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