Growing Food In-between Places

Only few generations ago, most of our food was grown locally. Today, living in an urban environment makes this a lot more difficult.  Most of us don’t have the space or the skills to grow our own supply of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

However, there are a growing number of community gardens in Toronto that provide designated spaces for residents to grow their own food. Most are in parks or other green spaces, but some are in old parking lots, in between buildings and even some laneways.  These "in-between spaces" provide an interesting opportunity for growing food and at the same time building relationships among neighbours and community members. 

One of the outstanding examples of urban food growing is the ‘Incredible Edible’ project in Todmorden, an old industrial market town of 50,000 people in West Yorkshire, England. In 2007, Pam Warhurst and a small group of community members came together “to find a unifying language that could cut across age, income and culture and at the same time, help people find a new way of living, see spaces differently and think about the resources they use differently”.

There was no major funding or initial economic capital available for Todmorden residents to start the project. The only resources they had were people and unused/underused lands around the town. They did not ask for any official permission, as they didn’t interfere with any urban functions. They used small areas of public and private lands, and replaced inedible plants with edible ones in the landscaping.

Incredible Edible used a simple concept to unite people for a shared goal: growing food. Since 2007, volunteers from all around the town share their growing skills and work together to grow edible plants in small planters in the sidewalks, in front of public buildings, in their gardens and in every single corner of the town. Local volunteers maintain these plants and everybody is welcome to pick food from them for free.

In the beginning, the Incredible Edible team thought it would be difficult for people to help themselves to open source food or plants might be vandalised. But step-by-step everybody learned how to share and this changed the local behaviours and empowered a sense of local responsibility. Through the processes of producing local food at their door steps, people developed and shared their skills in growing and consuming sustainably.

Incredible Edible makes us think about the possibilities for using laneways for micro-scale urban gardens, where people can meet, grow food together, transfer their practical skills and transform their social encounters with each other. Small planters on the edges of the laneway that do not interfere with the daily functions of the laneways, can accommodate wide ranges of vegetables, herbs and fruits that can feed residents and non-residents of the laneways. 

To learn more about how to start growing food in your laneway, check out our Greening Guide, as well as other resources on urban gardening, such as this Starter Guide to Urban Gardening or these 7 Tips for Growing Food in Small Places

(All pictures are from Incredible Edible website, picture archive)

Blog post written by: Elnaz Ghafoorikoohsar