I’m a massive fan of all the benefits that growing food at home can offer you – the fresh harvests on the doorstep, the pleasure of seeing beautiful plants on concrete, giving home grown produce to friends and neighbours…. the list goes on. But one of my biggest and most welcome surprises is how it can change the relationship with where you live.
After being in the same flat for over 15 years, I am beginning to feel part of the local community for the first time. I’ve particularly noticed the change this year, since growing more food at the front of the flat. The sprawling vegetables offer the perfect excuse for neighbours to strike up conversation. They are intrigued by the unusual tromboncino squash, the purple podded peas (‘are they edible?’), and the fat baby achocha (‘what are those!’). Passers by ask questions about how to grow different crops and what varieties to chose. Most rewarding is when people share stories about how it has inspired them to start growing.
The street I live on is, I guess, typical of many in middle class London. It’s increasingly well to do but not particularly friendly. That’s not to say it’s actively unfriendly, far from it. But it would be easy to live on the street for many years and never get to know – or even say hello – to anyone. In fact, I did precisely that for about thirteen years!
One reason it’s hard to get to know people on busy urban streets is the steady flow of traffic. Cars can be a barrier to conversation. This has been highlighted by a fascinating study from San Francisco. This showed that people living on streets with less traffic were friends with more of their neighbours than those living on busy streests. The brilliant diagram showing their results is reproduced on page 32 of this PDF. My experience suggests that food growing can be an antidote to the traffic. So if you live on a busy street and want to meet more neighbours, why not give food growing a try?
When growing food in public view, I do think it’s important to try to make it look good. I’m a long way from being a garden designer – but I do give it my best shot. I smartened the reclaimed wooden ladder with a lick of paint. I grow flowers amongst the vegetables (the tall cosmos have been a big success!). And I tried to use containers that look OK. Of course, I still can’t be sure that everyone likes it. But all the comments I get (and overhear) have been positive. Like the lady who told me that she always crossed over the road to walk past my plants because they cheered her up.
Even when I’m not tending the veg, I regularly overhear conversations striking up outside the house, as passers by are intrigued by the crops. Recently a passing teenager said to her friend ‘I love this house, it’s so cool’. Brilliant that a teenager could find veg growing worthy of such an accolade!
I’ve been meaning to write this post for several weeks – and I’ve been inspired into action by discovering Naomi Schillinger. On her blog, Out of My Shed, you can read her story of how her whole street has been brought together by growing vegetables at the front of their houses. Inspiring stuff.
Big thanks to Jenny, my downstairs neighbour, who loans the space at the front of the house for container growing. And to my next door neighbours, Janice, Richard and Michelle, for space to grow flowers at the front of their house. And everyone on the street who stops to say hello!
If you’re already growing food on the street, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.