Growth plan has capital benefits

By Jessica Elgot, October 19, 2011
Akiva year two pupil Max Furman watering his plot in the school garden - part of the Capital Growth 2012 scheme

Akiva year two pupil Max Furman watering his plot in the school garden - part of the Capital Growth 2012 scheme

Synagogues, Jewish schools and charities could next year be decorating their succah with homegrown fruit and vegetables, even in the most populated inner city boroughs.

That is the goal of Capital Growth, a scheme to find 2,012 community food growing spaces by the end of the Olympic year.

It offers practical help to organisations setting up a growing space, such as "matchmaking" with volunteer gardeners. There will also be competitions to enter and small grants through the London Food Link, the Big Lottery's Local Food Fund and London Mayor Boris Johnson's office. The next funding round closes on November 7, with £35,000 available and grants of up to £750.

Around 1,300 spaces have been signed up to date, but only a few from Jewish groups, among them Moishe House, the JCC and Highgate Synagogue. JCoSS is considering joining the scheme when the school's edible garden launches at Tu Bishvat.

An early official adopter was Lubavitch's Ruth Lunzer Girls' Junior School in Stamford Hill. Deputy head Esther Kesselman said its participation proved that a garden could be created in a tiny urban space.

"There can't be many people who have a smaller space than us. We grow a fig tree in a very small, one metre cubed, container. It teaches the children something valuable, that you don't need a huge garden to grow things. We grow potatoes, pumpkins, beans, peppers. We've experimented planting tomatoes in different parts of the school.

"So many schools and shuls have big spaces they could use. It's amazing how much children learn from growing their own food. The wonder you see in a child when you give them a pumpkin seed, and after the summer holidays it's a huge yellow plant. But it also teaches them the different blessings for food, why we need to daven for rain because food can't grow without water. It teaches children so many very healthy things."

Selina Shaikh, volunteer co-ordinator at Jewish Women's Aid, said her Capital Growth project was therapeutic for abused women at the JWA refuge. "We are waiting for the next round of funding and hoping to get the garden ready by early next year and growing seeds inside, ready to plant after the first frost.

"It's been a challenge. Because our location is secret, we have had to keep it from Capital Growth, which they have understood. I am passionate about gardening and where food comes from, and the effect that has on mental and physical wellbeing. Women in the garden begin to talk, perhaps of memories of gardening when they were young. It's also something they can dip in and out of."

Parent and keen gardener Victoria Stadler was a founder of the Capital Growth project at Akiva School in Finchley, where her son is in year two. "I know a lot of children don't ever really get to go outside, touch worms, feel the soil. The school thought it would be a fantastic idea. You know as a parent that it is making a difference. Usually children will just grunt when you ask them what they did at school but my son always tells me all about the garden. And it's linked to lessons. The year four class has planted food that is relevant to them learning about the Romans.

"I would definitely encourage people to do it themselves. We have a Sunday where parents come in and help clear the garden. The community that comes out of it is amazing. That's what I would promote."

Last updated: 11:26am, October 19 2011