Wendy Alcock launched a Barnet branch of the Incredible Edible network four years ago to encourage residents to grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers in unused community spaces.
Her first community garden was at the rear of the car park at the Prince of Wales public house in East Barnet village, but she then secured a larger and more open site beside St John’s United Reform Church in Mowbray Road.
“The aim of the Incredible Edible network – and there are now getting on for 400 branches across the UK – is to encourage residents to develop community gardens where anyone and everyone can grow and then enjoy their own food.”
The plot beside St John’s, opened in 2017, produces a range of vegetables, such a beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and brassica together with well-established apple trees, blackcurrant, and gooseberry bushes, and a peach and fig tree.
A dozen volunteers regularly tend the plot and take great pleasure from the interest shown by neighbours and passers-by, and especially the appreciative comments from those who have taken and enjoyed the produce.
“We’ve had a quite a good year. The potatoes and beans did well and just recently we see that people have been picking tomatoes, leaves from the cavolo nero and autumn raspberries; five of the pumpkins have gone.”
Wendy has built up considerable interest in Barnet’s Incredible Edible group: she has an email list of over a 100 and 500 plus followers on Facebook who get regular tips on fruit and vegetable growing and advice on where to swap seeds and plants for free.
“Basically, we have two goals: to show people how they can grow their own food and then expand the idea of encouraging the use of spare and derelict land where we can establish community gardens.
“We want people in the locality to volunteer to look after a community garden and then to pick and eat what they grow – and it’s all for free.
“It is easy to start a garden but then it can get difficult because the plants are affected by pests and diseases like blight, and that’s when Incredible Edible can help with advice and assistance.”
Wendy tries to set an annual challenge for Incredible Edible’s supporters and friends. Last year she gave away several varieties of seed potatoes.
This year she offered sunflower seeds and those taking part were encouraged to submit photographs in various categories including the tallest plant, widest sunflower head, best combination, and most fun photo.
The deadline for submitting photographs to #barnetsunflowerchallenge on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook is September 30.
Wendy finances the challenges and seed exchanges with the help of a small fund that was boosted with a donation from the Older Women’s Cohousing community in Union Street, High Barnet, in return for advice and assistance in establishing their communal vegetable plots.
Incredible Edible Barnet is also grateful for the support of St John’s United Reform Church which offered the space for the Mowbray Road community garden.
“We think we fit the ethos of St John’s”, said Wendy. “The church has solar panels for supplying energy, has won a green award and the minister Julian Templeton has given us every encouragement.”
Wendy also organises the cultivation of one and half plots at the Cat Hill allotments which help supply fruit and vegetables to several food charities, including the Chipping Barnet Food Bank, the Rainbow Centre in Mays Lane and Homeless Action Barnet.
Another local initiative that has gone from strength to strength in recent weeks is apple picking organised by Barnet Community Harvesters which is collecting surplus fruit for distribution to food banks and charities supporting needy families and the homeless.
Organiser Daniella Levene is organising volunteers to pick fruit in gardens across the borough and other nearby locations.
An apple picking session filmed by BBC London produced 100 kilogramme of fruit which was diverted to Colindale food bank, Homeless Action Barnet. Windfall apples were supplied to a community juicing session held at Clitterhouse farm.
“Thanks to everyone involved with Tuesday’s filming for the BBC. You guys did a brilliant job.”