Urban agriculture project inspires city to dig in and learn about local food

“We’re currently putting our efforts into sustainability,” said Adrian. “You just don’t know how funding is going to go, and we don’t just want to survive on grant funding. We’re becoming developed now. We’ve got the kitchen, the shop is virtually there and we’re trading, and the bakery will be done in a couple of months – that could bring in many opportunities including training sessions.”

Adrian Fisher, Rooted in Hull
Adrian Fisher, director of Rooted in Hull, photographed in 2018 for Hull Freedom Festival’s FEASTival project. Photo: Jerome Whittingham @photomoments.

Adrian Fisher is director of Rooted in Hull.

Rooted in Hull is a ground-breaking project. Situated just east of Hull’s city-centre, on St Peter Street, the project established in response to Hull City Council’s City Plan in 2012/13 which identified the need for education around food and food sustainability in the city. Adrian and project partner Mark Cleaver were tasked by the council to produce a feasibility study, exploring how a city farm project could be developed and operated.

Adrian and Mark looked far and wide for ideas, exploring how other city projects were tackling issues around local food production, food sustainability, and food poverty.

A ‘lightbulb’ moment happened during a visit to London, looking at a growing project near Kings Cross station.

“A group of people who live in an area of wall-to-wall housing had nowhere they could grow their own veg. They’d gone into a large construction site, where another large glass-fronted skyscraper was being built, and they’d asked the developer if they could have a corner of the site to grow something, maybe put in a few raised beds. The developer agreed, and even gave them a few old skips to use as containers. When the construction had been completed, it was an office for a national newspaper, the managers looked down and saw what was going on, and wanted to get involved too. They put in a training room, and even encouraged their staff to learn how to grow veg too,” Adrian explained.

Another visit to London, to look at Box Park, a retail park made out of disused shipping containers, also proved to be inspirational.

It became clear to Adrian and Mark that a similar setup could be a success in Hull.

Now, fully independent from the council’s original idea, Rooted in Hull is well established and even looking to develop further. It’s a project with a strong mission aim to educate people about local food, and to inspire them to become more ‘food sustainable’ by having a go at growing their own.

“We’re about community, business, and education,” said Adrian, “and they all work together, they must.”

Regular visitors and volunteers at Rooted include various community groups, each spending time on site not only to learn about food, but also to grow in their confidence, improve their mental health and overall wellbeing, to make friends, or just give themselves time out from the pressures and stresses of life. Some volunteers are learning business skills, running the cafe or fronting the retail activities of the project. Other volunteers are honing their marketing skills, as evidenced by the project’s very engaging social media streams.

Key to the Rooted concept is its agility. It’s been able to secure ‘meanwhile’ temporary use of the site on which it’s located, thanks to the generosity of a galvanising company which owns the land. 

The whole infrastructure of the site is temporary, being made out of easily movable shipping containers. The kitchen, office, shop, bakery, and even an arts space, are all shipping containers. Each has a bespoke internal design, fitted out by apprentices at Hull College. At the same time, Rooted’s whole operation demonstrates future-thinking environmentally sound technology such as reed bed water filtration, solar energy, there’s even a composting toilet on site.

Sowing the seeds of funding sustainability is as important to Rooted in Hull as planting seeds in their raised beds for next season’s crops.

Adrian said: “We’re very fortunate because funders are looking at the green agenda. We can tell them how we’re water harvesting, developing reed-beds, composting all our waste from the kitchen. We’re ticking all the boxes.”

The longer term financial stability of Rooted depends on the project being able to diversify and strengthen its income streams. The Covid-19 crisis has, surprisingly, had a positive impact on Rooted – unexpected short-term funding sprung up which allowed the project to develop at a faster pace this year. The project’s directors, however, do not intend to live ‘cap-in-hand’ to grant funders. Rooted in Hull has other plans.

Adrian has found that many visitors to Rooted, including shoppers buying vegetables and herbs grown onsite, want to get further involved, or to give more support to the project. So, a Pay It Forward scheme has developed.

“It’s blown us away, the amount of people who come to buy our veg, they often say, if what they’re buying comes to three quid, and they’ve only got a fiver, they’ll say ‘keep the change’, because they know it’s a good cause.

“What they’re actually saying,” said Adrian, “is that they want to put two pounds into a pay it forward scheme.”

Adrian explained that the Pay It Forward scheme is going to allow Rooted in Hull to put fresh veg on families’ tables, provide them with planters and help with having a go at growing their own produce. This will particularly help those families that are struggling or just about managing to afford to eat good quality, fresh food.

Informality, explained Adrian, is going to be an important focus of the Pay It Forward scheme. No household will be stigmatised as being in ‘food poverty’, and no-one will have to fill out forms in a data gathering exercise to receive what Rooted can offer.

“We work with our partners and volunteers to identify which families are struggling. For example, we have a teacher that works in a primary school. She knows which family needs a little support, we’ll drop off some veg to her, and she’ll pop it round to the house. There’s no embarrassment. It works better us working under the radar like this,” said Adrian.

In the future it’s hoped that Rooted’s Pay It Forward scheme might also attract support from the commercial sector and businesses, those that share Rooted mission aims or want to help out their own employees or local neighbourhoods.

“That’s the next stage,” explained Adrian. “They may want to sponsor a raised bed here onsite. We can put their logo on the side of it. We’re really open to exploring ideas of how we can work together and support each other.”

It’s now seven years since the ideas behind Rooted in Hull were seeded in Adrian’s mind. The project is very diverse in what it’s currently delivering, and what it’s planning in the near future. One wonders if the project has turned out the way Adrian, and the team, originally planned?

Adrian concluded: “We’ve always been true to our original vision to educate people about food. We knew there’d be shipping containers, a shop and bakery, but we thought we’d be trading more by now. We never thought there’d be as much group work, the volunteer groups, we’ve grown into that. We’d never really thought about the wider green agenda either, but that’s an important addition now. We were passionate about local food, but now with everything we do we ask ourselves if this is helping the planet in some way too.”

Rooted in Hull is helping the planet, but more so – it’s helping the city’s residents to reconnect with the food they eat whilst building community spirit. That’s the growth for which the project can be valued.

Website: Rooted in Hull

[Jerome Whittingham @photomoments for Hull Food Partnership]

Hull Veg City campaign

Rooted in Hull is one of the partners of the Hull Veg City campaign supporting the growing and promoting of fresh vegetables across the city.

Website: Hull Food Partnership, Hull Veg City campaign