Community farm plan for council-owned vacant land

Charity which aims to help young people living in poverty secured a licence to occupy the council-owned site at the end of last year.

Community farm plan for council-owned vacant land in Glasgow LDRS

A row of raspberry plants outside St Philomena’s Primary are the first sign of a “community farm” which is set to provide food and opportunities for people in the north east of Glasgow.

As P4 pupils dig, Joe Lowit, from St Paul’s Youth Forum, explains how his organisation intends to transform the vacant land, producing crops to “sell at scale” before investing profits back into the community.

Produce, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and leafy greens, could be sold direct to restaurants, while residents in surrounding areas like Provanmill and Blackhill might be able to purchase food at “a discounted price”.

St Paul’s Youth Forum, a charity which aims to help young people living in poverty, secured a licence to occupy the council-owned site at the end of last year and a grant has been received from the Scottish Government’s vacant and derelict land fund.

Joe, Blackhill’s Growing project coordinator, says the site is currently being prepared, with two commercial–size polytunnels set to be constructed this month. “We are hoping at some point this year we can actually grow some produce on the site,” he adds. “The real goal is to start producing at commercial capacity next year.”

The project will build on the work carried out at a community garden next to St Paul’s Parish Church on Langdale Street. At the church, the focus has been on “the educational and social value of gardening”.

“We’ve had a good group of volunteers come in, we grow lots of different produce, try to make it exciting and fun,” Joe says. “Because we are working in an area of a lot of food insecurity, the produce is just given out. 

“What we are trying to do on this site is a bit different, we still want to keep it centred within the community. There’s still going to be a big educational site, and we are working in partnership with the school, but hopefully we will be producing crops that we can sell at scale.

“With that money, we are going to invest it in the community, and hopefully use that to get some local employment and local training opportunities. That’s the vision.”

He expects the focus will be on “the more marketable stuff, so we’ll be growing tomatoes, cucumbers, a lot of salads and leafy greens”. Soft fruits, like the raspberries planted by St Philomena pupils, will be produced too. 

“That’s something that we’ve found is really, really popular with the young people,” Joe adds. “What we are trying to do is things that are a bit more difficult to grow in this country, that tend to be imported. 

“We could grow this entire thing full of tatties and we would never be able to compete with a farmer doing that with a tractor. It needs to be competitive.”

A steering group, with around 10 members, has been set up and there is “a lot of enthusiasm” from the school. “I think the idea of a community farm in the area is exciting,” Joe says.

Having a “nice bit of public green space” is “really valued”, he says, so is providing “fresh, healthy nutritious produce” in an area like Blackhill, which is “a food desert where you can’t go and buy fresh tomatoes”.

Cllr Ruairi Kelly, SNP, the council’s convener for neighbourhood services and assets, said the charity has “done a really great amount of work with their growing projects”.

“We have been looking to get a bigger space where they can scale up the work they are doing and, as Joe says, get more people on board in terms of working, volunteering and training.”

He said, as the cost of living crisis affects communities across Glasgow, food insecurity is a big issue, while the Scottish Government is “really pushing” healthy eating.

Projects where “communities are directly involved in either producing or learning how to cook and where the food comes from” can “hopefully help to make some positive changes”.

“With the food growing strategy across the city, we are looking at areas like this, where there is the opportunity to turn something that was either underused or vacant into productive spaces,” Cllr Kelly added.

Over at the community garden, volunteer Elaine Fulton says it is her “happy place”. “I love working in the garden, it used to be just vegetables, which I love, because I don’t have room in my own garden at home. But we’ve developed the flowers at the front now for the bees.”

She adds the church has benefitted from the garden’s produce too. “One Sunday we had communion and we made the bread, the wheat we grew, we made the wine and it was fabulous.”

“It’s nice on Sunday, some of the kids from the community come up and they take things away with them as well. They get involved and they will try things.

“They did try the gooseberries, they’ll eat the strawberries.”

During the growing season, there are volunteer sessions on a Thursday and Sunday, Joe says. “We usually have between 40 and 60 volunteers a year, we have a real hardcore crew that are in every week and then we have others who maybe just pop in on a Sunday once or twice a year.

“We’ve run how to set up your own garden courses here with people in the community, we’ve had a lot of different schools visit. We also run a summer holiday club, and the children that access that get to engage with the garden.”

All sorts of “interesting produce” has been grown in the garden, Joe adds, with crops ranging from watermelons to Mexican tomatillo.

“All winter we have been producing winter salads and chard and things like that, it’s things that people maybe aren’t quite as used to getting, so you need to teach them how to cook it so it’s actually tasty.”

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