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A metal stand with plants growing for Hydroponics.

Can a city give back more than it takes?

New ways of growing together.

Back in October 2022 we held an event at St Anne’s House asking: When it comes to food, how can we make a generous city? Can a city give back more than it can take?

Against the backdrop of a cost of living crisis and climate emergency we looked to possible more generous futures – exploring different projects which were trying out alternative ways of growing, distributing and thinking about our relationship to food.

As part of the event artist Katy Connor shared her work on hydroponics (growing with water but no soil) – out of this emerged ‘New ways of growing together’, a project exploring how a community might develop and care for their own hydroponics system. 

A collaboration between Katy, Chloe Meineck, Liz Roberts, Georgia at Bricks and the people who took part, the project is a learning process for everyone involved – how to teach people about hydroponics, how to grow without soil, and how to collectively develop and care for a hydroponics system.

What happened 

Over winter 2023/24 we grew lettuce and broccoli, sprouted seeds and lamented the seeds that didn’t make it. We put together hydroponics systems of various sizes, learning how to add and measure the nutrients going in and about the different ways to grow using water.

We had lovely soup made by local resident Val (Val’s Kitchen) and visited LettUs Grow who do aeroponics research just over the road.

Trip to LettUs Grow

We also talked a lot and asked lots of questions. About how this could work in your house and what the ideal community hydroponics system would look like. About ways to make the process more eco friendly and whether there is waste or resources in St Anne’s House we could use.

We’ve thought about the inputs and outputs. The care, time, money, energy that goes in and the knowledge, ideas, plants, friendships that come out. We started to explore how these things can (and can’t) be measured.

Through this project we have seen the parallels of indoor growing and growing communities, it’s hard to predict, unexpected things happen and there is a need to be constantly watching, shifting and adapting.

Hydroponics can be perceived as an approach to growing which removes the human, a controlled environment which seeks to maximise yield, but following on from Katy’s work ‘hydropoetics’, where she is exploring it as a site of care.

We have also seen how it can be a space to practise some of the approaches (which we need in order to be hopeful and generous) which people came up with in the initial event back in October 2022: 

‘Reciprocal over extraction’, ‘collaboration over competition’, ‘citizen over consumer’, ‘interdependence over separatism’. 

By getting people together, new things are grown! Knowledge exchanged and expanded, neighbours get to know one another better and seeds of ideas are planted!

What’s next?

We want to open up the hydroponics system to more people locally and build on what we learnt in the workshops. So we are looking for some funding to do this. 

Now we have the kit we want to see if there is a way to make it a shared resource and find out how people might like to use it!

We also want to keep exploring how we can help people involved in similar projects easily evidence the social value of what they do. There’s so many brilliant community-led projects linked to food and growing that have a huge value in the community but it’s not always straightforward to capture that value and tell the people in charge about it.

Lots of people have said they are interested in exploring using some of the outdoor space to do some growing so we are looking into that too!

Get in touch!

If you want to chat to us about this or get involved in any future hydroponics or general growing projects.


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