I am a community crofter in the Leith Links, Edinburgh, and have been for about a year and a half to date.
This year I’ll be expanding on my writing from 2016 about the croft’s flora, to encompass the entire gastronomic experience of crofting here in the city. Over the coming months there will be a series of themed posts intermixed with more general content. Look forward to discussions on soil health, community composting, wildflowers, ethos and philosophy, crop plants, pests, etcetera.
Let me start by giving a brief introduction to what the croft actually is and my main interests in the space. At the same time please note that I am a volunteer and community member only.
The croft is a small area of common good land situated in/by the Leith Links. A charity called Leith Community Crops in Pots are the custodians of the land and have been actively developing the space to benefit local people and wildlife. The simplest explanation is that the croft is a community garden. You can see the development plans here for a full overview of the site’s future, but my interests are mainly to do with the crofting plots, woodland edge, and hot composting. I also give a bit of time here and there for other aspects of the site development, but between work and MSc Gastronomy my time is limited.
The land for crofters to grow our own plants is divided into areas, A, B, C, and so on. Within our areas we get to decide how the space is used. Some are entirely communal, others essentially divided into private plots, but usually there is a mixture of management styles. My area is C and we are more or less split into 4 subplots. My wife and I share a subplot and so have the autonomy to grow whatever we like. It is great. We can come and go whenever and compromises are few and far between. Ain’t no thing!
The woodland edge was a strip of land that used to be planted with council scrub. It was full of litter and used by sex workers and drug users as a place for business. A group of us cleared out most of the vegetation except a few bushes and all the trees, put in a woodchip path, and my focus since has been repopulating the area with a diversity of herbaceous plants. The idea is that lots of different types of plants are both pleasing for humans to look at and interact with, but that they also provide food and habitat for a range of fungi and invertebrates too. Having lots of different root types will also help to stabilise the soil. It’s a magical thing to be doing. No doubt I’ll be posting about the progress of the woodedge multiple times throughout the year.
Compost is what we use to feed our soil, and thus our plants. This time last year four huge hot composting bins were fabricated on the hard standing and I have since helped to maintain the inputs and outputs. We have probably made a few tons of compost with this system. Its a small operation but feels extra special. We use it to recycle plant matter within the croft. We also take household food waste. This can include meat, fish, bread, mouldy veg, dead pets, basically anything that was once alive, because the temperature inside the bins gets hot enough to kill off all the naughty bacteria. Since we got those hot bins I have put all of our kitchen caddy contents and house plant waste into direct local recycling. Again, it feels like a magical thing.
People and Place
I have never felt such a strong connection to a place as with the croft. It is so important to my sense of belonging in Leith. I’ll be straightforward in explaining why that is just now, and expand on these thoughts in the future. First of all I’m one of those weird people who likes plants ‘just’ because they’re interesting. I’ve been on the verge of tears when finding wildflowers in surprising places, or staring at my broad beans just after sunrise in the late spring. The green world is quiet. Sensitive cityfolk like me need it. Not just a bit of flat park to walk through or picnic in but a place to have a deeper interaction. So, there’s that aspect satisfied. A related point is the agency it has given me in protecting and enhancing Leith’s wildlife. I’m responsible for saving a whole population of wild orchids in Leith, mainly because the croft was available for re-homing the plants. I’m very proud of that.
Finally, there’s food and community. I get to grow veg that is otherwise relatively expensive in the supermarket. For example, I’ve had fresh mixed salad all summer and winter thus far. When I had excesses I tried to share it with others. Perhaps more importantly, I have offered this even when it may mean pushing my next harvest into the future, depriving me of fresh grub. That’s because we have built community around growing food together. For me personally, this includes forging friendships with folk I’d never have an opportunity to meet elsewhere.
I feel it safe to say that people are a key part of making place meaningful. The croft allows me to connect via food with the land, and with other people, which of course makes me happy. In turn I have become proud of my local area and am more active in trying to improve it further.