Lambeth Poly – growing, skilling and selling

A polytunnel in a Tulse Hill housing estate? Fiona Law, project coordinator, explains ahead of two open ‘lunchtimes’ at the polytunnel this week…

A polytunnel producing crops for sale is not the first thing you might expect to see in the middle of a Lambeth housing estate. But this is what’s sprung up this summer on Tulse Hill and I’m hoping it’s the first of many around the borough. This is a one hundred per cent local story: we’re talking food metres, not food miles, and building the local economy.

Tulse Hill residents have been involved growing salads and herbs and selling them to Brixton Village restaurant Cornercopia and Herne Hill Local Greens veg bag scheme. Thursday is operations day: salads are cut, weighed, bagged and labelled and cycled down the hill to our wholesale customers. We get payment in Brixton pounds by text. We come back and sow the next batches of leaves. The food is grown and eaten by local people and paid for in local currency: compare that journey to the typical bag of internationally sourced supermarket salad.

A polytunnel provides shelter for crops so they grow faster and for longer in the season. It’s a temporary structure of steel hoops with a recyclable UV resistant polythene skin that can be replaced when the tunnel needs to be moved. The tunnel went up on July 5 this year, a team effort of apprentices from west London project Cultivate and residents. It was the first day it hadn’t rained at all for months. We got quite hot and felt it very auspicious.  A fantastic stop-motion film made of the build by resident Eduard Vijule can be seen on our Project Dirt page, along with images of progress since.

We’re supplying gourmet crops for now, but the long game is to build capacity to feed ourselves more, both in terms of infrastructure and people who know how to do it. Food miles can’t last. The oil refinery strike of 2008 showed how soon green leafy veg can disappear from the supermarket shelves, and petrol costs are a significant part of the cost of food. Leaves and much more that’s essential for nutrition can easily be grown in the city. Brixton used to be an area of market gardening and Lambeth already has 150 or more community gardens growing fruit and veg. Let’s bring on the full scale cropping and a new wave of urban farmers!

Want to find out more and give some feedback or advice? Lambeth Poly has two open lunchtimes this week, Thursday 27 and Saturday 29 September from 12 – 3pm. Bring your picnic lunch, taste our leaves and meet the people involved. Google map Cherry Close SW2 to find the location.

Fiona Law, project initiator and coordinator, is currently looking at funding models and for sites for the next tunnels. Please contact her:, 07947 407237. Follow on @lambethpoly