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The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has lauched an Edible Estates competition to encourage vegetable growing on scraps of derelict land around the edges of housing estates.

His food czar Rosie Boycott says:

The waiting lists for London allotments vary between one year and 40 years. At the same time we have pockets of derelict and unused once-green space across the capital begging to be transformed into communal spaces for Londoners to enjoy all the benefits of growing their own food. The Capital Growth project is helping that transformation take place.

Last week I visited a housing estate in Bethnal Green to launch the Edible Estates competition, part of Capital Growth. Eighteen months ago residents on the Cranbrook Estate changed a disused playground from a hot spot for anti-social behaviour into a flourishing garden. Instead of broken swings and dangerous climbing frames, there are now neatly tended beds full of vegetables. The food they grow is shared out among the gardeners and any surplus is given to visitors. Other residents have started to bring their food scraps for the compost bin and in return they can fill their own balcony pots from the pile. The garden was established with the help of a small Capital Growth grant and since then Tower Hamlets have provided funds for a new green house where one gardener is growing lemons.

There is another food garden on an estate by the Edgware Road where the new communal vegetable garden has taken over a space where knife gangs used to loiter. The local police say the development of the garden has saved the work of three officers on the beat and residents feel their estate is a safer, friendlier place to live.

We want to see this happening all over the city. Capital Growth, funded and supported by the Mayor, aims to increase the amount of land used for food growing in London. There are already 500 growing spaces up and running in a range of diverse places including schools, roofs, skips and even on a canal boat. Capital Growth provides people with the space and support to grow their own food and get other people in their communities involved in the project too.

With social housing making up a significant share of London's homes and housing associations responsible large chucks of land, we are currently targeting social landlords and residents for a new
competition, Edible Estates. It follows a competition we launched for primary schools earlier this year. The Metropolitan Housing Trust London, who manage properties all over London, have already signed up pledging to create 20 plots for its residents to get started, and hopefully find themselves winning a prize in the competition. We are asking social housing organisations across the capital to support Capital Growth in any way they can, perhaps by providing space, funding equipment or offering training to Londoners.

The Capital Growth programme is open to anyone and there are so many benefits to growing your own food. It’s fun, cheap, and a much greener alternative to the supermarket. Communal growing spaces also bring people together and make our communities happier places to be.

Just under a third of London’s total area is either green space or water and many of these spaces could easily be used for food growing. An estimated 20 million tonnes of food is wasted in Britain every year and studies show that if people grow their own food they are less likely to throw food away. Home-grown food is fresher and healthier too.

So, growing your own food is great for the environment, great for communities and great for you. Plenty of incentives, then, to get Londoners growing in the great outdoors – and Edible Estates is just the latest way we're setting out to inspire you to do just that.

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