Well known for their recycling, east Manchester’s EMERGE is progressively launching new local initiatives that encourage sustainable living. Here Len Grant meets newest recruit, Ben Lear, their Growing Foods Project Leader.
Ben’s new job seems easy enough: encourage local people to start growing their own food. On a sunny day in June with the first pea pods appearing in the EMERGE teaching garden, it is surely an idyllic task.
But, even with the increasing popularity of growing your own, the odds are stacked against him. On the main road opposite the newly created garden the construction of two new fast food outlets highlights our preference for instant, unhealthy food. Many of the lorries driving into the New Smithfield Market – where EMERGE are based – bring more fruit and vegetables from around the world and, says Ben, serve as a constant reminder of the importance of locally grown food.
Since arriving in April Ben has coordinated the construction of EMERGE’s teaching garden. There are now raised vegetable plots with courgettes, squash, leeks, spinach and lettuce all making a tentative appearance. Discarded tyres act as pots for potatoes; specially bred worms munch their way through food waste to make ‘the very best compost’, and a large ‘poly tunnel’ has been built as a classroom for Ben’s new project.
“We’re starting a four week course here on July 8th,” he says. “It’s aimed specifically at beginners to give people the confidence to start growing their own food. We’ll start by talking about soils; how to plant things and how to water them; which containers to use. Maybe later we’ll talk a little about garden design and crop rotation but we’ll see how we get on.”
Ben has already set up a Saturday gardening drop-in club down at the wholesale market. “There’s lots to do here and I’m hopeful local people will just pop along and get involved. We’ve built some beds but need more and there’s always lots of maintenance needed at this time of year.”
Keen to take his project out to the community, Ben has already forged linked with some local groups. “With the African Francophone Integration Project in Beswick we are creating a community garden and we might even try and grow some native African vegetables. But I’d like to hear from other groups or individuals who have a plot, however small, that they’d like to cultivate.”
Ben’s job at EMERGE – the social enterprise that spearheaded recycling in Manchester long before it become mainstream – is funded by the Manchester Carbon Innovation Fund. Manchester City Council has invested £1 million in local projects that tackle climate change.
There are beehives in urban allotments, ‘green roofs’ on community buildings and, in the Northern Quarter, the first ‘smart energy business district’ where offices and homes can monitor and reduce their energy use.
“Following the Growing Foods Project we hoping to open a cookery centre here,” says Ben, “it’s the logical next step after you’ve grown your own local, nutritious food. My granddad is a great gardener and my grandma is a great cook and it’s those skills that we are in danger of losing.”
Like to know more about growing your own food?
Contact Ben Lear at EMERGE on 0161 223 8200 or firstname.lastname@example.org