Pictured Above: Tom Moggach
Published: 12 April, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
We are an urban race: 90 per cent of people in Britain live in cities.
But if you were to scour bookshelves looking for guides as to how to grow you own food in the environment the vast majority of us live in, you’d be disappointed.
Nowhere was there advice as to how to use your balcony or patio to supplement the dinner table.
Until now, that is.
Food writer and New Journal contributor Tom Moggach’s new book rectifies this state of affairs: called The Urban Kitchen Gardener, it not only tells you how to grow food with the minimum of fuss but also what to do with your produce.
Next to tips for growing are recipes to help you on your way.
It seemed only a matter of time before Tom, who lives in Queen’s Crescent, would put his wisdom between the covers of a book.
“I love cooking and growing, and it brings the two together,” he says. “I’ve spent years writing about food and cooking in London, a city stuffed with flavours from across the globe. I was fed up of dull, grow-your-own recipes and wanted to share what I have learned.”
He also felt the London food grower was being neglected.
“There was this baffling gap in the gardening world: other books targeted a totally different species – the countryside gardener blessed with rolling lawns and heated greenhouses. That was a different world to me. I teach people how to grow food on rooftops, balconies, back gardens and scraps of land reclaimed from the urban sprawl. This is a book that is for the rest of us, the overlooked majority.”
So it isn’t about turning your lawn over to fields of corn: instead it is entirely practical. “All my advice is rooted firmly in realities – what works and is worth the effort,” he writes.
This means maximum gain for minimum fuss, and no fantastical ideas that look great between the pages of a glossy Monty Don-style gardening book.
“Start small if you are a beginner,” he says. “Grow a few plants at first – perhaps a chilli on a sunny windowsill, or a few trays of mixed salads.
Expand your repertoire bit by bit.
There’s no point trying to be self-sufficient, but just growing a few ingredients kickstarts the process of connecting up with where food comes from. With a bit of success under your belt, it gets very addictive.”
Tom cooked in restaurants before becoming a teacher at Gospel Oak Primary School, and writing about food. “I started off in Camden primary schools and did a lot of work around healthy eating,” he says.
He helps schools establish food-growing spaces and teachers to link outdoor learning to the curriculum through his gardening company, City Leaf.
“I look after a patchwork of plots in Camden – with my colleague Anna Locke we run an ace garden at Rhyl Primary School, and the whole school gets involved,” he says.
“At home, I grow salads on my roof and in my back garden. We have a community garden at Bassett Street and I also help out on my mum’s allotment.”
And while we Londoners may glance enviously at the rural cottage owner, Tom says there are major advantages to being an urban food grower.
“Smaller spaces help us focus,” he says.
“And why bother growing the staples? We’re blessed with all manner of food shops.”
Instead, he offers you a chance to grow things that aren’t so readily available but are easy to coax out of the ground.
Furthermore, he adds, there is scope for growing that may not exist elsewhere: our cities offer micro-climates, and therefore you can bend the growing seasons to suit.
But there is more to growing food than simply being able to offer a table laden with goodies. “The harvest is just a juicy perk,” he says.
“Growing plants in the city is a powerful force for good. It helps to counteract the buzz of daily life – caring for plants is a soothing process which chimes deep down with our DNA.”
And he adds: “Food-growing projects such as community gardens are a magical way to bring people together.”
• The Urban Kitchen Gardener: Growing and Cooking In the City. By Tom Moggach. Kyle Books, £16.99 www.kylebooks.com