London

Got a green thumb? Try growing a 'green wall' for the London Food Bank

The London Food Bank is looking for green thumbs to try out vertical gardening – and help meet the growing need for fresh food in the region. Here's what you need to know.

You may have grown vegetables in a pot or a garden bed. What about a green wall? 

Growing in a ‘green wall’ optimizes space to grow more than eight times the plants, said Luis Reyes, greenhouse manager at the London Food Bank. (Michelle Both/CBC)

The London Food Bank is looking for green thumbs to try out vertical gardening – and help meet the growing need for fresh food in the region.

"Fresh foods are important because they are the most nutritious food," said Mike Bloxam, fresh food coordinator at the London Food Bank. "They can bring it in to us and we'll share it with our neighbours experiencing poverty." 

The food bank is also giving out 'green walls,' which are made of green felt and contain 49 pockets for growing herbs, leafy greens, and more. The green wall method means those without enough ground or balcony space can use vertical space. 

The initiative is part of the London Cares Curb Hunger campaign in partnership with the London Environmental Network, The London Food Bank and the City of London.

Luis Reyes, the London Food Bank's agronomist and greenhouse manager, would like to see thousands of these green walls in the London community. He's had success growing food vertically and wants more people involved. Here's what he had to say.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What types of produce can be grown in the green walls? 

We have grown beans, tomatoes and peppers. But for herbs, greens, leafy greens — it is amazing. I love Swiss chard and kale. They grow so well. The Swiss chard delivers a little bit of colour. You have the yellows, the red and the deep purples. Those are super nice to have. It becomes like a piece of art in your house.

Q: What do people need to do to get set up with one? 

You just have to contact the food bank and they'll link you up with one of them. But what you really need is soil, seed and water. You need sunlight and shadow. They don't like full sunlight because the pockets are so small. They dehydrate so fast, so partial shade is nice. Of course, you need a vertical space to put it. If you already have a wall, you can use that. Here at the food bank we use skids that we have around and put them on those. We also make our own frames and put it in those frames. 

Arugula, mint, kale, swiss chard are just a few of the plants growing vertically in green walls inside the greenhouse at the London Food Bank. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Q: Does it require a green thumb? 

Yes. You have to put a little bit of compost on your greens. And really, if you're going to leave it alone for a week or so, you're not going to have anything when you go back. It requires a little bit of caring in the watering. Like, it has to be done everyday, really. It's exactly like your house plants. They do like to receive consistent watering schedules. It's the same with the walls. 

Q: Can these green walls be grown inside as well? 

Actually, inside they work super well. Sometimes just a window is enough to keep them growing. The only thing is inside you have to be aware that this is a water feature. You have to isolate your wall, put a little bit of plastic behind and add a reservoir to receive your water drips. They do work excellent in the indoor setting too. 

Fresh produce can be grown vertically in pockets of the green wall and donated back to the London Food Bank. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Q: Why do you think it's important for fresh food to be available at the food bank? 

Fresh food is all about nourishment. When you have something that you harvest today instead of something that has been in a container for two or three weeks, the amount of nutrition in that product is different. 

Q: How many green walls do you need to get in the community to meet the demand? 

That would be thousands and thousands. So right now, we're starting a program with hundreds of these green walls. Now we turn to the community. That's the first step.

Fresh produce grown through the ‘green wall’ project will be distributed through the London Food Bank. (Michelle Both/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Both is a reporter at CBC London and Master of Media in Journalism and Communication student at Western University. You can email her at michelle.both@cbc.ca.

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