A COMMUNITY food and flower garden is being set up in Heaton by a Newcastle university student, who aims to make use of the concrete streets and empty backyards to grow vegetables and other plants.
JAKUB Konieczynski, a 31-year-old Ecology and Conservation student at Newcastle University, estimates that there is around 200m2 of empty space on each of Heaton’s streets, which can be turned into community gardens providing up to one tonne of vegetables per street, per year.
He said: “I feel like a lot of the work involved is changing people’s mindsets, because people have become accustomed to the process of clearing land then planting food, and when more people are born, there’s further demand and more land cleared; it becomes a vicious circle, which I think is not really benefiting anyone in the long term.”
“With all the vacant land in the cities and in empty streets, there’s so much potential for development and growing food. I think it’s a no brainer.”
His project is still in the fundraising stage, with £1,840 raised so with a target of £3,791. Businesses have contributed including Arnold Clark as well as local trusts such as RW Mann Trust and Sir James Knott Trust.
The funds will go towards several hundred vegetable planters, dozens of pollinator-friendly flowers and shrubs, a wildlife feature for every household as well as gardening equipment.
Starting small, the project will begin on King John street before expanding across neighbouring streets in Heaton.
Jakub said: “Even without hitting it [fundraising target] fully, I am still able to do quite a lot because of the sort of scalable nature of the project. I can still set up a few gardens or set up smaller gardens. And just kind of develop it from there.”
Jakub hopes the Heaton Food garden will at least result in fewer trips to the shops.
He said: “I know these gardens won’t feed a family of four all year round, but from my experience of growing vegetables in my own back garden, it definitely saved me quite a lot of money, and this is especially since this is all going to be done through charitable contributions.”
Jakub was inspired by Ron Finley, also known as the ‘Gangsta Gardener’, who created a vegetable garden on some unused land in front of his house in suburban Los Angeles in 2013.
But authorities in LA said it was illegal for Mr Finley to grow food between the footpath and the curb, but he managed to get that law changed to kickstart a “food forest” project which helped to ease the lack of access to good quality produce.
Just like Mr Finley, Jakub was inspired to convert unused urban spaces into gardens.
Jakub said: “I feel like so much land is being cleared for food these days where there are spaces like this which are like absolutely empty and they’re perfectly suitable for small allotments or container-grown vegetables.”
The project uses reclaimed materials like scrap wood and wooden pallets, including clearing unwanted items from the streets.
Jakub also wants to bring neighbours together in Heaton which, like Jesmond, has a mix of students and long-serving residents.
He said: “I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t really know anything about their neighbours; they live next to each other for decades, but they barely know their names.
“So I thought it would be a good way to bring people together, with neighbours standing in their gardens and discussing the successes or failures of their gardening.
“I think it would make the community slightly safer to have people being out and about too.”
Starting the project has been a challenge for Jacob who is taking on this work by himself, dealing with issues of funding, manpower, as well as having enough space to store planters and other equipment in his backyard.
Another hurdle he is facing is getting residents on board to use their spaces.
He said: “Surprisingly, it does take a little bit of convincing to sell it to people, even though I offered to do all the work and all the pros do it free of charge.”
Despite this, feedback in resident’s Facebook groups has been overwhelmingly positive, with many praising the ‘fantastic’ idea for turning barren streets into thriving gardens.
One resident said: “It is a fantastic idea- I live in Heaton and it’s so awful how so many of the streets have no trees, grass or plants. I’ve always found it depressing.”
You can donate here.
Closing date 19th June 2021. Pledges only charged if the project hits funding of £3791 by the closing date.