Urban Growing

Pandemic can’t stop SusWoT growing

By Alex Dunn

Alex Dunn

This weekend would have kicked off the ninth Get Growing Trail, when Bristol’s fruit and veg gardens and community growing projects throw open their gates to inspire more people to get growing. In our latest blog post, Alex Dunn from Sustainable Westbury-on-Trym reflects on the Trail and writes about how the organisation has had to adapt their work this year.

For many years Sustainable Westbury-on-Trym (SusWoT) has worked to increase the amount of food grown in Westbury’s gardens. SusWoT has done this by providing vegetable plants and seeds at low prices. Tomatoes were the first vegetable we offered and many types followed after that. Seeds are sold in small packets for 50p, so rather than having 1000 lettuce seeds and wasting most of them, people can grow a sensible amount more cheaply. The seeds and plants that we sell have been chosen to be suitable for the local growing conditions… clay, clay and more clay!

Bristol citizens who have been inspired to ‘grow their own’

Bristol Food Network’s annual Get Growing Trail is the culmination of SusWoT’s efforts to get people growing. This month would have been the ninth year of the Trail and would have given citizens the opportunity to get involved with local community growing projects throughout the city, or to just have a nosey around the sites. This film from 2016 gives a flavour of some of the community growing projects around Bristol:

The Trail usually comes at the perfect time for planting out beans, tomatoes, squash, courgettes, brassicas and other vegetables. It’s late for sowing some seeds, but we normally offer beetroot seeds that can be sown until August. SusWoT also usually sell lots of plants on the first Saturday in May at the Westbury Community Fair. We would normally sell tomato plants at 50p each, often selling hundreds of mainly ‘Sungold’ and ‘Alicante’ varieties, which grow well outside, and ‘Tumbling Tom’ for hanging baskets.

Fortunately, this year we got in our seeds early. Seven hundred tomato seeds were sown from January onwards. In March lockdown began and gardening activity increased as people rediscovered their gardens. By April seed suppliers were overwhelmed and garden centres had been shut for a month. Plants sent from nurseries to customers were dying in the post. We were in an ideal position to fill the gap and provide vegetable plants and seeds. How could SusWoT grasp this opportunity to promote ‘grow your own’ during lockdown?

SusWoT’s monthly meetings at the village hall were impossible, so weekly Zoom meetings were set up. Ten SusWoTers planned and executed the sale of seeds and plants. A website page showed what was available and how to get in touch and a risk assessment was provided. Several people took on the task of growing plants from seed. During the lockdown, local street WhatsApp groups were being set up and SusWoT members contacted their groups to spread the word that we were offering seeds and plants. Other social media was also used. Two people managed the orders and coordinated the distribution. People came to front gardens while doing their daily exercise and took their purchases following the government guidance. Where customers were housebound, SusWoT arranged delivery, sometimes by other neighbouring customers. People paid by bank transfer or left cash.

By the beginning of June, 1250 plants and 135 packets of seeds had been sold to 130 customers.  Perhaps not surprisingly there had been significantly more sales than usual. Fewer tomato plants had been sold but more beans, brassicas and cucurbits. A large number of herbs were sold for the first time.

The process has been different from the usual one of targeting the Westbury Fair and Get Growing Trail and people have been working hard for weeks processing orders and growing plants. Customers have had to be found, rather than them just turning up. But it has been fun and certainly made lockdown a very busy time.

Bristol Food Network has put together a list of tips for growing at this time: from where to buy seeds, herbs and veg plants locally, to gardening without much space, to composting tips.

The #BristolFoodKind campaign social media campaign has also highlighted all the growing activity around the city during lockdown. #BristolFoodKind is a collaboration between Bristol Green Capital PartnershipBristol Food NetworkBristol City Council and Resource Futures.

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