  / swap with a neighbour. Or why not ask a neigbour to water in exchange for picking your produce?

Your turn

Do you have any experience of getting to know people or feeling more part of your community through food growing? I’d love to learn about it in the comments below.

Stop Press

This month The Vertical Veg Club’s featured theme is all about growing and community, with a live webinar on the topic at 8pm GMT on Tuesday 28th January. To join us live, be inspired and get many more ideas, you can join the club here

9 comments… add one

  • It’s easy to think, “Yeah. Nice tips, in abstract”, when reading a post like this. But I can vouch that Ridsdill is smack-bang on the money.

    I first realised that gardening was a great way of meeting neighbours when I started to talk to my neighbours when they began to convert a vacant block on our street into a community garden. I was captivated. I was surprised but pleased by their brazen ambition to reclaim the poorly managed space for those that have to look at it every day. I became a part of the project, as did my partner. Then some other neighbours jumped onboard–people we had never spoken to. We found ourselves regularly standing in the street, talking about the garden and the neighbourhood and establishing other common interests. We would host BBQs and drinks in the lot from time to time. Passersby would stop and look at the space, rubbing a sprig of rosemary between their fingers and sniffing the perfume. A calm smile brought to their face. Seemingly disconnected international students that resided in the street started to take more notice. Curious, humbled. It was different for them. But nice.

    Reply
  • When we went away on for just a few days, we thought our plants would be ok as we gave them a good soaking before we left, but instead a heatwave hit! A real +45 degrees C Australian heatwave.
    Without having asked, or even mentioning we were going away, our neighbour came and watered all our veg. I think he just likes that we grow things. Growing food really speaks to something deep.
    Thanks for sharing your know how right here.

    Reply
    • That’s a lovely story Tamara, what a brilliant neighbour! Thank you for sharing it.

      Reply
  • dear sir
    all articles are so use full to save money too
    we need more & more like this v.v
    Thanks

    Reply
  • Hi mark,

    I live in York Rise (39 years) and have often admired your vertical plot on the front of your house, now I have seen the back thanks to a link from my friend Gloria on twitter!
    I am the chair at Fitzroy Park allotments and a passionate veg grower like you. Would you like to come and vist and talk veg and plots, pollinators etc… if you don’t already know it you will like it there. I have a stream running through my plot on the boundary with the heath!

    Reply
    • Hello Deborah
      Thanks for writing – I know your beautiful books well! I’ll contact you by email to talk more about your kind invitation.
      Mark

      Reply
  • …fruit trees if you have the space! sharing a massive crop of cherries with neighbours opened my eyes to the possibilities – but even a simple hanging basket can give you the opportunity to be out there watering and saying hello to the neighbours as they come and go. the difference in general community wellbeing in my area of north peckham where people have gone from dark barren estates to mixed housing with gardens is really very striking. i will be forever grateful for my little garden and the sense of belonging and community it has brought my family.

    Reply
    • Great suggestion, Penny – and thanks for sharing your experiences in Peckham.

      Reply

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