The Firs’ civic partnership to address food insecurity

In the heart of the University’s Fallowfield campus sits the Firs Botanical Grounds and Environmental Research Station. This urban oasis is home to vital environmental research, teaching, wellbeing activities and community outreach.  

The Firs is placing a strong focus on civic partnership to create the engaging and collaborative atmosphere needed to address 21st century challenges such as food insecurity, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation.  

One project helping to achieve this is Manchester Food Partners (MFP): Commit to Community, a newly formed student-led initiative. A rally of dedicated student volunteers come together weekly to sow and grow vegetables in the Firs’ greenhouse and polytunnel, whilst working with partners such as Oldham Council to provide recipe and cooking skill support to make the best use of the produce, as well as educational resources about sustainable food systems. The food from the Firs is being used to as part of ‘Get Oldham Growing’s’ affordable veg box scheme, aimed at Oldham residents moving out of emergency food provision and those on low income. It is also helping Cracking Good Food’s collaborative campaign to alleviate food and fuel poverty and increase food sustainability across Greater Manchester.  

This builds on previous work at the Firs involving the University’s student Botany Society, whereby student volunteers supplemented a fresh produce veg box initiative run by Oldham Councils’ Environmental Services volunteer team at Alexandra Park, producing 20 veg boxes each week for users of Oldham Foodbank.  

Tegan, a member of MFP said: “We are very lucky to be working with The Firs Botanical Grounds, who have provided an amazing hub for our operations, with a dedicated space in the greenhouse and polytunnel to give our seedlings a running start.” 

Dave Hanlon from Oldham Council, spoke of the collaboration: “It has shown how we can co-ordinate the gleaning of surplus produce to help local people who struggle to access healthy and nutritious food.”