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Dig this growing idea; An urban food revolution is set to sprout next month in Birmingham. Environment reporter Mary Griffin finds out what we can learn from other cities to make the most of The Big Dig.

Organisers expected 50 of the usual suspects to turn up to the launch of a citywide scheme encouraging people to grow their own food.

But three times that number flocked to Birmingham's Botanical Gardens to hear about plans for the Big Dig.

With funding from the Cabinet Office, the Big Dig project is urging cities to boost community spirit while reducing food miles.

The scheme has two main thrusts - organising a day of events in March to entice people along to their local community growing projects, and creating an online map featuring each community garden, allotment site and growing group across the city.

Alys Fowler, Birmingham's adopted celebrity gardener, has become a champion of urban food growing, moving to the city five years ago and creating her own edible garden in Kings Heath.

Before making her name as a presenter on the BBC's Gardener's World, Alys trained at New York's Botanical Gardens, working with community growing projects across New York City.

She says Birmingham could learn from cities like New York.

"In New York nobody has a garden," she says, "which is why community gardens are really important.

And if there's one thing I learnt from New York it's that on mass you can make a really big statement.

"I think it's a very "Birmingham" thing - to do amazing things but not to think to shout about them.

"It's one of the lovely things about the city. It has a very down-to-earth nature.

"But with something like this, I think it's really important that people stand up and tell everybody what they're doing.

"The resources in this city are considerable and people are being drawn to gardening and growing projects like never before.

"It's time to stand up and say 'We are the green city'." Mike Hardman agrees. Based at Birmingham City University, he is a researcher in urban agriculture and feels it's time for Birmingham to give its reputation a boost.

He says: "As a northerner, before I came down here, my perception of Birmingham was a big city of concrete and cars, but actually, when you look a bit deeper, you see how green it is.

"There are so many growing projects including edible forests and a vast array of really impressive greenery. Hopefully the Big Dig will bring some of this together."

One of Birmingham City University's sister institutions in Toronto has a department of food security, supporting communities at a grassroots level and helping to introduce locally grown food into the city through rooftop gardens.

"That was really forward thinking," says Mike, "They are a great example of integrating food into the community and it's right across the city, which is spectacular.

"It comes down to better communication - universities working with grassroots organisations who in turn work with local authorities."

Mike compares Birmingham with cities like Detroit which depended on the motor industry for its lifeblood. When that industry all but vanished from the city, market garden projects and other community growing schemes sprang up in its place. In Aachen, Germany, city farms are being developed on the urban peripheries to feed local communities and Mike's own specialist subject, guerilla gardening, shows how eager city slickers are to use any available urban space to grow food - whether they have permission or not.

Clare Savage, of community growing project Urban Veg, based at Winterbourne House and Gardens at the University of Birmingham, is hoping thousands will turn out next month.

She says: "A lot of these projects have been set up by people in their spare time and the last thing they get round to is publicity, so this is a real chance to raise the profile of those community spaces across the city."

Backing Birmingham's Big Dig are: Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, Birmingham Parks and Nature Conservation Service, The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, Growing Birmingham, Martineau Gardens, and Urban Veg.

n To find your local community garden and go along to a Birmingham Big Dig event on March 16, or to add your own community garden to the map, visit Birmingham or find out more at growingbirmingham.



Clare Savage and Alys Fowler promote The Big Dig at The Winterbourne House and Gardens.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 7, 2013
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