Our food guide Lindsay had a very busy but brilliant couple of weeks during the Urban Food Fortnight, 12th -28th September 2014. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the UFF, it is two weeks dedicated to the celebration of local food and is an opportunity to connect with London’s urban growers and producers.
Saturday 13th September saw the first of our Fox & Squirrel Alumni Club Events, when, instead of walking all the expanse of the city, we walked up eight flights of stairs to the roof of a Stratford car park to visit the lovely Kate Hofman and Tom Webster from GrowUp Urban Farms, specialists in aquaponics. You might remember hearing about them back in the summer when Kate came down to the V&A for our curated talk on Food and the City.
They very kindly open their (greenhouse) doors to our guests for an afternoon discussing aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soil-free plant growing), tasting fresh salads and herbs, and enjoying a spot of tea, cake and savoury watercress, ricotta and lemon biscuits provided by BigTeaLittleCake.
What was clear is that both Kate and Tom are very passionate about the opportunities that aquaponics provides for the future. It is a scalable system that, as the city expands, can take over disused brown spaces, rooftops, car parks etc and all of a sudden, local food is provided in areas of high population density. The fish used in the tanks, tilapia, are a shoal fish, and prefer to live in close quarters with their friends, so as opposed to the rather worrying problems with intensively farmed salmon, a fish that is wild by nature and prefers to swim solo, tilapia are actually rather more ethical, plus, as a side note, the fish are in abundance, taste brilliant and are great for you. Another rather tasty discovery was the flavour of the watercress, herbs, and rocket from the greenhouse. Fiery, peppery, and full of flavour, their taste reiterated to us that these plants begin to lose these qualities the further away they are from picking, and really, their watery, flat counterparts in the supermarket do not do these salads and herbs justice flavour-wise.
Moving away from Stratford and heading into the South London Borough of Lambeth (we do love taking you out of your comfort zone), Lindsay organised a walk around the not-for-public gardens and urban farms in a borough not normally associated with its growing spaces. The walk coincided with the Edible Gardens Open Day on 20th September. Despite dark skies looming, the walk was a great success and highlighted to resourcefulness of these urban farmers.
Lindsay has lived in Lambeth for most of the time she’s lived in London and for her it has always been clear that it is a borough that cares a great deal about its community.
It is a diverse area, in both nationalities and demographics, but it is also heavily residential, with a great deal of Victorian homes and flat conversions, social housing, and council blocks. Of course, like many parts of London, it does have its rough bits, but what made this walk so special is that these urban places are now dotted with green and growth.
Food has always been a catalyst for community and Lambeth has 123 growing projects going and that number continues to rise. But there is also an issue with food poverty in Lambeth, with many people suffering illness because of it. Yet the diversity of the borough creates a situation where food becomes the denominator for brings people together. The success of the urban farms that we saw are off the backs of volunteers and those who care about their neighbours and friends, and also love a good bit of gardening. We saw gardens ran by people from all walks of life, and for them, growing their own food is neither about class or social status, it is about eating well and knowing the provenance of their food, but in the simplest means possible. Brown spaces are being converted into green spaces and with it, a bounty of food for everyone. This is farm-to-fork in a microcosm, and it is fantastic. Lindsay also took inspiration for the huge bounty of produce available at the moment and wrote three recipes for it: Roasted Radicchio with Balsamic, Honey, Mozzarella di Bufala and Basil; Tomato Tart with Herby Pastry; and Lemongrass and Cardamom Rice Pudding with Kennington Kiwi “Coulis”. Recipe testing is a tough part of the job, but well, someone has to do it… Email us if you want the recipes!