Do we know what ingredients are needed to make a successful ‘Edible City’? 

By Alex Ward

As a resident of Brighton, it is all too easy to take for granted the vast array of vibrant, impactful food projects we have around the city, from growing locally to tackling food waste and helping good food to be affordable and accessible to all.  It is great to live in a city of great ideas and action when it comes to food.

We at the Food Partnership very much welcomed the opportunity to stop, acknowledge and appreciate just some of these food projects during a recent visit from our Edible Cities Network colleagues from Letchworth Garden City. Seeing projects and businesses through the eyes of people outside the ‘Brighton Bubble’ was a great reminder of what it takes to create a thriving community food city.

What is the Edible Cities Network?

The Edible Cities Network (EdiCitNet) is a collaboration project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It creates learning opportunities for cities across the world around the role of city-based solutions to social and environmental challenges with a particular focus on the role of food.

The Network involves ‘Front Runner Cities’ demonstrating innovative and varied food solutions which support the local Green Economy, contribute to the improvement of climate and biodiversity and enhance social cohesion in our cities. These cities transfer their knowledge and lessons learnt along the way to dedicated ‘Follower Cities’, who are committed to replicating successful solutions in their own communities. The collaboration also brings in ‘experts’ for example in green roofs, water systems and whole food system approaches.

The Brighton & Hove Food Partnership is one of these experts bringing experience of the impact of having a cross-sector food strategy and taking a collaborative approach to addressing food system challenges by acting simultaneously at grassroots and policy levels. We were delighted to host Letchworth Garden City and share just some of the incredible food solutions that Brighton & Hove has to offer.

Also involved are the University of Brighton School of Architecture and Design who are providing support to Letchworth in developing their plans for Edible City Solutions.

Who we met and what we learnt

We visited The Bevy in Bevendean, Brighton Permaculture Trust’s orchards and forest garden at Hertford Primary School, and Preston Park’s Demo Garden and Community Compost site.

The Bevy is a community owned pub and café with over 700 shareholders. It opened in 2014 and is the last remaining pub in the area serving three housing estates. It has become the hub of the community offering residents so much more than a place to buy a pint. The Bevy is a zero-waste pub, receiving redirected waste food from Fareshare Sussex and growing many of their own vegetables in their small, sloped but productive garden, adjacent to the pub. We learnt that what the locals want, the locals get – which includes a 50+ lunch and bingo day, a dementia café and cooking classes for kids in the pub’s community kitchen. The list goes on and is undeniably impressive. What seemed to impact our visitors the most was the sheer determination that it took from the community to get this far. It took 4 years to raise the money, get the pub’s license back and reconstruct The Bevy into a functioning pub and café. The general approach towards the pub’s resurrection, relayed to us by Iain Chambers from The Bevy was one of unquestioning leaps of faith; never quite knowing what the outcome would be and doing it anyway. You can read more about the Bevy in our previous blog.

From The Bevy we went to Hertford Primary School in Hollingbury where Brighton Permaculture Trust have planted fruit trees and created a forest garden in the grounds of the school. The garden, complete with chickens and a large number of edible bushes and trees, connects to the play area and is visible from the classroom. The design includes a natural pergola of vines which shade the classrooms during the hot summer months and allow the sun in during winter. The project contributes to the children’s learning as part of the school’s forest school, as well as increasing biodiversity and providing food. A great example of the impact possible when working in partnership.

By this point in the day, it became obvious that the golden thread of success linking these projects was partnerships and community engagement.  Preston Park’s Demo garden was no different.  Originally set up to demonstrate how much fruit, veg and wildflower can be grown in a small area. The garden, having expanded since its original implementation is situated in full view in one of Brighton’s busiest parks and next to the community compost project. It draws attention from passers-by and those interested in community growing.

Visiting these projects with our Letchworth colleagues highlighted the sheer energy and motivation present amongst the community. The elements of the visit which most impacted our visitors were simply how much is happening in Brighton and Hove, how embedded healthy food and sustainability is at a city level and the level of engagement from the community.

We felt the visitors’ post-visit reflections encapsulated the approach we work hard to take :

  1. Don’t assume – ask people and listen to what they say
  2. No matter how big or small, give it a go
  3. Support people’s ideas – some, not all, will succeed beyond expectations
  4. This nurturing rallies a community
  5. But it will take time!

Find out more about the Edible Cities Network project.

To find out more about the range of community food projects in the city visit our directory pages.

If you are one of the partner cities in the EdiCitNet project please look at our website and if there is anything that you would like to find out more about please get in touch as we are able to provide support and advice.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 776665

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