SHIELDFIELD WHEATFIELD was a project in collaboration with Shieldfield Art Works, begun in 2018, with the aim of growing urban wheat in Shieldfield, Newcastle. The wheat would then be threshed, milled at a local bakery, and baked into bread, followed by a communal meal as part of the Grounded Harvest Festival. The project began with community engagement, planning and drawing an Edible Map, and a series of walks. Out of this process came a desire from some of the residents for some sort of implementation in terms of growing food. This was in summer 2019, pre-covid-19, and some residents expressed curiosity in terms of using some of the overgrown flower beds and grasses areas to grow food. For various reasons we decided on growing wheat, a crop usually associated with large-scale field production. Wheat isn’t a usual crop for urban growing because it takes up a lot of room to produce enough grain for baking. However, the juxtaposition of wheat and concrete was too much to resist, and in March 2020 we put spades into the ground in seven sites in the neighbourhood. I worked on the calculation that one square meter would yield 500g of flour – enough for one 800g loaf – in total we planted 12sq meters of wheat.
We planted wheat across 7 sites, including one school. Yields, in the end, were incredibly low and varied, with some sites producing a heavy crop, while others were attacked by pigeons who left us with very little. I suspect lockdown due to covid 19 played a huge part in this. One of the main sites for growing was in the grounds of the gallery, which was closed from the 15th March, the day after we planted. It was a secluded site with little or no through traffic and left unattended the birds had a field day. Two of the other sites were on main through fairs for pedestrians and cars, and these produced the best crops.
As I write we are still to thresh the wheat which will give us a good idea of the total harvest, but my suspicion is it will be much lower than 500g a meter!
Covid 19 also means that plans for a meal in early October may not happen, but the idea is for the growers to come together and celebrate our harvest.
The excitement for me was seeing the edible map work from the previous summer turn into a realised food growing activity, which responds to the curiosity that many residents felt around whether it was possible to grow food in their neighbourhood.
Details about the project can be followed here, https://www.saw-newcastle.org/shieldfield-wheatfield/
Also see Dwellbeing: https://www.saw-newcastle.org/shieldfield-grows/
Images ©Mikey Tomkins, except where stated.
It wasn’t going to be easy work as the soil in the various sites would need preparing. This would involve ordering in several tonnes of soil and constructing raised beds.