Hazelwell Park is a beautiful place. A 10 minute walk from the train at Bournville and it feels like you’re miles away- you can still see the buildings and cars but it’s like another world of nature and peace. This year was the first time I had been to Stirchley- a mistake on my part. It is a beautiful area and I wish I’d explored the more rural areas of Birmingham rather than sticking to Selly Oak student land and the Birmingham city centre. The outer areas, Stirchley, Kings Heath, Longbridge, Harbourne, all have their own charm and character, something a bit lost by the laddy student culture in Selly. Where I’m from originally, there are not many areas of lesser managed land unless you go right out of the city. Birmingham and the surroundings are a wonderful change from that. It never fails to surprise me that I can walk just a bit and feel like I’m free of the pollution and stress of uni and the city.
Stirchley is special for another reason: The Fruit and Nut Village. Last Saturday, I volunteered at a tree planting day from 10am until 3pm with other volunteers (yes, I am that overly keen Environmental Science student). Being there made me realise what I’d been missing out. The Fruit and Nut Village is a project in Birmingham aiming to create public food spaces within the city. They plant fruit and nut trees, herb gardens and edible hedges that anyone can help maintain and use. Food security is a real issue for a lot of people and this initiative is a great way to solve it, providing free exercise, food (they even provide lunch on the day!) and friends. 38 of us helped on Saturday, all different ages and different backgrounds; the results of our labour were staggering.
It was the start of the (nice and terrifying) February heatwave- I don’t think I’ve ever bought an ice cream in February because I was too hot before! Along with some of the folks from the University of Birmingham Conservation Volunteers, we worked on building a hibernaculum for frogs- we dug down about 30cm (a nightmare when the soil is full of bricks and metal might I add), added stones and logs to create spaces and inserted plastic tubes to allow the frogs to get inside. After this, it was covered in soil to keep it safe and covered; lemon thyme was planted on top which will hopefully flourish! Other people planted hazel trees, bramble-gooseberry cross, gooseberries, bay, thyme and sage. The area will smell incredible when it all flowers!
The Fruit and Nut Village was started by Spring to Life and is an aspect of the project Food Forest Brum which aims to reduce food insecurity in Birmingham. There are hopes to continue to roll out new projects across the area when this one is established, and with some volunteer help it could easily become a reality!
Food insecurity is a very real issue and the amount of food that is imported and eaten out of season is ever growing with preference changes and a desire for organic crops. Climate change has already been proven to be impacting crop availability globally. In areas that grow high numbers of cash crops, the poorest population are at a significant risk of food shortage; increasing imports of wheat, rice and vegetable oils left 75 million people hungry worldwide.
As the average UK citizen, there’s not much we can do that would have any significant impact; buying locally and growing our own however is one of the things we can do. Projects like the Fruit and Nut Village are a great way to both understand what goes into gardening (spoiler: it’s a lot) and the food that we eat and to feel proud of growing something ourselves. There’s nothing quite like eating veg you grew yourself- my dad grows tomatoes and chillis every year and they’re absolutely gorgeous! We get so many for such little cost, and my mum has the magic touch when growing basil, it goes mad!
Recap: growing food is cheaper, fun, free exercise, and better for the planet. Seems like a win win? And it is, if you have the time. The fact is that we are all busy. That’s why projects like the Fruit and Nut Village are so important; most people can spare five hours on a Sunday once a month, and you can still make use of the produce at the end without being the sole caretaker and provider for the poor innocent plants.
I’ll come back with an update of our plants in a few weeks hopefully; my current plan is to take my friends and annoy them into helping. The advantages of being annoying and a bit bossy is that I can gently (or strongly) push for people to help me in my volunteering antics!
If you want to get involved in something like this, check out social media. In Birmingham, the Birmingham Black Country Trust run events and the Canal and River Trust do as well; at universities across the country, there are often societies allowing for involvement. Check out social media and the local authorities websites too!
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