Grow Wilder launches as a response to the pandemic

Avon Wildlife Trust’s Matt Cracknell shares his vision for food growing in Bristol with the launch of Grow Wilder, formally Feed Bristol. Their new grow-at-home scheme is bringing a connection with the natural world and helping people support wildlife on our doorsteps during the lockdown.

Our vision is to focus attention on addressing the climate and ecological emergency by establishing a network of small urban farms that people can access, places where people and wildlife thrive. We want to support the city, increase wildlife gardening and upscale food growing so we can help nature recover on a grand scale, while creating broad social impacts. This is at the heart of our work at the newly launched Grow Wilder (formally Feed Bristol) a hub for nature-friendly food growing, wildlife gardening and social impact. We are selling native wildflowers, vegetable plants and culinary herbs, delivered to your door.

Local small scale food growing improves our soils, creates essential habitats to pollinators and provides us with a direct connection to nature. Wildlife is in serious decline, with national and global studies all showing agriculture being the primary driver for habitat and biodiversity loss. The unique model that we’re proposing can help reduce the city’s carbon footprint, but also invest in our natural capital so that soils and habitats can mitigate the impact of climate change and be more resilient, absorbing carbon dioxide through good soil management, creating nature recovery networks across the city, and the economics needed for good markets to sustain the model into the future.

We can do this by addressing four key blockers to scaling up local food: access to skills; land; markets; and finance. Studies into local food systems show that each of these can be addressed.

Avon Wildlife Trust has set the foundations and political relationships around Bristol to apply and scale local food systems up, and it is important to do this in an urban setting. Food growing on an urban level has been shown to have the highest diversity and pollinators out of all categories of land, across rural and urban areas. If we can bring back systems on our land that help support those pollinators and other insects, then we can start to regenerate nature.

Urban Growing is one of the six strands of the Bristol Going for Gold bid. Even though the work towards making Bristol a Gold Sustainable Food City has been temporarily paused, food resilience has been brought into sharp focus and the themes of Going for Gold are still at the heart of changing our food system for the better once the pandemic is over. Depending on your situation, it may be that you are still able to take one or two of the actions listed in the Urban Growing action area on the Going for Gold website – from learning to grow one thing to creating some space for nature.

As for us at Grow Wilder, we are setting up a land-based business incubator hub to really practice, demonstrate and create evidence for regenerative agriculture. Once people have been trained up to a professional level, we want to help them access land – we estimate that over 485 hectares of land could be set aside for food growing in Bristol – and help them access local markets.

We’re going to create the change by igniting the local food market so that growers can get procurement contracts, access to restaurants, but also help social groups who find it hard to access fresh vegetables at an affordable price. We’re not only helping nature to recover we’re also creating places where people can make a connection to nature – for workers during the pandemic, and for the general public once it is over.

This vision also has wide reaching social impacts including health and wellbeing. We would like to make systemic changes to our local food system, helping nature to recover on a grand scale. We have calculated that Avon Wildlife Trust’s six-acre site has a social return on investment of £4.3 million per year. In eight years nature has returned and is thriving. Imagine what we could do if we scaled this up across the city.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the food sector in so many ways, but it is vital that we imagine what a better system might look like when it is over. Right now Grow Wilder is offering native wildflowers, organic veg and culinary herbs delivered straight to you. We can start a journey in urban growing together, play our part in supporting key pollinators and take a small step towards sufficiency.

Our amazing team have sprung into action to save the nursery and help create Grow Wilder, and all our supporters have made it come alive. Thank you. We have started sending out plant packs for deliveries in Bristol, and soon across the rest of the UK. Vegetable plants are still germinating, so are a few weeks off from being sent out. Keep an eye out on the Grow Wilder website as our stock is constantly reviewed in the shop.

Let’s bring some glory to our gardens. The time is now.

Matt Cracknell is site manager at Grow Wilder and is a lead on Urban Growing for Going for Gold. For a full break down of what will be offered when the site reopens (site hire, courses and events), check the Avon Wildlife Trust website.

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