Grown in Dagenham - Growing Communities Starter Farm
The Dagenham Starter Farm team
Noisy traffic speeds along the A1112 next to Central Park in Dagenham but tucked away from this busy road are row upon row of lettuces, tomatoes, green beans and strawberries in polytunnels and glasshouses. This is Growing Communities' Starter Farm which grows organic fruit and vegetables on an ex-council nursery site and provides volunteering opportunities and training in growing for local people in Barking and Dagenham.
Growing Communities took over the lease of the Central Park Nursery site in May 2012 and since then Alice Holden, the grower and her team of local volunteers and apprentices have transformed the 4 acre plot from an ornamental plant nursery to a flourishing farm. Several tonnes of concrete, sand and gravel have been dug out of the greenhouses and outside beds, the polytunnels have been recovered and greengage, plum and apricot trees planted along the greenhouse walls. Across the site compacted and lifeless soil has been revitalised with tonnes of compost and manure. Because it's an organic site, certified by the Soil Association, no pesticides or artificial fertilisers are now used on site – so there are plenty of bees, hover flies and other beneficial insects.
The project is being funded by the Big Lottery until the end of March 2014 – after this point the farm will have to pay for itself through sales of produce to local outlets and to Growing Communities' box scheme and market based in Hackney.
The overall aim of the Starter Farm is to produce more organic fruit and veg close to where people live both to cut down on the environmental impacts of transporting food long distances but also to provide local opportunities for employment and training in vegetable production. The farm has a full-time grower, Alice Holden and a Volunteer Co-ordinator Susanna Wallis. Funding for apprenticeships was built into the project as training local people in growing is an important part of the Starter Farm.
Last year two local apprentices Paul Harris and Leon Quinlan worked with Alice on the site, learning about organic vegetable production as well as working with school and college groups on the site. We hope they can go on to get employment in other community growing projects as they have both developed excellent skills and shown a huge commitment to getting the Starter Farm up and running.
We currently have 3 apprentices: Shelagh Martin, Senior Apprentice and two new apprentices from Barking and Dagenham, Maria Hogdon and Adam Barnett who started work in April this year.
The Starter Farm runs a volunteer programme where local people can come and volunteer on the site and learn more about growing as well at the same time as getting fit and meeting other local people. Local volunteers have made a great contribution to the Starter Farm – and we are always looking for more volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, come along to one of our Induction days – they take place once a month. More details on our website (www.growingcommunities.org).
Growing Communities also works with Eastbrook School who bring a group of students to the site every week to learn about growing. The Eastbrook pupils are currently building their own small greenhouse on the site out of plastic bottles where they plan to grow vegetables that they can take back to school. Barking College Vocational students also have a regular weekly slot on the farm on Thursday mornings where the students learn about planting, composting, seed sorting as well as getting ideas for growing and cooking projects at college.
The Starter Farm has a regular produce stall selling fresh produce from the site – this will be open from July every Thursday afternoon from 12pm–2pm.
The Starter Farm Open Day takes place on Sunday 7th July from 11am till 4pm – there will be strawberry cream teas, farm tours, a plant and produce stall, children's activities and a chance to find out more about volunteering on the site. Entry is free – so come along and find out more about the farm on your doorstep!
For more details please go to our website: http://www.growingcommunities.org/food-growing/starter-farm/