Food Justice

Bristol Community Food Gardens: Hartcliffe City Farm & Heart of BS13

By Weien Soh

Weien Soh

This month Bristol Food Network volunteer, Weien Soh, visits Hartcliffe City Farm and Heart of BS13 in her series profiling the work of the city’s community growing projects. Read on to find out about the amazing work done in BS13 to create and inspire change in Hartcliffe and Withwood in South Bristol.

While Bristol has many affluent areas, BS13 is an often overlooked neighbourhood in the outskirts of the city, where around one in eight households are struggling with severe food insecurity. Although the cost-of-living crisis has deepened the financial instability of its residents, the community has contended with trans-generational deprivation for decades. There are however avenues of support that are provided by local community groups, Heart of BS13 and Hartcliffe City Farm (HCF), as their collaboration in urban growing and food distribution seeks to tackle social inequalities in health, while addressing climate and food issues to regenerate the environment and community.

Back in early 2020, HCF was forced to close its doors as the council refused to renew its lease, which prompted fears from residents that the farm would be lost to the community. The council did however invite expressions of interest from organisations that wanted to take over the farm, leading to a successful joint bid from Heart of BS13 and Windmill Hill City Farm (WHCF). With a similar history of community-led work spanning over decades, these two South Bristol-based groups are determined to rejuvenate HCF so that it can become a bustling community hub for BS13 residents. To find out more, I met with Beth Howson (Market Gardens Manager) who gave me a tour of the farm to highlight their urban growing work and various collaborative projects.

Rainbow chard at Hartcliffe City Farm

Walking us around the site, Beth explains that there is still much work to do to improve different aspects of the farm, however, the urban growing areas for the Market Garden and The Flower Farm are fully operational. In terms of food growing, she points out the long rows of wintering vegetables that are ready for harvesting as I spot many varieties of root vegetables, winter squash, brassicas and herbs. All throughout the year, much of the food grown on the farm contributes toward the ingredients and supplies that fuel the food programmes run by Heart of BS13, while a proportion of the produce is allocated to the veg box scheme run in partnership with WHCF during summer months.

While it is a charity at its core, Heart of BS13 also runs three social enterprises, The Flower Farm, Climate Action Hub and The Kitchen, which all generate income to support its programmes and reduce reliance on grants. Due to the BS13 ward falling into the 10% most deprived areas in the U.K., Beth explains that The Kitchen enterprise supplies free food to residents who are not only struggling with the cost of buying food, but also have to grapple with lack of access to healthy nutritious foods.

With food poverty worsening in parallel with the cost-of-living crisis, The Kitchen’s suite of food projects helps to ease the squeeze for those who are financially vulnerable. The BS13 Community Freezer provides chef-prepared frozen meals to BS13 residents for free, while the Slow Cooker Club and Mobile Food Shop (coming soon!) offer alternative ways to eat better on a budget. For those who want to directly support their vital work, The Kitchen’s frozen meals can be found in local stockists across Bristol, as well as being sold through their online shop.

Pigs at Hartcliffe City Farm

For Beth, the collaboration between WHCF and Heart of BS13 has brought a combination of their distinctive experience and outreach programmes to HCF as both groups look to the potential that HCF has to underpin the future of community food production and social change in BS13. Situated on 6.5-acre plot of land, Beth tells me that HCF is much larger than WHCF, providing ample scope to increase their food growing capacity, so plans are underway to enhance the Market Garden growing space. Educational, training and volunteering pathways also form fundamental aspects of the farm’s social work, Beth explains, so existing buildings are being renovated to host volunteer training and community workshops, which will include urban growing, horticultural and animal care programmes. This year, HCF is hosting a selection of sustainable flower workshops run by Heart of BS13 for those interested in honing their floristry skills without the environmental impact.

As HCF is still at the beginning of its journey to revitalise the site, Beth is encouraging more people to volunteer in the sessions they host each week to help out in different areas of the farm. For those interested in urban growing, you can help maintain the vegetable and flower gardens by joining Beth and Sol Harmsworth (Horticulture Programme Manager) at their Market Gardening session each Tuesday from 9:30-3:30pm. On Wednesdays from 10-3pm, you can join the team for Wellbeing Wednesdays as volunteers can partake in gardening and animal care in a friendly and supportive environment.

Dried flowers at Hartcliffe City Farm

For those simply wishing to visit the farm, there’s plenty of green space and animals to enjoy, alongside a seasonal café trailer serving up food (made from produce that has been grown on-site). There are also other ways to support the farm and its work, as Sol’s call to action is for people to buy the produce and products that are grown and made on-site and to get involved with the farm’s workshops. The revenue generated will fund the range of projects that address issues surrounding food, climate and social security, while also contributing positively to the local economy. As Heart of BS13 and WHCF has demonstrated, the future of urban food production can be realised through connecting and collaborating as HCF continues to grow to support the community.

Read the other profiles in Weien’s series: Malago Berry Maze, St Werburghs City Farm & Propagation Place and Windmill Hill City Farm.

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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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