Michael Thorpe, founder of Camden-based Foodscape

Foodscape: grow your own at Camden’s urban farm

We speak to Michael Thorp, father of this innovative community-based farming project based at Rochester Square

“I used to be a tech consultant, a space poor and time poor existence.” In other words, Michael reflects on his former life. In other words, he lacked the luxury of time and space for growing things. Foodscape was conceptualised as a remedy these two ailments, faced by many city-dwellers, providing a space where Londoners can grow produce. Not only that, but the farm is irrigated and managed so users can engage at a pace and time that suits their lifestyle. “We’re trying to open up the joys of sustainable growing for everyone, regardless of where and how you live, or how much time you have.”

Want to get stuck in and start growing our own?

For those keen to really exercise their green fingers, Foodscape hosts horticultural and social events where you can learn about every aspect of the growing cycle from seeding to propagating, planting, maintenance and pest control. The social events are community focused and often involve farm-to-table cooking (radish leaf pesto and cabbage leaf kimchi recently featured) and making projects, such as building bug hotels or making beeswax food wraps.

The farm operates all year round and this summer there are over forty different varieties of produce, including leaves, herbs, tomatoes, courgettes, peppers, chillies, potatoes, cucumbers and radishes. “Pretty much anything that you would need and want in your own grocery shop, but the beauty is you’ve played a role in growing the food, you know the backstory and there are zero food miles involved. It’s as fresh as if you were growing it all in your own back garden”, Michael explains.

It’s particularly sunny the day he shows us around the farm and the sun is gleaming on the back of his head as we follow him around the plants. “That’s the thing about being bald”, he chuckles, “they say there are two haircuts: matte or gloss. In the summer it’s gloss.”

Urban Farming Camden
“It’s the marmite of the herb world”

Wondering past the herbs, Michael pauses and points, “this is bloody sorrel. I’m not swearing, it’s called that because it’s red. It’s the marmite of the herb world. Some of our members love it, some hate it. I love it but then I do love marmite!” His enthusiasm for these plants is palpable and makes the produce all the more appetising. He waxes lyrical about the seven different types of ‘cut and come again’ leaves the farm will be growing this summer.

“People can come down and create their own salad mix according to what they want to eat that day.” There will also be a strawberry harvest and a Wimbledon style event to celebrate. “We do have lots of children at the farm so we need to figure out how to make these child-proof because all it takes is one school trip and goodbye strawberries”, he grins. The farm produces its own compost too, next to which is a wormery and beyond that a greenhouse where over 4000 plants are growing from seed. “Healthy worms mean healthy soil which means healthy veg. We’re operating a fully sustainable full circle economy here.”

Gardening is therapeutic

“Many of our members didn’t realise how therapeutic gardening can be”, he shares, and from a personal perspective this project has been life changing. “I may have less money, but I’m happier, calmer and less stressed. Nature is a place where you never really lose your sense of wonder. It doesn’t matter how bad your day has been, how cynical we’ve become, you spend twenty minutes in an environment like this and all those things that seemed insurmountable suddenly become less challenging.”

Looking to the future, Michael is keen to make the project even more accessible. “This kind of activity decimates all barriers; everyone is equal here. The more we expand, the more we can look at subsidised farms and sliding scales. We want everybody to be able to be part of this story and to enjoy fresh produce.”

Other than wearing sun cream sooner, Michael says he wishes he’d started the project earlier. “I’m providing something that I wish I could have been part of twenty or thirty years ago. I hope Foodscape can alleviate some of the frustrations I know I used to experience. With any start-up, there are dark days amongst the bright sun, but we really believe in what we’re doing. We want to keep giving back to the local environment and community.”

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Chard grown in Camden

Find this article in our latest print magazine: Camdenist Presents: GROW, out now across the borough and Central London.

foodscape.eco / @foodscape_grow

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