Food from the Sky

This week I went on a work related trip to the innovative ‘Food from the Sky‘ project in Crouch End, north London. The project grows fruit and veg on the rooftop of Thornton’s Budgens supermarket; the food they grow then gets sold below in the store.

Even though my manager organised the trip months in advance, she somehow managed to pick the best day of the summer so far, a day the sun was shining like mad and coats could be taken off. That morning I got a call from the project’s manager, Sarah McFadden, who wanted to warn me that their honey bees had swarmed; the swarm had escaped into the distance but some of the bees left behind were being slightly more aggressive than usual. I reassured her that as a beekeeper I wasn’t afraid of a few bees up on the roof, and sent an email round to the rest of the visit attendees to let them know. To their credit, everyone still came anyway; the bees had calmed down by the time we arrived and didn’t bother us.

Above you can see some of the crops grown up on the Food from the Sky roof. The project has found that salad crops grow fast and sell well, so they specialise in these. During the summer they produce around 100 bags of salad a week, and in the winter 10 bags, grown in a greenhouse made of plastic bottles. They like to avoid monocrops, so a wide variety of plants are grown, some of which are just there to provide food for local bees. Sarah encouraged us to try eating the blue flowers of borage, which they slip in salad packs to add colour and prettiness. The air was humming with bumble bees going crazy for the borage.

Food from the Sky plants, £1.99 each

As well as salad leaves, plants and seeds are also sold by the project in Budgens, above you can see their display in the store. The gardening work is done by local volunteers who have time spare in the week, such as retired people, people looking for work, and mums. Pesticides and nasty chemicals are not used, with slugs and snails picked off by hand and moved elsewhere. All the usual emissions from transporting food around are avoided, with the crops simply carried downstairs to the store.

Bumble bee landing on borage

Bumble bee landing on borage

I spotted this gorgeous bumble bee zooming in to some borage. She looks like a Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris) bumble to me. The way to tell the difference between the Buff-tails and the White-tails is that the Buff-tails have dirty golden yellow stripes whereas the White-tails have bright lemon yellow stripes.

No two trees are the same to raven.

No two trees are the same to raven.

The rare British phenomenon of a blue sky.

Wish this Budgens was close to me, I would shop there for sure. It sponsors a whole lot of good projects in the local community as well as this one; for instance, the store charges 5p for plastic bags and then donates this money to local charities. Other supermarkets like Sainsburys and Asda have visited to learn more about the Food from the Sky project. Unfortunately they have concerns about the health and safety aspect of growing and packing food on a roof rather than in temperature controlled factory facilities, but are keen on the idea of giving the local communities space to grow plants for themselves.

Work is love made visible

Do any of you guys have supermarkets doing projects like this near you?

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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22 Responses to Food from the Sky

  1. disperser says:

    No projects like this here, but then there is a scarcity of water here. Plus, not many rooftops suitable for farming.

    The biggest reason is how short our growing season is. Some of our flowers are not even out yet, and people I know who try to grow produce don’t have good yield, even when successful.

    Nice post, and glad the bees had calmed down. On a side note, the bees are going nuts on our flowers. Pictures to come.


  2. hencorner says:

    Fantastic post… Like you, I wish it was nearer… Surely there would be less slugs up there?


  3. daveloveless says:

    Oh how utterly fantastic! Nothing like this near me. 😦

    We do have an attempt at a farmers market, so at least there is that. And there is a community garden in the neighborhood. Still, I wish these were much more common.


  4. Fantastic to see what can be made of spaces that we think aren’t any use!


  5. I wish my local co-op would opt-in for food in the sky, what an amazing idea! Great post, Emily. I love the bumble on borage photo 🙂


  6. beatingthebounds says:

    Nothing like this round here that I’m aware of. What a great idea.


  7. Unfortunately, no projects quite like this. I too like the Bumble image. Nice capture with the iPhone.


  8. Really fantastic project, nothing that I am aware of near me like it unfortunately. I try and grow some veg in my mothers garden but this year it’s been a constant fight with slugs and snails! On the bee side I cultivated some borage plants that look exactly the same as the one in your photo (nice shot by the way) and have noticed lots of bumblebees on them but not the honey bees so far!


    • Emily Heath says:

      The borage flowers did seem to be much more popular with the bumbles than the honey bees, but that could have been because of honey bees’ preference for large clumps of flowers.


  9. karcuri13 says:

    That bumble is amazing. Austin is lucky to have a ton of local farmers that supply a lot of our supermarkets, but I don’t know of any yet that are growing their own. Interesting concept.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Nice that you can get food from local farmers. I try to go to our local farmers market on Saturdays, it’s fun talking to people about how they keep their goats and chickens. Sometimes I even see beekeepers selling there.


  10. P&B says:

    Small garden on the roof and in abandon area in New York City are proliferating like mushrooms. It’s a “fashion” thing to garden, especially organic gardening. I hope this sense of “in” thing last longer than a couple of years.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Yes, would be great if more people started enjoying gardening and looking after their local environment. When you’re surrounded by concrete tower blocks it becomes harder to take pleasure & pride in your area and feel any desire to look after it.


  11. What a wonderful project to get all those people working together. I have never heard of anything like that. Loved the bumble.


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