North London's Cultural Guide

Foodscape: own a vertical plot in London’s first urban farm

The UK's first inner city farm of its kind has launched its pilot in Rochester Square NW1

“There’s nowhere else in the UK,” says Foodscape founder Michael Thorp, “where you can join a farm, are given your own plot, and get guided through that process. You’re part of the whole journey.”
We’re standing in the hot April sun by a Mediterranean-style outdoor dining table that will be home to alfresco feasts as summer rolls in. Beyond are vertical rows of planters overflowing with green leaves – currently the last of the season’s chard, curly kale, cabbage and spinach.
“Our vision is to provide Londoners with an opportunity to grow fresh organic vegetables, reduce food miles and improve local environmental sustainability,” he says.
In fact, it’s hard to believe we’re actually in Rochester Square, in the noisy heart of NW1: the only clue is the Victorian terrace overlooking the square on one side, low-rise 1960s council housing on the other. Two minutes’ walk away is bumper-to-bumper Camden Road, five minutes’ south and you’re at the murky Regent’s Canal. It’s the epitome of urban juxtaposition – and yet it feels pretty blissful.

A whopper: Michael poses with produce. Photo: Foodscape

Long-term Kentish Town resident Michael launched his pilot Foodscape urban farm here exactly a year ago. “My background’s tech but I’ve always been an avid hobbyist gardener,” he says. “Like most Londoners I’ve struggled for outside space, that classic London mix of space-poor and time-poor – the two main barriers to engaging with nature, and being able to grow.”
Michael and his partner Genn hit upon the idea in lockdown, when the pair finally were allocated an allotment patch after six years’ wait. “Everyone was taking a lot more interest in nature, outside space and that was feeding through into organic growing and sustainability. And we realised we can’t be the only young professionals that feel this way: we did some research on allotment waiting lists – there’s 22,000 people in London alone.”

Foodscape
Charming: quirky entrance into another world. Photo: SE

They considered how can they could conceptualise something “new, invigorating and different for London,” which taps into this demand, but also makes a positive contribution not only to locals’ own personal well being, but also to inner-city environments.
The challenge traditionally with urban farms is, of course, land. “So we had to think of a way where we could still create a large yield from really tight spaces.” Having lived nearby in the noughties, Michael remembered Rochester Square when it was still a functioning plant nursery; since 2016 it’s been a socially engaged ceramics studio in leafy grounds. “So we quickly identified this patch, and how many planters we could get in, and whether it would make the pilot scheme viable.”

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Summer at the farm. Photo: Foodscape

Michael and his small team started seeding in March 2021 in an office on Highgate Road while they waited for “the keys”, which came through in April. “We started building in May, and built the whole farm in twelve weeks, with over 30 tonnes of soil on the site. We’ve got 32 planters in total, each being one square metre of land – but vertically – so we get three square metres’ equivalent grow space. Vertical vegetable plots maximise yields.’
What can members expect to grow – and then munch on? “We have a curated option of seeds to create your own mix salads. The harvest runs all through the often the summer with salad leaves, cucumbers, beans, peas, mange tout, tomatoes, potatoes and nasturtiums.”


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Harvest 2021. Photo: Foodscape

He’s even thought of what to do if there’s an abundance: “Members get priority, or we ask them to suggest where we should donate, a particular food bank or charity. There’s also an ‘insurance policy’ where 20% of the farm goes into a communal harvest as a back-up against issues of tomato blight, for example.”
So how do the fees work? “You become a community member by paying a monthly subscription (see box below),” he says. “For that you get one irrigated plot, the seeds, and the farm is fully managed by head gardener Clare. Then you choose how involved you want to be on the engagement and learning. Depending on your time, you can come down once a week or more. You hear from us through WhatsApp alerts, to say hey, next week, your tomatoes are really popping. Every two weeks you get updates and photos of your plants to see how they’re proceeding – and then when your harvest will be ready.”

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Delicious fresh salad. Photo: Foodscape

They also run an average two member events a month, a combination of “doing and making”, he says. “So we’ve made radish leaf pesto, cauliflower leaf kimchi, and linguine (see box below), and this season we’re doing farm-to-table pizzas using the wood-fired pizza oven. This Saturday for example, we’re also doing beeswax food wrap making to remove dependency on cling film. We’ve had sessions on how bug hotels improve biodiversity, and had ‘sow-outs’, as well as the chance to adopt a Foodscape baby, where those brave enough get to take some plugs home and nurture them, with full advice provided by us.”
As you will gather, it’s not just about growing, it’s about social engagement, a place to learn about horticulture and growing in bite-sized chunks. With the success of the pilot, Michael hopes to launch a further ten more farms across the capital. But this is your chance to be involved in the first ever one of its kind.
“Don’t forget,” he adds as I leave, “it’s also just a great place to relax. Rochester Square is a natural oasis of calm in buzzy Camden. Bring a coffee, your kids, a friend or a book and enjoy a break from the frenzy of city life.”

Foodscape: Q&A at a glance

April 2022: an abundance of chard. Photo: SE

Gardening sounds fun, but I’m a busy person. How can Foodscape help me? It takes away the hassle of gardening and leaves you with all the joy. When you sign up, you get a vertical vegetable plot providing almost 2 sqm of grow space, and a share of the community garden. From seed to harvest, our gardeners look after your garden. Your only commitment is to harvest your own produce when it’s ready. You’ll receive an alert on WhatsApp, then you can drop by during one of our many harvest sessions throughout the season. If you have more time, you can get more involved to learn about all aspects of gardening – sowing, propagation, planting, crop maintenance, irrigation, and composting.
How much does Foodscape cost? Our pilot farm membership is being offered at a reduced rate of £39 per month. Members sign up for the Summer to Winter growing season, starting August up to and including January 2022. Yes, we grow veg in the winter.
How much veg can I get? With your membership, you can harvest ALL the crops from your personal farm plot, PLUS you receive your share of the community farm. Weather and other factors can impact yield, but our horticulturists will do their best to make your garden as productive as possible.

Pasta-making class. Photo: Foodscape

What’s on the menu? Your membership gives you the freshest veg possible – from your farm to your table in minutes. During our first season in Camden, we grew tomatoes (black cherry, indigo pear drops, lizzano and gardener’s delight), rainbow and baby carrots, purple and golden beetroot, French breakfast and rainbow radishes, and special varieties of green onions, courgettes (including the cutest little Eight Balls), burpless and baby cucumbers, baby gem, purple kale, wasabi rocket, rainbow swiss chard, lollo rossa, spinach, and mizuna to the mix. Plus Devil’s brew and Havanna Gold chillies, purple mangetout, peas, edamame, runner beans, and broad beans, sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage. You can also snip fresh herbs from our herb beds (mint (5x), basil, chives, bay, rosemary, and thyme)
What else do I get with my membership?
– gardening workshops
– member meet-ups, including an autumn harvest party and wine tastings
– farm-to-table cooking classes where you can make your own dim sum dumplings and wood-fired oven pizzas
– gardening workshops and member meet-ups are included in membership, with reduced rates for members on all other events.


Here’s how to do it: to become a member, email Michael with your name, phone number, email address, and number of planters you want. They will then get in touch. Call: 07751 438593, email: hello@foodscape.eco or see the website here. Follow @foodscape_grow on Instagram. 
This is a sponsored post in association with Foodscape. If you’re a business wanting to reach thousands of North and East Londoners, please email info@londonbelongstome.com
Main image:  SE


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