Calthorpe Community Garden is a community allotment based in central London and aims to promote urban composting, and organic gardening. This community garden doesn’t just grow food, but composts it as well, showcasing a unique closed-loop system that ensures nothing goes to waste.
When it comes to sustainable living and gardening, it’s crucial to understand how this translates to inner city living. Over 80% of the UK’s population live in urban environments, with many people having limited access to and ownership of outdoor spaces.
So how can sustainable living and gardening principles; reducing food waste, growing organic fruit and veg, and nurturing local insect and wildlife populations be implemented in an urban environment?
We visited Calthorpe Community Garden to see how it could be done…
A Composting Community Garden
Calthorpe Community Garden was first set up in 1982 after a group of local residents campaigned to lease out the site which had landed in council hands following a failed property development deal.
The Camden-based community garden, located 10 minutes away from Kings Cross Station, is founded on a SEED Philosophy, which advocates for Sports, Education, Environment and Diversity.
Residents felt they needed a community-run space to help the area thrive, and 40 years on, that dream is very much being implemented. The community garden boasts a large variety of fruit and veg beds, runs a variety of adult and children's gardening classes and provides space and support for countless local charities.
Chatting with Calthorpe Community Garden business development manager Zoe, she explains how a dedicated volunteer base helps to make the centre a success.
“We have some really passionate and dedicated people that come in every week to volunteer, and participate in our activities and festivals which is really nice. We’re hoping to expand our reach this year, especially with the transition into winter and the cost of living crisis, a lot more people will need our help and support”.
The Closed-Loop Food Waste System
Calthorpe showcases a brilliant, closed loop system which exemplifies the founding principles of sustainable living and gardening. The community garden has four composters in action, including an anaerobic biodigester system and a compost tumbler.
Calthorpe Community Garden volunteers run an onsite vegetarian cafe, and the food waste from this is put straight into the on-site composters, primarily the biodigester.
Because the biodigester is a closed loop system, the gas generated by bacteria as they break down food waste is captured and used to power electrical appliances in the volunteer shed.
The liquid produced by the digester is also utilised as a fertiliser for the community garden, which grows much of the cafe's produce.
See below for a full tour of the Calthorpe Community Garden Biodigester System.
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Zoe explains that the Calthorpe Community Garden team want the system to inspire other organisations to implement similar practices: “We’re hoping that larger companies and organisations, especially ones with huge buildings that produce a lot of food waste such as universities, schools, etc. come and look at our site and say ‘maybe we should invest in a large biodigester’”.
Many within the Camden borough are keen to use Calthorpe’s composting facilities and reduce their food waste, but demand often outstrips the community garden’s capacity.
“We take some [food waste] from people, but unfortunately we can’t accept it from everyone,” notes Zoe.
“We’re trying to get people to set up their own composting systems, but the issue is if no one’s collecting your food waste and you’re living in a flat in Camden, there’s not a lot you can do. You can’t set up a composter in your living room.”
Calthorpe is keen to get people composting, even with many lacking a garden or green space to compost in.
“We’re trying to get the word out to encourage people to join together and set up a collective compost system. If you had residents within a block of flats, for example, that joined together, they could potentially invest in having a community compost system somewhere on their site.”
Zoe explains that the community garden team can help residents with grant applications and support the system up and running.
Environmental Education for All
Education is an essential part of the Calthorpe Community Garden philosophy. During term time, classes are run in conjunction with local schools to show children around the garden and teach them how composting works.
The community centre also holds a range of adult classes, including cooking, weaving, embroidery and soap making using essential oils from flowers in the garden.
Calthorpe Community Garden is open every day from 9 am - 6 pm to the general public, and encourages volunteers and visitors alike. Whether you want to join a class, get some composting inspiration, or simply take in the beautiful surroundings, Calthorpe Community Garden is well worth the visit.