Jo Boswell is the market gardener for The Kitchen Garden Enterprise, part of the Heart of BS13 charity tackling food insecurity and health inequalities in Hartcliffe and Withywood. Jo joined the charity in June 2020 and was formerly a community cook and fermentation teacher before studying permaculture with Shift Bristol and turning her hands to the soil. Jo writes here about her work developing the Kitchen Garden Enterprise at Heart of BS13 with Solveig Harmsworth (Sol pictured left and Jo pictured right).
When I first visited the Kitchen Garden Enterprise (KGE) in March 2020 something inside me clicked. There is an uplifting quality to the site, tucked away like a hidden gem in the middle of Hartcliffe and Withywood, that makes you breathe out and smile on arrival and I decided then and there that this was a social enterprise I wanted to be a part of. I have now been working in the garden for six months and have enjoyed seeing this uplifting effect on every one of our visitors and volunteers as they arrive at the Kitchen Garden Enterprise. You can find out more about our work by watching back this recent Bristol Bites Back Better online event with a tour of the market garden, meeting volunteers, a cooking demo, Q&A and more:
On a typical day at the KGE, there are around 4-6 volunteers, trainees, or participants, directed by myself or my colleague, program lead and flower farmer Solveig Harmsworth. Spread out and socially distanced around the garden, our team of dedicated volunteers – mostly from the BS13 area – can be seen working away on daily tasks. Anything from weeding, watering, compost turning, planting out, pricking out, building a bug hotel, or digging a pond in one of the many wildlife areas keeps everyone busy around the site. During their time with us, volunteers will gain employability skills as well as knowledge in horticulture, biodiversity, floristry, and business acumen. Once it’s safe to work in larger groups, we very much look forward to offering our therapeutic horticulture programs and continue to work with schools from the area. We also continue our work with vulnerable adults, referred through our Positive Minds team, a mental health and well-being support service within Heart of BS13.
As a recent Shift Bristol permaculture graduate, I was relieved to learn that Solveig is passionate about no-dig and chemical-free gardening practices. For those of you who are wondering, no-dig gardening means we don’t disturb the soil by tilling or turning it. The advantages of this are many and include fewer weeds, increased moisture retention, undisturbed and therefore healthier microbes, fungi, and soil life, less compaction, and higher yields. We are now coming into our second year of no-dig and are very excited to see the harvests of the coming season.
Our site is divided into roughly a 50/50 split of vegetables and cut flowers which we sell through a veg box scheme, online flower shop and, volunteer-led front door flower markets across the city. We also provide fresh produce for our community kitchen, the Real Meal Store. Launched in November 2020, the RMS cooks healthy and affordable, low cost or free, ready meals for the residents of BS13 and offers a ‘pay it forward’ range to the wider city.
As well as following no-dig and chemical-free principles, we aspire to be zero waste. Any excess produce or gluts are processed in the kitchen to make preserves, chutneys, ferments, juices, pesto, and other products that are sold in our hampers and added to our veg boxes during the leaner, winter months.
As a result of COVD-19, we’ve seen an increased demand in all areas of our enterprise and as we move into a new year, we hope to meet that demand. We want to double our veg box production from 25 to 50 boxes a week, provide more fresh food for our kitchen to cook into its real meals, and to increase the number of training opportunities available to the residents of BS13.
Our recent Crowdfunder, “Scaling up the KGE“, aims to raise £20,000 which will pay for a commercial polytunnel to replace our existing, dilapidated ones, and a packing shed where we can stay dry as we prepare and store our products ready for distribution. This structure will also allow us to deliver horticulture, floristry, and nutrition workshops throughout the season. These additions to the site will help us to increase production, allowing us to provide fresh, affordable vegetables and ready meals for twice as many families and residents in BS13.
Working at the Kitchen Garden Enterprise has solidified a longstanding belief that we need more people in every community connecting to their food and the natural world around us. The Kitchen Garden Enterprise and Heart of BS13 as a whole offers the residents of Hartcliffe and Withywood the opportunity to make these connections, spend time outside, eat and grow healthy and affordable food, and be part of a community hub and social enterprise that we can be proud of.
Have a browse around the Bristol Bites Back Better website to find out how you and your organisation can play a role in building a stronger food system for Bristol. Share your insights and stories using the hashtag #BiteBackBetter. Find out more about the campaign here.
Read about some of the amazing volunteers, chefs and community workers who have been part of the good food response to the coronavirus crisis by checking out some of the stories on this blog. Chefs Luke and Kristjan from Heart of BS13 feature in this blog post from June 2020.