The Big Dig is a national day promoting urban agriculture, which for anyone who doesn’t know is growing food in a city environment. On Wednesday 16th January they held an event at the Botanical Gardens. The event brought together a big bundle of urban farmers, gardeners and community activists. Plus two out-of-depth youths with no real skill or knowledge on the subject, but who are happy to offer a pair of hands, and maybe learn something useful for once in their sinful lives (these being me and my friend Joe)!

The first thing to mention is what a nice surprise it was to see so many people there, even the organisers weren’t prepared for the amount. A few of us ended up chair-less, but not one minded as spirits were high. Tragedy struck though, when Joe had the last of the hot water. “You can take our chairs, but not our tea!” is all that was running through my, and I assume others’, heads, but again we all got over it and I settled for a mug of milk with a drip of water and a tea bag in. No sugars.

In all seriousness, the event was fantastically organised, and the start was a great chance to mingle with people from various projects. Meeting and talking to the people in the room showed just how much is going on in Birmingham and what an exciting place it is to be. The start of the event allowed everyone to just chat and meet each other. With everyone wearing name tags, formal name swapping was thrown to the compost, thus our time was optimised to the discussion of our organisations and, most importantly, growing! I’ll give one example; I had the pleasure of meeting Jean Luc Priez (great name) who helps develop allotments at retirement homes, where the residents can grow their own veg, which sounded like a great project.

Once everyone settled a brief slide-show was presented by Mike Hardman (another great name) from Birmingham City University showing examples of cities around the world transforming derelict spaces from an industrial past into fantastic community green spaces in the city where people grew their own veg together. He also gave us a glimpse of the more philanthropist options for urban farming with giant greenhouse towers with multiple floors.

After this, gardening journalist Alys Fowler gave a talk about what the Big Dig was trying to achieve. I’ll try to explain as well as I can, but to many of my former lecturers dismay, I still always forget to make notes. The idea of the big dig is to get more people involved in community gardening projects, through easier accessibility. The first part is to map out where food growers are in Birmingham and put that data on the Big Dig website allowing people to find and get in contact with them, as well as easier communication between the organisations themselves. The second part is the big dig day, a day of city wide volunteering where gardens open up and encourage anyone and everyone to find their local one and join in the fun. This will hopefully raise the profile of community gardening as well as getting more people regularly volunteering, or growing their own food.

After the slide-show it was time for everyone to get their collective heads together to plan how they would make this work. Sadly this is the point when me and Joe left, partly because of the aforementioned lack of anything to offer, and partly that all this talk of growing veg and fruit got us hankering for some to eat. There was another tea break (hot water had been refilled) before this though, which allowed us to talk to Clare Savage from Urban Veg (one of the organisers), exchange contact details in-order to find out how we as individuals, as well as Birmingham Friends of the Earth, can be involved, or offer any help that we can further on down the line.

Local, varied food growth is a vital part of a sustainable living, and community gardening could become a great food resource in the future, if done right. Food shortages and the control corporations hold in countries around the world is a real problem, The film ‘Seeds of Freedom‘ is a very enlightening resource for anyone who hasn’t seen it. This makes growing our own food a great alternative as well as being healthier, more ethical and more sociable. These reasons are why people are getting involved in these projects, the Big Dig is a great way of bringing together these projects and people, and to show just how much is being and can be done.