Food Growing - Edible Estates 13: Frequently asked questions

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Frequently Asked Questions

How much money does it cost to start a growing project?

There is no simple answer to this question as it depends on the size, ambition and type of growing space you are trying to create. Growing spaces have been set up with as little as £500, where there is an active group or a staff member backing the project.  On the other hand for high quality beds that are built to fit in with a particular design, the price may come in excess of £5,000.  Also when costing the project you need to think about soil – if this needs to be brought in this can be the most significant cost.  Other considerations are the need for someone to facilitate setting up a group or providing weekly sessions to support the group in gaining the necessary skills to maintain the space.  

How do you make sure it is safe to use the soil?

Testing your soil is not a legal requirement but if you suspect that the soil is contaminated or if you are going to be consuming a large part of your weekly intake of food from the garden then it is advisable. The initial stage would be to look at the history of the site and do a visual assessment and then if the decision is made there are options available in terms of the extent of testing.  

One solution is to build raised beds or use large grow bags and import the soil so you can rest assured that it is safe to grow food in. Research has also shown that any likely contamination is outweighed by the positive effects of growing your own food. More information is available here. 

How should space be allocated and who gets the produce?

When planning the garden a decision needs to be made about whether all or some of the beds are communal or whether they are allocated to households.  If the latter then a decision should be made about who gets the plots – first come first served or priority to those without gardens or who have children.  It is also good practice to have a simple agreement and to charge a small annual fee, so that if the garden or plot is not used then it can be reallocated.  

If the garden is communal then the group should agree how the food will be distributed. Some groups agree a minimum number of hours, others simply split produce between those present on the day.  

Should we be concerned about access to water?

Access to water should definitely be considered when setting up a site.  Where possible most, if not all, of the water should come from water butts and harvesting rainwater from buildings and other structures.  Access to mains water is not essential, as many projects exist without this, but this does require a planned approach to harvesting rainwater.  It also requires thinking about planting crops that are less ‘thirsty’, as well as using techniques such as mulching to prevent evaporation.    

Mains water is expensive whether this involves setting up access or paying the water bills.  It is also often ‘hard’ water which contains minerals and salts that can damage soil. If not monitored, mains water can lead to over watering and wasting of water. A sustainable approach to watering is the best option, but having a possible ‘back-up’ source (e.g. a local centre or access point) for particularly dry spells can be considered, but should not be a barrier to setting up.  

Should groups have a lease or license to grow food?

Many groups operate without such an agreement, and this should therefore not been seen as a barrier to encouraging residents to grow food. Having said that, it is good to set out the basics in writing around the terms of the agreement, for example how long are you intending the group to be able to grow food at the site, do you want to have criteria for allocation of plots, or do you have requirements on use of the food.

Template licenses do exist that can be amended. Also if there are individual users it is good practice to have user agreements that state what will happen if the plot goes unused or if there is an issue with code of conduct.

What if there are future plans for the land?

Many sites with future plans have been used for temporary food growing under the idea of ‘meanwhile uses’.  In this situation it is important that residents understand this temporary nature and that a licence is set up.  It is also worth thinking about a notice period in relation to the growing season and transferability of any materials or growing beds that are built.

Some landowners have been put off of such temporary growing due to the Allotment Act, but research has shown that this is not a barrier to temporary use of a site.

Does the group need public liability insurance?

Again this depends on the management of the site.  If the landowner or housing association is actively involved in the management of the site it might be more appropriate for this body to take responsibility.  If, however, there is an active group organising activity days and events, it would be encouraged that they obtain public liability, which can be organised at an affordable rate through many insurers. It is also recommended that the group thinks about any health and safety implications of the site and undertakes a similar risk assessment for any activities or open events on site which would include holding a first aid kit on site.

How do you manage conflict between residents with different views?

Food growing spaces help to bring residents together and build closer communities, but this does not mean they are a cure all for all community cohesion issues. Sometimes issues that are bubbling away may come up through a community project, whether this is food growing or some other activity. Local officers need to be prepared for this and having a clear code of conduct for people involved can help to create clarity for what will happen if somebody does not behave appropriately. Offering mediation is also a useful solution.

What if the food gets stolen or the space vandalised?

Many people have concerns about food getting stolen or vandalised.  Experiences of other projects show that this is not very common, as food growing projects often have frequent visitors or activity and therefore become safer as they are no longer ‘neglected’ spaces.  Also the materials are not usually of significant value, although theft and vandalism does happen on occasion.Some groups have found that positioning of the growing space so it is overlooked, is beneficial. Also planting some of the more attractive produce, such as large squashes, away from reach is also a way to tackle this issue. Also when planting fruit trees it is good to remove all labels that might make them easy to re-sell.