Congleton Food4Free shares ideas and information to encourage, inspire and educate residents to grow more of their own food either in public spaces or at home.
We are an independent group within the Congleton Sustainability Group, and thus the Congleton Partnership. Our group aims to encourage, inspire and educate residents to think about how they can grow food communally and attractively, and how they could also grow more of their own food in their own gardens.
Since bumble bees, honey bees and other pollinators are vital for food production, we also aim to encourage the growth of plants for these essential but threatened pollinators.
The group was formed in July 2012, having evolved from the Blueberry Project where blueberry bushes had been planted in public spaces in the town centre so that passers-by could pick the fruit. Why blueberries? Because Congleton is Beartown and bears love berries!
From initially planting blueberries in pots and flowerbeds, we began to reclaim neglected areas by clearing them where necessary, then planting permanent plants – edibles and plants for pollinators, and continuing with sustainable maintenance.
We advocate permanent planting for sustainability. This is better than ditch and switch seasonal planting, which has an ecological, monetary and climate change cost.
Congleton Food4Free projects around Congleton
In conjunction with Congleton in Bloom, the group planted pots of edibles for passers-by to pick. In 2011 we planted herbs; in 2012 we added blueberry plants. We also planted other edibles (strawberries, chives and Chinese raspberries) among existing plants near the library.
Also in 2012, we began discussions with the Leisure Centre manager to improve the dismal circular planters, and began planting these the following year (the site has since been demolished to make way for a new centre).
In 2013 we began the transformation of an unloved litter-strewn shrubbery between the library and bus station into an area full of edibles and bee plants, to demonstrate that permanent plantings can be both ornamental and functional all year round. Our Capitol Walk garden slowly became established, requiring less maintenance each year, and attracted many complimentary remarks. Unfortunately in 2022 we had to start moving plants from here so the new owners can build a seating area for the arcade’s food outlets. Once seating is completed, some plants will go back, but into planters.
In 2014 we worked with other voluntary gardening groups in town to help clear the neglected areas around the shrubs in the garden at the rear of the Fairground car park and plant a community orchard, together with an edibles border at the front and wildflowers beyond. Apples, a damson, autumn-fruiting raspberries, blueberries, Chinese raspberries and a variety of herbs were planted. In early 2022 we began to focus on this large area (25mx10m) again since shrubs needed pruning as they were casting a lot of shade, and the garden had become overgrown with bindweed and other problematic weeds that were choking the edible strip at the front and other plants further back. This was also to create a holding space for plants being removed from our Capitol Walk garden, in addition to providing some permanent planting spots. Eventually there will be more edibles at the front of the garden, accessible to all from the car park, and many more permanent perennial plants that are attractive to pollinators on the slope above.
Another project was to replant parts of the library shrubberies with permanent plants for pollinators. The site had become overgrown and weedy so we worked with other volunteer gardeners and Streetscape to remove some shrubs entirely, retaining mature plants and those suitable for pollinators. We then spent time preparing the ground before planting up the gaps with blocks of colourful perennials. The areas now require minimal maintenance.
In 2022 we were invited to plant a segment of the new Just Bee garden in the park, and were involved in preparing the ground and planting this area with edibles. The overall garden provides a place for well-being and plants for all types of bees.
We consider it a success that over the years our message about the importance and value of permanent planting has trickled down and we now see much more of this in the town, for example in the pocket garden in Moody St, Margaret’s Place in Antrobus St, the Old Sawmill, and areas of the park.