Our Global Garden is part of the Sowing News Seeds initiative led by Garden Organic, the UK’s organic growing charity. Along with a network of other projects nationwide, we’re branching out from our sturdy old vegetable favourites to experiment with growing some of the absolutely incredible range of crops that can prosper in our soils and climate despite never having been traditionally grown here. Think Jamaica’s pretty different from the Abingdon Road? Think again. We’ve sown rows of Callaloo, a Caribbean leafy green which makes a lovely stew with coconut milk and chili peppers. Bangladesh? We’ve planted methi (fenugreek), a widely-used curry ingredient normally shipped over from Asia. Hailing from closer to home but no more commonly cultivated on these shores, we’ve got root parsley (Germany, Holland, Poland), borlotti beans (Italy), chickpeas (India, Bangladesh, Italy) and even some kidney beans (more commonly found in a tin).
We also sowed many varieties of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese veg: Mooli (a Japanese radish), Japanese Parsley, Chinese Chives, Purple Shiso, and a whole host of wacky members of the Brassica family: Vietnamese Mustard, Pak Choi (yellow stem and white stem), Tsoi Sim, Komatsuna, Yukina, and the unlikely-sounding trio of Mizuna, Mibuna and Mispoona! And we added the infamous Shark-Fin Melon (Vietnam, China), immortalised in the film Grow Your Own, to our squash-patch.
So why are we growing exotic crops, in Oxford of all places? Here are our nine top reasons for planting up a Global Garden full of the whole world’s veg:
1 They enrich our culinary traditions. Many of these unusual vegetables promise to be not only delicious, but highly nutritious. We love cabbages, spuds, broad beans and the rest of the traditional allotment fare, but why stop there when our own back gardens right here in Oxford can be a cornucopia of taste. OxGrow is all about experimentation, from plot to plate!
2 They’re easy to grow. There are a huge number of communities in the UK with origins from all over the world, and they’re already growing many of these traditional crops with great success. What is more, many gardeners have been saving the seeds for decades, producing a range of new cultivars perfectly adapted to our climate.
3 They’ll contribute to biodiversity, and (before you ask), they’re not invasive or a threat to our own traditional crops or ecosystems at all.
4 They bring new life and diversity to the Grow-Your-Own movement. Let’s face it, when most people imagine a food-grower, they probably either think of this guy or someone who drivesone of these. But OxGrow wants to challenge stereotypes and bring food-growing to the masses! Our aim is to unite and enrich our whole community through a love of good food.
5 They’re at risk! Growing these crops and saving seed from them will help conserve genetic and cultural richness for the future. Many of the people already growing these crops in the UK are now ageing first generation immigrants, and subsequent generations aren’t always picking up the skills and knowledge they need to carry on the tradition. Sowing New Seeds passes on the baton to anyone who wants to learn.
6 They can help us cut food miles. We love cooking dishes inspired by all the world’s food cultures. By growing the ingredients locally, we’ll cut out the CO2 emissions from transporting the ingredients halfway across the planet by air and sea.
7 They’ll make our local food system more resilient and help us to increase food security. History suggests that relying on only a handful of crops has always been a bad idea (just think of the Irish Potato Famine…) Climate change just adds to the risk, so the more diverse our veg-patches the better.
8 We need to start adapting. Climate change means that crops from abroad are becoming increasingly viable, and that some of our traditional crops may become difficult to cultivate. Who knows, maybe in thirty years chickpeas will replace wheat as our main source of carbohydrate, and perhaps Lablab Beans will climb our fences more readily than Runners…
9 And finally, it will be fun! There is nothing more exhilarating than watching things grow, and nothing more tantalising than tasting produce from our garden that most of us here haven’t even set eyes on before. Every new plant is an adventure, and that is reward enough in itself. Our tastebuds are tingling already!
Join us as we embark on our adventure to GROW LOCAL and EAT GLOBAL!