Bristol Community Food Gardens: St Werburghs City Farm & Propagation Place
By Weien Soh
In a series profiling the work of some of the city’s community growing groups, Bristol Food Network volunteer Weien Soh explores St Werburghs City Farm & Propagation Place, among Bristol’s many community growing spaces. As a novice gardener and forager, she wants to empower people to join the larger conversation on food and climate security by growing their own food. Find out about St Werburghs City Farm & Propagation Place and how you can get involved.
As we move past the solstice, the days are growing gradually lighter and longer to signal that we are leaving winter behind. In earnest for spring, January is the perfect time for growers and gardeners to plan ahead for the year’s planting. While it may seem difficult for those living in the city to get involved with food growing, local residents in community gardens across Bristol have been sowing the seeds to create alternative food systems that make connecting and growing more possible.
In order to achieve greater equity and inclusion for the urban growing movement, they have been removing the barriers that prevent people from participating in good food and green spaces. Through the lens of escalating food and climate insecurity, more people are also coming together to support organisations that address a wide range of social and environmental issues by bringing food production back into community hands.
For these grassroots groups, it is through increased participation in urban growing that new shoots can emerge, thus nurturing the seeds of an idea into a flourishing cause. By drawing its power from ordinary individuals, the city’s community gardens have blossomed from the soil of local neighbourhoods to not only feed thousands, but to strengthen the communities too. As the the New Year brings with it thoughts on how to grow as individuals and as a collective, it has become easier than ever to connect and grow together by joining the food revolution.
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. The unique Malago Berry Maze growing project was featured last month as the first article in this ongoing series. This month, I cover St Werburghs City Farm and its social enterprise, Propagation Place, to discuss their urban growing work and the ways you can get involved.
St Werburghs City Farm & Propagation Place
Situated just 1.5 miles from Bristol city centre, St Werburghs City Farm (SWCF) is the kind of small-scale urban farm that is inconspicuously hedged in by rows of Victorian terrace houses. Comprised of a smallholding, community garden and conservation site, all nestled in amongst its 13 acres of community allotments, the farm has been offering targeted services to the community for more than forty years, while also supporting the local food system and wildlife.
The Farm was created by a group of volunteers to be a green community hub that serves the local people and it has continued fostering robust relationships with St Werburghs’ residents to strengthen this vision, while also finding new ways to expand its services to benefit the wider urban growing community. I met with Celia Briseid, Project Manager for Propagation Place (PP), to discuss the plug plant business that was launched around five years ago to supply edible plants to the allotments around the farm.
As Celia walked us over to the propagation poly-tunnel at the heart of project, she explains that PP is a thriving community venture that sells vegetable plug plants both locally and online. As a social enterprise, the revenue generated by plug plant sales directly support the local people by helping the Farm develop and deliver a range of urban growing opportunities that make local food and farming more accessible.
It’s inspiring to hear about PP’s pilot apprenticeship scheme that launched this year, as Celia tells me that it provides young people living in the city with the practical work experience and training needed to gain a Level 2 accreditation in Horticulture. Although the scheme is in its infancy, she explains that it has taken years of development to reach this point and the long-term goal is to secure enough funding to continue offering this pathway each year to help bridge the gap between urban-living and farming. While this year’s recruitment has closed, SWCF hopes to open new positions for 2023 – visit this link for updates about the Apprenticeship Programme.
By also offering further educational opportunities through its community outreach work and assisted training programmes, the Farm aims to equip people living in an urban environment with the knowledge and skills to grow their own food. While SWCF’s programmes largely focus on providing support to children, young people and vulnerable/disadvantaged adults, it also encourages wider engagement through volunteering opportunities that are open to everyone. For more information on SWCF’s programmes and volunteering opportunities, please go to the website.
As we entered into the polytunnel, Celia explains that most of PP’s work is seasonal hence the absence of plants in the winter, but a small selection of mixed salad crop planters and herbs were still thriving in rows. In addressing the common challenges that prevent growers from successfully growing a seedling to maturity, the plug plant business has grown exponentially in recent years by providing growers with strong and healthy plants that are already well-established.
Although the project was initially set up to supply local community allotments, it now propagates over 100,000 individual plants each season that are dispatched to happy gardeners across the country (achieving an ‘excellent’ rating of 4.8 on Trust Pilot). Even for those without outdoor growing space, PP encourages people to join the conversation on food and climate activism by growing food inside their homes. For Celia, part of the urban growing movement is subverting the expectations that food growing cannot happen inside and in cities!
During the pandemic year, the surge in young people and beginner gardeners who supported PP by growing vegetables at home has contributed to the enterprise’s continuing success. With 37% of customers aged between 25-44 versus 34% who are aged between 45-65, Celia says that they are reaching an increasing number of younger people, especially those living in cities, who are learning to grow small-scale in small spaces. For the upcoming growing season, PP are offering an online course for beginner growers, alongside plug plant starter kits, to inspire more people to grow their own food at home.
In preparation for planting out, Celia is encouraging people to go on PP’s website now to preorder plug plants and kits to be delivered throughout spring and summer – the earlier you order them, the earlier you get them! While the plants are not certified, PP follows organically grown principles and uses organically certified compost that align with the organisation’s mission to embed sustainability into all aspects of their work. Through its commitment to make food and farming a more conscious part of people’s lives, SWCF and PP have highlighted that small-scale can have a big impact when it comes to celebrating local food and connecting people to transform the food system.
To browse Propagation Place’s incredible range of edible plug plants, please visit their website. If you’re local to Bristol you can click and collect your plants from the Farm. Volunteers can get involved with the Farm’s urban growing work on Wednesdays 10:30-12:30pm. Please get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.
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.
Find out more about Growing Futures on the Bristol Good Food 2030 blog – Growing Futures is a new, season-long course from Edible Bristol.
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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