In Search of an Oasis – Community Garden Design in the City

Urban agriculture is a concept ingrained in British history, since the beginning of the first world war personal responsibility has catalysed the rise of allotment gardening and a ‘grow your own’ mentaLlity that until recently, with aggressive urban expansion, has been in tragic decline and, subsequently, so has our relationship to the food we eat.

Fortunately, with the increasing popularity of sustainability within the public consciousness, it seems that this trend is being slowly reversed and so we’d like to celebrate some of the homestead heroes, both domestic and abroad, who are rekindling the flame of urban agriculture and instigating community garden design to benefit us all.


Stepney City Farm


Beginning where the sun rises in London’s East End we have the Stepney City Farm project, a working co-operative that for six days a week (bank holidays included) provides food and education courtesy of the locals, by the locals, and for anyone with an interest in farming. The history of the project begins in 1979 when it was a reclaimed from a derelict bomb site and in 2009 re-appropriated by the Stepney City Farm charity.

The project offers educational tours and workshops to an age range spanning nursery school students to teachers looking to expand their knowledge, as well as the opportunity to socialize with farmyard animals and the keepers and courses on mushroom growing, urban chicken care and handy-work like smithing, carpentry and pottery. The best part? The farm is free to visit.

The Castle

The Castle Climbing Centre began as a pumping station for the Victorians of North London and remains as such. However, in 1993 an extreme sports company was set up to install and manage a new climbing wall at the site and since then the climbing culture of London has continued to flourish, as this writer can attest to. However, in 2009 a lady named Ida had a vision for something greater at the Castle.

Back then the surrounding grounds comprised about an acre of unkempt Sycamore and brambles, but the garden design now features one of the most diverse and successful garden/cafe partnerships in the city. Cultivating annual crops like Kale, Chard and Cabbage, the garden at the castle is able to provide up to 50% of the kitchen’s produce during the summer harvest.

The project, while managed by Castle native Ida, is made possible entirely by volunteers who in return are awarded free climbing sessions and an immutable knowledge of British agriculture. Resident bee-keeper Sean has also revamped the site’s apiary to a more naturalistic set-up, where the welfare of the bees is the bottom line – a mentality which, due to lack of understanding, is all but non-existent in conventional bee keeping.

Please see the link to Sean’s blog below for more information.

Growing Power

While saluting the champions of agricultural garden design we’d be remiss not to mention our cousins across the ocean at Growing Power. What began in 1993 as a community project to provide work for teenagers has since grown into one of the largest agricultural co-operatives in the United States.

Much like the Stepney City project, Growing Power offers educational courses on a variety of permaculture practices including aquaponics, vermiculture and anearobic food waste digestion with the aim of providing sustainable food production on the last farm within the Milwaukee city limits.

Sean’s bee blog :



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