Urban Growing

Bristol Community Food Gardens: Malago Berry Maze

By Weien Soh

Weien Soh

Weien Soh is a volunteer writer for Bristol Food Network who believes that good food should be accessible to everyone. As a novice gardener and forager, she wants to empower people to join the larger conversation on food and climate security by growing their own food. Weien has been exploring Bristol’s community growing spaces in a new series profiling the work of some of the city’s groups. Find out about the Malago Berry Maze and how you can get involved.

The cost-of-living crisis has highlighted our dependency on an increasingly fragile food system as many households have been plunged into food poverty, but local growers are creating alternative food systems that bring food production back into community hands. Even in winter, there is an abundance of urban growing activity happening across the city, each with a shared purpose of creating equitable access to good food and nature.

In a bustling city like Bristol, it can be easy to overlook the urban growing revolution that is quietly taking place, but one chance to connect with it is Bristol Food Network’s Get Growing Trail, held annually, which gives the people an opportunity to explore these secret fruit and veg gardens. Visit the Bristol Food Network website for a list of the 2022 Get Growing Trail participating sites and a trail map.

In order to help more people navigate and participate in local food growing, I explore Bristol’s wonderful food gardens to bring you a series of articles profiling each community group. I meet with local growers to discuss the benefits of urban growing and the value that it brings to not only people, but the environment too. With food prices soaring, there’s never been a better time to get growing your own!

Malago Berry Maze

The Malago Berry Maze (MBM) can be found tucked away on the Greenway Cycle Track, next to the site of an old cub scout building. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I met with Barney Smith, an ex-professional gardener and MBM volunteer, to discuss the project. As we wandered around, he encouraged me to pick and eat the berries that were still fruiting in November! It’s inspiring to hear that just five years ago, this was a rough patch, frequently used for flytipping and overgrown with brambles, but local BS3 residents decided to improve the space by building a berry maze.

Volunteers Barney and Christine at the Malago Berry Maze

While giving me a tour, Barney explains that the fruition of this unique project was a community effort led by local resident, Raluca McKett, to regenerate a neglected piece of land by creating a community space where people can enjoy the maze and berries.

This urban growing project was made possible by community volunteers and fundraising, which provided the manpower and revenue needed for the berry plants and materials to transform the land. A competition to find the berry maze design was held by local Parson Street Primary School where the children participated by each drawing a maze layout. The winning design was chosen and scaled to fit the 725sqm plot.

Berries picked at Malago Berry Maze

Walking along the wood chip paths, you can explore over 16 types of berries housed in the maze, including blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, wineberries, honeyberries, jostaberries (cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry) and even goji berries. Other edible plants include strawberries and thyme, grown as ground cover to naturally suppress the weeds, but they could be also be foraged for food.

With over 200 edible berry plants in residence, the maze has become a destination during fruiting season, as well as featuring in this year’s Get Growing Trail. Everyone is welcome to visit the maze and appreciate its berries, but Barney says the maze is also a community hub, especially loved by families with small children. It’s easy to see how the hip-height bushes give younger children an immersive experience, plus the opportunity to harvest and taste the berries adds another layer of fun. By providing a space in nature for people to engage with the plants and pick their own edible produce, this one-of-a-kind project means that everyone can learn about where their food comes from in an accessible way.

Berries from the Malago Berry Maze

Although the project’s main vision was create a beautiful shared place for the community, it also provides long-term volunteering opportunities for people to get involved with urban food growing. Located in an socio-economically deprived neighbourhood, Barney explains that the site has suffered from vandalism and lack of local engagement in recent years. While the maze is popular with visitors, he says involvement from the closer BS3 community is needed as only a handful of volunteers currently maintain the site. For those interested in urban growing, there’s a myriad of gardening and maintenance tasks that require attention, like winter pruning, planting ground cover and fixing structures on the site (and there’s always weeding to be done!)

Volunteers who are available can support the project during the weekly sessions on the site, each Tuesday at 2.30-4pm. For any local runners, MBM also has a great working partnership with the Good Gym charity who organises groups of runners (combining their exercise on weekends with volunteering) to help with practical tasks, like planting and weeding.

Malago Berry Maze volunteer Christine working

For those with more time to offer, MBM is looking for someone within the community to take an active part in leading aspects of the project. Alongside managing the fundraising to keep the site running, Barney explains that Raluca used to also organise people for volunteering, but she has since moved away. Without the network of volunteers and revenue that was generated with Raluca’s help, the project is finding it challenging to keep up with all the necessary work on the site.

For years now, Barney and regular volunteer, Christine Higgott, have been maintaining the 725sqm plot to ensure that the MBM continues to serve the community. As I watch them tackle the weeding and mowing for the site, it’s clear that they could do with more help. Yet after speaking with them, I’m reminded that the community came together to bring their vision to life by creating a completely unique growing project – hopefully this article can support MBM by helping local growers to connect.

For more information on Malago Berry Maze and its urban growing work, please get in touch with Barney Smith on 07929 727 259 or email barneysmith47@gmail.com.

Together we can transform the future of food. If you want to be part of the urban growing revolution, check out Bristol Food Network’s Get Growing Map to connect with a community growing group

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So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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