Bocking 14 Comfrey growing at Ryton

Wider benefits of growing exotic crops

This project documents the oral history and culture of food growing within multicultural communities in the West Midlands. It was supported through the National Lottery by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Review of the wider benefits of growing exotic crops

Garden Organic carried out a review in conjunction with the University of Birmingham to examine the role of growing exotic crops in genetic conservation and food security.

Download the review here.

It's clear there is a goldmine of specialist knowledge, experience and seeds held by multicultural communities growing crops in allotments and gardens in the UK. The Sowing New Seeds project has gone a long way in capturing and preserving some of this precious resource. However, there is much beyond this being a fascinating wealth of information. The small-scale growing of multicultural crops could have essential roles in genetic conservation and food security. * University of Birmingham and Garden Organic analysed and reviewed survey data collected during interviews with allotment plot-holders at 31 sites around the Midlands.

Some of the headline findings were:

  • The percentage of growers aged over 70 was far higher for Caribbean growers than British white growers. This is a clear message that the knowledge for cultivating exotic crops is in danger of being lost as information is not passed on to younger generations.
  • We found a significant proportion (38 per cent) of the exotic crops are grown from self-saved seed. This is important as it indicates that these crops are diversifying and adapting to local conditions.
  • It is encouraging to find that 73 per cent of growers swap seeds with others—another way of increasing crop diversity and ensuring rare varieties are grown and not lost.
  • This review has highlighted the importance of allotment plot-holders in conserving both traditional and exotic crops and the vital role of exotic crops in the UK’s multicultural society. Critically, the long-term security of allotments is vital for the preservation of this important source of knowledge and resources for food security.