Final year Biology student Elly Bolton shares her experience of growing food at university.

I was introduced to the idea of growing food from a very young age. We were fortunate enough to have outdoor space for a plum tree in the garden, and every year my mother would grow runner beans, meaning that in the summer we would have steamed beans with absolutely everything, as well as an abundance of plum crumbles! 

I started to think about growing my own food when I moved into halls and realised just how much I missed having a garden. Once I moved after first year, I started toying with the idea of growing vegetables from scraps. My housemates and I have since regrown spring onions, pak choi, and carrots that would otherwise be thrown away, which is a great place to start if you’re thinking about trying to grow your own food. It’s almost costless, easy, and because the scraps would be thrown away otherwise, is a great step towards sustainability! All you really need is a windowsill, a plastic container (like an empty butter tub), some water, and the scrap you want to regrow. If you want to plant the scraps out to allow them to grow even more, you’ll need a plant pot and some compost, both of which are often being given away/sold for cheap on Olio or Facebook Marketplace, so keep an eye on them! There are a plethora of hints and tips on YouTube and Instagram, which I used to get me started. 

It’s incredibly satisfying to see a new plant sprout from almost nothing, and trust me, you’ll be surprised at how fast some of them can grow! Plus there’s a deep sense of achievement that comes with growing and cooking your own food, or food that you’ve foraged. Growing food is a really important activity for me as it forces me to be away from my phone and computer for a while so I can switch my brain off and be present, which I’ve found helps with mental health.

More than 30% of food purchased in the UK is thrown away each year, which, according to Defra, totals 6.7 million tonnes. By growing even some of my own food, I’ve found that I am more mindful of how much I buy in the supermarket, as I have a better understanding of the effort and resources needed to produce what I consume. This means that my food waste has decreased dramatically as a result! Working with soil is a brilliant way of grounding yourself. It’s a similar feeling to the one you get when you’re walking barefoot on grass, as there’s a connection to the earth being made. I have found that growing my own food is a fantastic way to explore ways of incorporating more plants into my diet and of exploring different types of vegetables that may not be available in the supermarket.

For those of you who want to start dabbling in growing your own food, I would highly recommend getting in touch with Allotment Soc at Sheffield Students’ Union once societies are allowed to meet again, especially if you don’t have access to an outdoor space and want some hints on how to grow food inside. You absolutely don’t need an outdoor space to grow food, you might just have to get a little creative! YouTube has a whole host of informative videos on how you can grow produce with a limited amount of space (Grow vegetables in an apartment, Regrow vegetables from scraps, Edible plants you can grow indoors), as does Instagram (@blackgirlswithgardens, @f.laura_and_fauna, @emmyyjj, @blackforager). A few University Green Impact teams are incorporating roof gardens and veg plots as part of their projects for the year. The Geography and USP team are working to tidy up the plot to the side of their building, which is already producing apples, gooseberries, and other fruits. Contact your department to find out if they’re taking on a project like this and for information on how you can get involved!

Happy growing!!

By Elly Bolton