This week I spent the day feeding chickens at Farmshop, an urban farm hidden inside what seems to be just another shop window in Dalston. With urban populations on the rise, there has also been a rise in urban agriculture. Small-scale urban farms are seen as an antidote to industrialized agriculture’s excesses – both the pollution from chemical fertilizers and the high costs (both environmental and monetary) of transporting the food – not to mention the ethical aspects. City grown food is fresh and sustainable  – by farming close to where the food is sold, the supply chain is simplified and food can be sold directly to customers hours of being picked. This cuts out transport, marketing and refrigeration costs and means that you’re getting top quality produce at fair prices. It also gives us the chance to reconnect with nature and our planet which we don’t often get a chance to do with 9-5 jobs and constant technology access.

The building is home to an urban farming hub featuring revolving urban agricultural experiments, flower and plant shop, a fresh food cafe and events space available for hire. You can help them and volunteer with whatever free time you have or head down to their lovely cafe, which they stock with their own lettuce onsite and most of the herbs which they use all year around, from a growing area of only 14 square metres of indoor and 12 square metres of outdoor space! They also farm eighty Tilapia fish, raise chickens and grow tomatoes, peppers, edible flowers and more. I chatted to Zoe, who began as a volunteer about 4 years ago and now runs Farmshop. As if that’s not enough, in her spare time she does wonderful things with Full Petal Jacket, using the space to run gardening workshops to support women.

What does local mean to you?

“My immediate surroundings, it conjures up ideas of coziness as well doesn’t it, when something’s local…ease, simplicity.”

What’s your favourite thing about this area?

“The diversity 100%, I love that aspect of it and I really hope that doesn’t change. I like all the creativity around Dalston as well, lots of people trying very hard to do interesting stuff, that really amazes me, lots of very brave people as well going off and doing lots of cruddy jobs just so that they can spend those few hours a day doing what they really really want to do, I think that’s pretty incredible. That creates a really nice, inspiring environment to be in, motivating.”

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?

“Getting people to trust that we are here and present and open for them and engaging the community and the right parts of the community as well, getting old people and young people through the door. My biggest daily challenge is making everybody to mix in a healthy way.

What’s the dynamic going to be like for the next hour and when you’re asking people to come and get involved and to help you, and to help a greater idea as well you will want to make sure that they’re comfortable and calm and they’re doing as much what they want to do as well as what you need them to do, it’s really tricky. With volunteers, when you get it right it’s banging. Keeping people safe as well while they’re here, making sure you don’t get your eye poked out by a chicken is quite important!”

What are the plans for the future of Farmshop?

“To stop this building from being knocked down, that would be really cool! The aim for Farmshop is to grow more and to find a way of sustaining really a retail outlet, selling people all the bits of equipment that they need to be able to grow some tomatoes on their balcony – also selling the aeroponics systems, we want to do more aeroponics for the shop, more for domestic systems because people want them up on their walls and this kind of crazy stuff! So yeah, to grow the business and be able to keep Farmshop open, that’s our biggest goal.”

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