Community Gardening with Root & Branch Out
This month, Root & Branch Out is celebrating the first anniversary of its showground-based kitchen garden, Growers Row. A community interest company, the group is combining values of sustainability and ecology with education…
We’ve Never been more acutely aware of the need to care for the planet. At every turn we’re reminded – and rightly so – of the need to minimise waste, to recycle, to cut down the number of plastics and other disposables we use, and generally to live in a more ecologically-sensitive way.
This month sees the first anniversary of Growers Row, one of three elements of Root & Branch Out, and one aimed at reducing food waste, and ensuring communities in Rutland can work together to live more sustainably, and in harmony with nature.
Claire Crowley is one of the group’s founders, and met Root & Branch Out’s co-founder Alex Wilby on the school run. Claire’s background is in education, both as an Early Years teacher and latterly as a Forest School practitioner. Alex, meanwhile, is a polymath; a horticulturalist, smallholder, garden designer, and bushcraft practitioner. Both are mums too, and each recognises the value of ensuring their children spend time outdoors, learning experientially and familiarising themselves with the natural world.
In 2016, they founded Root and Branch Out to work with locals across Rutland on community and educational projects to benefit both children and adults, and to promote sustainable thinking by working with nature. Last year the community interest company worked with over 1,000 local children, and took on their third cohort of trainees. The group also gained official status in March as an approved Forest Schools Association affiliated provider.
“There are so many benefits to Forest School activities,” says Claire. “Like eco-literacy, confidence, seasonal awareness and an understanding of biodiversity and wildlife.”
“It’s an educational delivery model which originated in Denmark back in the 1950s, and came to Great Britain in the 1990s. Ten schools in the area now use us, and we run pre-school and early years groups as well as running dedicated groups for those in home education and for students up to 16 years of age plus adult workshops and workshops for those with special educational needs too.”
“Once we have arrived on site we sit together and start our session by looking at our values. We think together to see how we can work and play while keeping hold of these important values. We talk about what we would like to do and look at what is available to us all to explore.”
Activities include foraging and growing food, cooking, crafts, and telling stories around the firepit, all with the seasons in mind. With growing and cooking food foremost in the mind of a Forest School’s philosophy, Root & Branch Out established Grower’s Row – a shared garden, based at the Rutland Showground – just over a year ago.
It’s long been accepted that gardening is good for our physical and mental health, and as the Rutland Agricultural Society has both a constitutional role to provide education as well as a substantial area of land in the heart of Rutland, the charity was happy to provide Root & Branch Out with 1.4 acres which the group transformed from a grassy field into a kitchen garden shaped with a historic ridge and furrow.
“Growers Row was relocated from a smaller allotment site just over a year ago and centres around nurturing communities through nature,” says Claire.
“We have ‘working Wednesdays’ each week where volunteers – we currently have about 20 – can come along from 10am to 3pm and enjoy working in the garden. It’s very sociable, great for health and wellbeing, and in return, everyone takes a share of the vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers we grow. We also stop to enjoy lunch together and we’ve been able to chart a whole year in the life of the garden on our website, capturing building, planting and harvesting throughout our first year.”
The garden also tends to generate a glut of produce, and that’s where the third element of Root & Branch Out comes in; the group’s two Community Fridges.
“We’ve always been really concerned about food waste, and with excess fresh produce generated by the garden, as well as five local supermarkets allowing us to redistribute their surplus food, we’ve been able to work with Uppingham Town Council and with Change Agents, based at Oakham Station to give away food in order to prevent it going to waste.”
“The two Community Fridges are open for an hour each week, and in total, we’ve managed to redistribute 11 tonnes of food since we established the scheme, as part of the national Community Fridge network. It’s different from a food bank in the sense that it’s available to everyone, and we can accept local residents’ fruit and veg, so if there’s a glut of apples in the garden, or in your allotment, it’s a way of preventing them from going to waste.”
“Despite the challenges of the past couple of years, we’ve achieved so much, and we’re going from strength to strength in the respect of reaching more people with increasingly strong community partnerships.”
“There are plenty of opportunities to join us and we work not just for the benefit of the local community, but to share knowledge, skills, time and space in a way that’s really enjoyable, sociable and fulfilling for our volunteers, too.”
Find Out More: For more information on Root & Branch Out or to work with the group, see www.rootandbranchout.co.uk or call 07811 424430.