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 like it in the UK,” says Foodscape founder Michael Thorp, “where you can join a farm, are given your own vertical plot, and get all the support you need to grow. 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 veg and green leaves – currently the last of the season’s chard, curly kale, cabbage, broccoli 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.


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A whopper: Michael poses with produce. Photo: Foodscape

Long-term Kentish Town residents Michael and his partner Jennifer Maxwell launched their 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 Jenn 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.”

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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 and community cohesion.

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 almost four square metres’ equivalent grow space. Vertical vegetable plots maximise yields.’

What can members expect to grow – and then munch on? “We grow over 40 different varieties of vegetables and herbs ranging from mixed leaves – so that members can create their own salad mix – to chillis, cucumbers, courgettes, beans, peas, broccoli, carrots, and of course tomatoes. We also grow over winter to help feed those hearty soups and stews.”

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Harvest time. Photo: Foodscape

They’ve 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 to ensure members get to sample all the varieties we grow.

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 simply 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 Veg Alerts, to let you know when to harvest. Every two weeks you get updates and photos of your plants to see how they’re growing. You could say, we are with our members from seed to harvest.”

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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. It’s not just about food but also improving sustainability. This Saturday for example, we’re also doing beeswax food wrap making to help remove dependency on cling film. We’ve had sessions on how to make bug hotels to improve biodiversity, plus seed 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, of course.”

As you’ll 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, Foodscape hope to launch a 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? They take away the hassle of gardening and leave you with all the joy. When you sign up, you get your own vertical vegetable plot, and a share of the community garden. From seed to harvest, their gardeners look after your plot. If time is precious, you only really need to participate in harvesting. You’ll receive an alert on WhatsApp, then you can drop by harvest all your delicious organic veggies. 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.

How much veg can I get? With your membership, you can harvest ALL the veggies and herbs from your personal farm plot, PLUS you receive your share of the community farm on top.

What’s on the menu? Your membership gives you the freshest organic veg possible – from your farm to your table in minutes. This season they are growing tomatoes (Crimson cherry, Tumbling, Lizzano and Moneymaker), carrots, French breakfast radish, courgettes (including Yellow the cutest little Eight Balls), Marketmore cucumbers, Baby Gem, Purple kale, Wasabi rocket, Rainbow chard, Lollo Rossa, and spinach. Plus Cayenne and Scotch Bonnet chillies for those that like a little heat, mangetout, peas, edamame, runner beans, and broad beans, sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage… and more. You can also take home fresh herbs from our herb beds to suit your cooking ideas.

What else do I get with my membership? Your membership also includes:
– gardening workshops
– farm-to-table cooking
– craft and “making” workshops
– member meet-ups and socials

Here’s how to do it: to become a member, email Michael with your name, e-mail address, and phone number to arrange a tour of farm. 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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