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Explore Vertical Gardening at the Festival of Science and Curiosity's Urban Greening Conference

11 February 19 interview: Cleo Asabre-Holt

This month sees the Festival of Science and Curiosity come to town. As part of the events, the Urban Greening Conference offers attendees the chance to find out about vertical gardening, resource efficiency and sustainable eating. We sat down with event organiser Penney Poyzer to find out about the conference...

You’re the chair of Nottingham Good Food Project and the co-founder of Nottingham Organic Gardeners. How did your interest in food sustainability begin?
My mum was a good cook who always had veg growing in the garden. Brought up in Suffolk, I had a countrified existence: picking sweet chestnuts, being fascinated by wild mushrooms, collecting elderberries and blackberries. Scrumping apples was a big part of my childhood. I stole a lot of fruit. It’s definitely every person’s right to steal wild fruit.

Now, I’m an organic gardener. I remember the magical moment I first got my hands on my own produce. 27 years ago, I co-founded Nottingham Organic Gardeners and it’s still going strong. I also used to write the Organic Weekly column for Nottingham Evening Post.

Tell us about the upcoming Urban Greening Conference on Tuesday 19 February...
At the conference, we’ll cover global changes within our environment, and there’ll be a physical vertical garden for guests to pick their own salads from. Vertical gardening came about due to resource depletion; it’s much more sustainable than conventional agriculture, which takes up an awful lot of resources, especially water.

The vertical garden I’m familiar with is based in the Urban Room on Carrington Street. It’s four layers of trays, one square metre in size. Each layer grows 36 coriander plants and, with all the lighting, it looks a bit like a plant rave! The turnaround from planting to harvest is 25 days, which is three times quicker than growing conventionally.

How can those of us living in smaller spaces get on the bandwagon?
In Notts we’re blessed with community growing spaces that are always looking for volunteers. Farmgarden.org.uk is a useful website. In your own home, sunny window sills are great for herbs and salad plants.

Nottingham Good Food Project (NGFP) promotes positive social eating spaces. What impact can they have?
NGFP is about so much more than getting people to eat. Social eating spaces tackle isolation, which can cause depression, which affects eating. By bringing people together to eat, you’re not just filling their bellies; you’re providing a nurturing space where people can mix with one another.

Also, the people who come don’t have to worry about heating their house or washing up. They’re necessary spaces where you’re properly nurtured as a human being. Both volunteers and those using social eating spaces tell me their health and wellbeing have improved. Lots of friendships are made too.

What can the average person do to minimise food waste and be more environmentally friendly?  
Make a menu plan for the week, only buy what you need and try your best not to waste anything. Apply your judgement for use-by dates, unless it’s meat or fish. Generally, everything else is okay for a little while. Most food waste comes from believing we need more than we do, when we really don’t need to eat all that much. If you have surplus food, don’t bin anything that’s suitable for food banks. If neighbours don’t need it, food banks certainly do. Olio is an amazing app connecting local people, shops and cafés so surplus food can be shared instead of thrown away.

If you have a small garden, grow your own fruit and veg. If not, purchase food locally and support the local economy. Local open-air markets like the ones down in Clifton and Sneinton are great. A savvy tip: wait until the end of the market when prices come right down. Eat less meat or, if you are going to, buy from your local butcher. It’s better quality and your money stretches further.

Could vertical gardening rebalance some of the negative effects of global warming?
Sadly, no it can’t. We still need to move towards food sovereignty, waste less and eradicate the craziness of food being incinerated. It should be going straight to the people who really need it. We should be growing our own produce more; doubling our amount of fresh food at affordable prices would transform the environment and people’s health.  

What does the future hold for vertical gardening?
It’s a resource-efficient way forward, particularly in cities with lots of empty buildings. We need to start making use of these spaces. The Middle East and Singapore are exemplars and world leaders of vertical farming. They’re building skyscrapers that are multi-faceted constructions factoring in food production and water. We should be following suit.

What message do you have for the coming generation?
Open your eyes. Get conscious. Get active. Make the change. We lack respect for the planet. People think water is an everlasting resource, but it’s not. We need to be aware of how precious our supplies are. This is the last generation that can do anything about it. “Business as usual” just won’t cut it. There must be massive change.


Chungui Lu on Vertical Gardening

We also spoke with Chungui Lu, Professor in Sustainable Agriculture at NTU, who’s leading the activities on vertical gardening at the Urban Greening Conference…

Tell us what to expect from the event…
A focus on UK farming post-Brexit, Smart Green Growth and the wide implementation of vertical farming. We’ll cover how the UK can become a global vertical farming hub and a European leader for improving Global Food Security.

What’s most rewarding about your area of research?
Developing practical solutions to global problems. We’re already helping many countries create safe, efficient and sustainable food production.

What’s most frustrating?
Despite this being an essential area of research, securing funding is difficult.

Can we actually do anything before it’s too late?
Yes. Vertical farming, if designed appropriately, is a solution. It’s possible to move agriculture to cities, return land to natural process and restore ecological functions.

Anything else you’d like to say?
Support future agriculture and vertical farming and share my enthusiasm, especially when we face such challenges.

Festival of Science and Curiosity’s Urban Greening Conference is taking place on Tuesday 19 February, 5.30pm - 7.30pm at NTU’s Urban Room at 38 Carrington Street.

Nottingham Festival of Science and Curiosity website

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