Bristol Community Food Gardens: Windmill Hill City Farm
By Weien Soh
Weien Soh’s latest visit is to Windmill Hill City Farm in her series profiling the work of the city’s community growing projects. Weien finds out more about their vital work and the many ways that you can support the farm.
As spring approaches, the season of winter vegetables is ending and growers prepare for another cycle of growing. Yet for many of those who shop at conventional supermarkets, the seasonal rhythm of British fruit and vegetables can easily be lost. In order to meet the demand for a multitude of exotic and out-of-season produce to be available year-round, much of the food we eat travels thousands of air miles before it reaches our table.
Due to Bristol’s eclectic array of community gardens and farms however, local foods grown with small-scale sustainable principles are more easily accessible in the city than many people might think. Choosing local produce means cultivating a deeper awareness of what you are putting in your body and developing a closer connection with food and nature, while also supporting growers that you believe in.
In order to help more people celebrate local food, I explore some of Bristol’s edible gardens to bring you a series of articles profiling each community group. St Werburghs City Farm and its plug plant enterprise, Propagation Place, were featured last month and the Malago Berry Maze was the first community I visited. This month, I cover Windmill Hill City Farm to shed light on their urban growing work and the many ways you can support the farm.
Windmill Hill City Farm
As I walked up to Windmill Hill City Farm (WHCF), I was struck by the green pocket of nature, fringed by its boundary line of native shrubs and trees, contrasting against the concrete city backdrop. Just over 45 years ago, the land that the farm is situated on was almost absorbed into the surrounding industrial estate, however local residents objected to the council’s plan to build a lorry park on the site. Wanting a green space that would service the community and support the local environment and wildlife, they proposed a city farm instead. Now decades later, WHCF continues its legacy by providing opportunities for people to get involved with urban farming, alongside offering locally grown produce in its café and farm shop.
‘Farm-to-table’ has become a trendy term for restaurants and cafés sourcing fresh, high-quality local produce for their menu, but the farm has been supplying its community café with vegetables grown (and meat reared) on-site for years. While not all produce used in the café is grown on the farm, the menu largely reflects what is happening in the garden. With its mission to reconnect people to where their food comes from, the farm’s seasonal menu has become part of the conversation to make people more aware of the symbiosis between food and nature.
Despite its inner-city location, the farm is not only a place to grow for nature and animals, but provides an inclusive green space for people to grow too. Through its childrens’ nursery and school garden, supported programs and volunteering opportunities, the multiple aspects to the farm’s urban growing work offer practical and recreational experiences in growing to cultivate a greater understanding of food production and nature’s cycles. To learn more, I met with Beth Howson (Market Gardens Manager) to talk about how to support their work.
As I arrived, Beth was on feeding duty, but I followed her to each enclosure as she fed the sheep and other animals. She explains that the farm offers supported placements for people wanting to improve their mental health through farming activities that foster a deeper connection with the animals and nature. While the animals are an important aspect of the farm’s work, the market gardens are pivotal as the food grown become the core ingredients in the colourful variety of vegetable dishes that are available in the café, which in turn generates income to support the services that they offer.
As she leads me towards the vibrant gardens, Beth tells me that the land is shared with allotments that have been there for over 40 years. Despite it being wintertime, there were wild plants merging into neat plots of flowers and food as I spotted different varieties of perennial fruit, herbs and vegetables growing. Walking us around, Beth explains that WHCF staff guide teams of volunteers through the food growing process to share the skills and organic principles that they use to tend the land. Highlighting that every aspect of the farm has volunteering pathways, Beth says that the farm encourages people from all backgrounds to get involved, especially those from underrepresented ethnic groups and socio-economically deprived backgrounds. Find out more about WHCF’s supported health and social programs and volunteering opportunities on the WHCF website.
In addition to the outdoor vegetable beds, Beth tells me, the farm also has a 20-metre greenhouse and polytunnels where seedlings and more tender plants are grown. A great deal of the growing is dictated by the seasons, Beth explains, but the polytunnels house salad and herbs that can be cultivated under cover through winter to supply the café. Similarly, the greenhouse is filled with small edible plants and even house plants, as Beth pointed to a section where volunteers have propagated cuttings of house plants and herbs for the farm to sell.
For those who may not have time to volunteer, Beth explains, there are other ways to support WHCF’s community work. Alongside its café and farm shop, the farm also offers seasonal veg boxes and hosts a monthly market garden where city residents can purchase produce directly from the farm, alongside ethical goods from other independent businesses. Returning for its second year, Windmill Hill Market will be held on the first Saturday of each month, starting in April.
Last year, WHCF partnered with local community group, Heart of BS13, to reopen Hartcliffe City Farm (HCF) after it closed its doors in 2021. Situated on a much larger plot of land, Beth tells me that HCF will provide scope for WHCF to further develop its growing work and community services as the two farms have already collaborated to create an accessible veg box scheme with a tiered pricing structure. Through its mission to collaborate with people and nature to celebrate local food, WHCF has continued to ensure that fresh, high-quality food is an option for those who need it most. The scheme should return later this year so keep an eye out for updates on their respective websites.
As both farms prepare for the busy year ahead, Beth is actively encouraging people to volunteer at HCF to support the vital development of the farm’s gardens and other infrastructure that will ensure the space can be accessible and enjoyed by all. Next month, I will be covering Hartcliffe City Farm and Heart of BS13 to feature their incredible community growing work. For those who are interested in getting involved now, you can join Beth in the Marketing Gardening sessions that take place every Tuesday (9:30am-3:30pm) at HCF.
Together we can transform the future of food. If you want to be part of the urban growing revolution, check out Bristol Food Network’s Get Growing Map to connect and grow with your local community group.
So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.
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