Copyright discovers how a group of local food producers and entrepreneurs have joined forces to grow food within Bristol’s city limits

Look a little closer at Bristol’s meandering streets and you might spot something surprising. Out of the city’s concrete corners a farming revolution is taking place. All over Bristol, livestock farmers, vegetable growers and urban horticulturists are developing new ways of growing food within the city limits.

Yes, fantastic local produce is farmed in the city’s surrounding countryside and thankfully, thousands of Bristolians make the most of this bounty every day. But what’s happening within the city limits is different. It’s Bristol’s take on urban farming and it isn’t half exciting. Many organisations are working hard on innovative plans to make the streets of Bristol ripe for urban harvest. Incredible Edible Bristol, part of a wider movement, is a fine example, with its ongoing work to grow free-to-pick, edible plants across the city, lettuce leaves from Castle Park? Don’t mind if we do.

Grow Bristol’s aquaponic-experiment could save a lot of water. © Grow Bristol

Grow Bristol’s aquaponic-experiment could save a lot of water. © Grow Bristol

 

But a number of organisations have grouped together under one umbrella, Bristol Food Producers, to change the way we perceive local food production. The group’s members are made up of local independent growers, farmers, food processors and distributors who are working together to scale up local food production. Along with a number of initiatives from outside the city, a few surprising projects are taking place within the city limits, think you know about urban farming? Think again.

Dermot O’Regan, Grow Bristol Grow

Bristol is a small social enterprise with big plans for farming fish and greens in the city using the methods of vertical farming and aquaponics. Grow Bristol’s aims are to produce great food all-year-round, in the heart of the community where it is eaten, whilst farming in a more sustainable way. We are part of a movement that is changing the way we feed our city, using innovative agricultural methods and helping to re-connect the people of Bristol to their food.

We have been developing a way to use recycled shipping containers to create a vertical growing system that incorporates both fish and plants. The system is known as aquaponics, as it combines aquaculture (raising water-living animals in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).

Plants grown in urban environments can thrive. © Grow Bristol

Plants grown in urban environments can thrive. © Grow Bristol

 

From these systems we produce our ‘fish and greens’ for local consumption; fresh and healthy greens like watercress, pea shoots, kale, radish leaf and micro-herbs, together with a sustainable source of protein in the form of our tilapia fish. Tilapia is a tasty, low-calorie and versatile fish for cooking and is slowly becoming widely available in the UK as a sustainable choice and an alternative to species like cod.

The system is based on a symbiotic relationship in which the fish help provide the nutrients for the plants, while the plants provide clean water back to the fish. The system is a way to save water, adapt to climate change and reduce pesticide use, and is being powered by renewable energy. It also provides a platform for education, engagement and work opportunities around horticultural skills and the wider food system, to help to reconnect city people with where their food comes from and reduce the food miles of what they eat.

We have spent the last year transforming a disused industrial site near Temple Meads station into a productive urban farm and space for training and public engagement. We will very soon be supplying fresh produce directly to the public and through restaurants, cafes and retailers.

Members are involved every step of the way. © Sims Hill Shared Harvest

Members are involved every step of the way. © Sims Hill Shared Harvest

 

Miriam Schoen, Sims Hill Shared Harvest

Sims Hill was set up four years ago. We are currently growing organic vegetables for 90 members in Bristol. We are renting land, partly from the Avon Wildlife trust on the Feed Bristol site, which includes a large greenhouse. We also rent two acres across the M32 next to Sims Hill. There we have two large polytunnels and grow the majority of our crops.

Community supported agriculture is a model that started in the US. It is a member-led cooperative. Instead of buying the vegetables members pay to support the growing and get a weekly share of produce. We have several pick up points through Bristol where members collect their shares.

Sims Hill Shared Harvest is member-owned and led, cooperatively run business. We are made up of veg share members, supporter members, workshare members and paid grower members. Within this structure, the day-to-day running of the business is handled by its board of directors, who are elected every year by all of the members at the annual general meeting.

Fresh local produce is in abundance. © Sims Hill Shared Harvest

Fresh local produce is in abundance. © Sims Hill Shared Harvest

 

Our biggest aim and passion is to supply as many people in Bristol as we can with local, healthy and fresh vegetables that they have played a part in producing. This enables people to connect with the land, the growing team and take an active role and interest in how and where their food is grown. We host members work days but also offer the opportunity for some members to work for their weekly share. Other members support the cooperative in other ways like running fundraising events or helping with the accounts.

Although we, as an organisation, rent the land at Sims Hill, it is looked after by all of us together and the harvest and risks are shared between us.


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Follow the ongoing work of Grow Bristol here:

 

Discover how to get involved with Sims Hill here: