Amelia’s Magazine | Food from the Sky: Growing food on top of a Supermarket in Crouch End

Food from the Sky by Sam Parr
Food from the Sky by Sam Parr.

It’s a stiflingly hot day in Crouch End as my friends and I venture into Thornton’s Budgens and, approved feeling slightly stupid, ask one of the cashiers how we can get onto the roof. He smiles and immediately takes us to a staircase supported by scaffolding in the car park at the back, with a notice cheerfully asking everyone to take up a box of compost. As we get to the top, a sea of different kinds of sun drenched greenery opens up, with volunteers already gathered at a wooden picnic table in one corner, discussing how best to get started on the greenhouse we’ve come here to build.

Food from the Sky by Claire Bryne
Food from the Sky by Claire Bryne.

So this is Food from the Sky. I’d initially found out about the project in a brief Guardian piece, and the seemingly chalk ‘n’ cheese synthesis of a permaculture/transition inspired grassroots project on the roof of a supermarket, which actually sells its harvest in the supermarket (not compatible…surely??) immediately appealed. It certainly caught the eye of our esteemed mayor Boris Johnson, who came to visit it last week.

Boris Johnson Visits Food from the Sky by Sam Parr
Boris Johnson visits Food from the Sky by Sam Parr.

Food from the Sky by Claire Kerns
Food from the Sky by Claire Kearns.

The Food from the Sky blog has regular opportunities to volunteer, as well as to take part in courses and workshops, so I went along to build the first stage of a greenhouse made of recycled plastic bottles. With bags and bags of collected empty bottles in tow. Fetching look.

Making the Greenhouse by Claire Byrne
Making the greenhouse at Food from the Sky by Claire Bryne.

Making the greenhouse, by Claire Kearns
Making the greenhouse by Claire Kearns.

Food from the Sky had its practical inauguration in May 2010, when the first load of compost was lifted onto the roof. But the progression to this stage started a long time before, when its creator Azul moved to London and set about utilizing all the endless roof space she saw for food growing. A meeting over a coffee with the owner of the Crouch End Thornton’s Budgens, Andrew Thornton, turned out to be a meeting of minds with a shared vision – she wanted a roof to build her project, and he had one. Once this was established they met frequently with the local community (there are blocks of flats whose windows overlook the Food From The Sky roof), debating and discussing what could and couldn’t be done.

Food from the Sky by Victoria Haynes.

All the soil used on the roof is recycled food and garden waste donated by the council. She sees the relationship with the supermarket as an opportunity to bring people to a better relationship with food on a huge scale – the shop has 17,000 visits a week. “I used to hate supermarkets,” Azul says, “but then I thought, what a waste! Supermarkets are a huge part of the reason we have a bad relationship with food, so using the supermarket as a base to promote a better relationship means everything comes full cycle.”

Greenhouse building by Victoria Haynes.

Food from The Sky’s first harvest was on the 4th of July 2010, and since then they’ve been bringing down their wares to the supermarket every Friday, in a special display dedicated to them, right at the front of the shop.

Food from the Sky by Claire Bryne
Food from the Sky by Claire Bryne.

Education and community engagement is absolutely central to the project, so they’ve partnered up with local schools, running workshops on biodiversity and food growing, as well as running permaculture courses. Food From the Sky is also working with Thornton’s Budgens employees, who between them speak 31 different languages, to share the space. But Azul says that none of the project would have been possible without volunteers, so if you’d like to get involved, check out the website, and go along at least once. The plan is for the project to grow and be used as a template for other supermarket roofs, so catch it while it’s still a gem of an idea just about ready to spread its wings. And have a chat to Azul, she’s a very inspiring woman. Any article you read about this project can only scrape the surface of the philosophy that has shaped it.

Categories ,Biodiversity, ,Boris Johnson, ,Budgens, ,Claire Bryne, ,Claire Kearns, ,Crouch End, ,Food from the Sky, ,grassroots, ,Greenhouse, ,Growing Food, ,permaculture, ,Rooftop, ,Sam Parr, ,Supermarket, ,Thornton’s Budgens, ,transition towns, ,Victoria Haynes

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