The London Food Bank is looking for green thumbs to try vertical gardening – and help meet the region’s growing need for fresh food.
“Fresh food is important because it’s the most nutritious food,” said Mike Bloxam, fresh food coordinator at the London Food Bank. “You can bring it to us and we will share it with our neighbors who are experiencing poverty.”
The board also gives out “green walls,” which are made of green felt and contain 49 pockets for growing herbs, leafy greens, and more. The green wall method means that those who don’t have enough floor or balcony space can utilize vertical space.
The initiative is part of the London Cares Curb Hunger campaign in partnership with the London Environmental Network, the London Food Bank and the City of London.
Luis Reyes, agronomist and greenhouse manager at the London Food Bank, would love to see thousands of these green walls in the London community. He’s had success growing food vertically and wants more people to be involved. Here’s what he had to say.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What types of produce can be grown in the green walls?
We grew beans, tomatoes and peppers. But for herbs, veggies, leafy greens – it’s amazing. I love chard and kale. They grow so well. The chard adds a bit of color. You have the yellow, the red, and the deep purple. They are super nice to have. It will be like a work of art in your house.
Q: What do people have to do to set up with one?
You just have to contact the food bank and they will connect you to one of them. But what you really need is soil, seeds and water. They need sunlight and shade. They don’t like full sunlight because the bags are so small. They dehydrate so easily, so penumbra is nice. Of course you need a vertical space to place it. If you already have a wall, you can use that. Here in the food bank, we’re going to use skids that we have lying around and put them on these. We also make our own frames and insert them into these frames.
Arugula, mint, kale, Swiss chard are just a few of the plants growing vertically in green walls in the London Food Bank’s greenhouse. (Michelle Both/CBC)
Q: Does it need a green thumb?
Yes. You need to put a little compost on top of your greens. And really, if you leave it alone for a week or so, you won’t have anything when you come back. It requires a little care when pouring. It really has to be done every day. It’s just like your houseplants. They like to get consistent watering schedules. It’s the same with the walls.
Q: Can these green walls be grown indoors?
Actually, they work super well inside. Sometimes just one window is enough to make them grow. The only thing that is indoors, you have to be aware that this is a water feature. You need to insulate your wall, put some plastic behind it, and add a container to hold your water drops. They also work great indoors.
Fresh produce can be grown vertically in green wall bags and donated to the London Food Bank. (Michelle Both/CBC)
Q: Why do you think it is important that fresh food is available at the Tafel?
Fresh food is all about nutrition. If you have something that you’re harvesting today, rather than something that’s been in a container for two or three weeks, the amount of nutrients in that produce is different.
Q: How many green walls do you need to bring into the community to meet demand?
That would be thousands upon thousands. That’s why we’re launching a program right now with hundreds of these green walls. Now we turn to the community. This is the first step.
Fresh produce grown through the Green Wall project is distributed through the London Food Bank. (Michelle Both/CBC)