Fifty years ago, the acre of land behind the old Norfolk Park cottages was home to pigs and donkeys, as well as vegetable plots, said current Norfolk Park community gardener Nick Horne.
In those days, local residents may not have required help with their gardening.
For three years, Nick has been working to turn that acre of overgrown donkey field into a educational health resource for the residents of Norfolk Park and Arbourthorne.
The garden is one of over 20 local food growing projects run by Heeley City Farm’s outreach programme.
“The NHS have said that some people around here are dying younger because of too much salt and fat and not enough nutrients in their diet,” said Nick. “Our community garden is about raising awareness of growing your own food. People coming here can grow and take away fruit and veg to cook with, rather than ready meals.”
The Beacon church and community centre nearby got involved in the project two years ago.
The Beacon holds a free monthly lunch for up to 80 local people, who come to socialise and meet their neighbours as well as to eat together. The opportunity of using food grown less than a mile away was too good to miss, said family worker from The Beacon, Sarah Halliwell.
“We made slime soup from squash grown in the garden,” she said. “It’s adapted from Nigella Lawson, and includes peas and mozzarella which melts and looks like bogies. Some kids were traumatised afterwards – because they’re not used to fresh vegetables.”
The problem, she said, is partly not having the knowledge of how to grow and cook fresh vegetables, but also about needing to make a low income go a long way in the face of cheap fatty food that children like.
“If there’s no flex in your budget, parents will say I daren’t spend money on fresh veg because my kids aren’t going to eat it, then what will I feed them?”
Nick Horne noted that the UK only grows a third of its own food and wastes millions of tonnes of food every year. He thinks local community growing is part of the answer. Gardening is also good for your physical and mental health.
Sarah Halliwell sees the positive side of eating together too: The Beacon’s community lunches help to address the isolation of people in city estates, and attract people of all ages as well as families.
The Beacon is a leading light in the national ‘Big Lunch’ project, and will hold a big lunch at the Norfolk Park Community Garden from noon to 2.30pm on June 2 – all welcome, but bring a little something along to share, said Sarah, who is visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall this week to pass on her expertise to other Big Lunch organisers.
As a Christian, Sarah said part of her faith is to feed the hungry.
“To me this is what faith looks like. We don’t want to be all talk and no action.”
Three hundred local volunteers and members of local groups have helped establish an orchard with apples, pears and plums, soft fruit, potatoes, squash, cabbages, salad crops and much more at Norfolk Park, but new volunteers are always welcome.
“Gardening, nurturing life, is very therapeutic, and helps you feel part of your neighbourhood,” said Nick. “I think it’s something deep inside us.”