You are setting up a garden on the roof of Fortnum & Mason, tell us more about this project?
We spoke with Fortnum & Mason back in 2014 to discuss how we could help the bees they have on their roof and how we might bring some food growing innovation to their roof top. Fortnum were very encouraging and supportive about what they wanted to achieve and had grand aspirations. We wanted to deliver pockets of food growing to the roof that the famous store could add to speciality meals and use for unique occasions. This is a great piece of urban gardening and possibly one of the highest food growing plots in London!
Were bees an important factor in picking what to plant on the roof?
As I mentioned above, the bees were always in our mind when we were planning the roof planting plan. They currently go over to Green Park and Buckingham Palace, which isn’t bad! But we wanted to give them something at the height of their hives so they didn’t have to use so much energy to feed. The four hives are buzzing with life and will help to pollinate some of our crops and other plants we’ve added like Cornflower and Lavender. It’s a great symbiotic relationship that I think we’ve created up there, one where everyone benefits.
And great tasting honey too..What else has connect Connected Roots been up to since we last spoke? In what ways has your business grown and changed?
We’ve taken the business across London working with households to get more out of their forgotten spaces, aside from this, we’ve continued the workshops with Google and developed the roof at Fortnum & Mason. On top of all this we have started selling our urban gardening methods in a planter form that comes with all the crops already planted so that households can take advantage of all the benefits of home-grown veg with minimal effort.
What are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced as an urban food growing business?
The lack of awareness is the main issue we have to deal with; we aren’t just unknown in our industry, there is no industry. There aren’t other organisations that provide the plot to plate service that we do. It’s about developing awareness by creating epic food sites across the capital and showing just how straightforward home food growing can be. Other challenges that we face involve getting funding to expand the business as we operate in a niche – everyone wants to fund the tech businesses which is all well and nice but we ALL have to eat and there is not much out there for what we do.
Have you experienced an increasing interest in rooftop farming since you’ve started work in urban farming industry?
Yes! It’s the only real place to go if you want more space and the view is spectacular. You get plenty of rain and sunshine – what is not to like? We work with the limits of what urban growing allows around our homes, but really we should be pushing the roofs of our buildings as the solution, as that is where we can grow plenty of food. People are starting to realise this and opening up this once locked away spaces. Let’s hope the trend continues.
What type of spaces have you worked in? What were the most exciting solutions to the challenges of the space?
We’ve worked inside buildings, on the top of buildings and in the shade. The best bit is when we create vertical growing solutions and customers realise how much food there is without taking up any floor space. This approach also satisfies the need to reach the light and work with the tight space limitations we are presented with.
What plants have people been happiest with? What qualities do you consider when picking crops for people?
We provide a range of plants that satisfy a number of criteria: we aim for those that taste best when they are incredibly fresh – like 5mins fresh – these include peas, beans and cucumber for instance; we provide veg that return big on investment, like kale and french beans, which produce lots of food AND we really like those crops that you don’t tend to find in the shops, like purple runner beans, and lemon balm. It’s such an eclectic bunch of crops that it is always changing with the seasons. The flavours they bring to meals are fantastic and underline all the merits of urban veg growing.
You provide people with great help to get growing. Have the people you’ve worked with so far continued to grow and enjoy their own food?
Yes again! They get in touch to show us what they are growing this year, where they are taking their culinary adventures and what they are now attempting to grow. It’s one of the best bits of the job. We want people to keep talking about growing food and how good it is – so more people get out there and grow.
Where do you source your crops, materials, soil and compost from?
Now that would be telling! We get a lot of our crops from suppliers based within the M25 and lots we grow ourselves. The many of our materials are reclaimed which we source around London; you can do a lot with the humble packaging pallet! The compost we use is all peat free and where possible we source from recycled food waste, we get this from the Eco Park in North London. We also use animal fertiliser sourced from London to give the plants that extra boost!
It is great to hear that your sources are local. What urban farming and organic food projects in and around London would you suggest checking out?
OrganicLea are doing marvellous things so would advise having a look there. Cultivate London are doing brilliantly putting young people to work in North West London growing food for local restaurants and there is a new project called Keats Community Organics in South East London – they have found a five acre plot and are producing kilos of fantastic edibles for London – go them!
See our previous Google Allotments Connected Roots story here.