Making soil and growing food on the roof in Birmingham.

Argent College deliver practical skills and therapeutic education to young people aged between 16 and 25 years old. Part of the Ruskin Mill Trust, Argent College is based in central Birmingham and offers work experience, social and cultural programmes at the New Standard Works where there are workshops, a roof garden, bakery and café providing more opportunities for students to develop essential employment skills, as well as serving the community. The curriculum includes a range of traditional crafts, living skills and vocational training. Students can choose sessions including: jewellery, enamelling, leatherwork, textiles, photography, print-making, living skills, catering, breadmaking and candle-making as well as gardening skills. It’s a wonderful creative environment in a central city location.

The roof garden shown above is on the second floor, it is spectacular and serene above the surrounding city whilst enjoying the cityscape skyline. Extensive re-enforcement of the old roof has enabled head gardener Matthew Hayes to create a large fertile growing space with polytunnel, irrigation and perfect beds and borders. Soil and compost will now be enriched with recycled food waste as Argent have installed a Ridan food waste composting system up on the roof.

It’s a perfect solution, with the cafe and bakery serving great food, there is very little waste, but what there is, along with green trimmings from the roof grown veg can now be recycled and used to grow more vegetables.
Just walking out onto the roof of this old industrial building to find a working market garden in full swing, with neat rows of seedlings emerging into the bright winter sunshine, is an astounding experience. City center gardening really can work, it is easy to see how much good food this space will soon be producing, and the Ridan composter makes it into a closed loop sustainable ecosystem where no organic matter will be wasted.

All food waste from the kitchens, cafe, bakery and garden will now be loaded into the Ridan composting system where it gets hot and composts quickly. In time worms and a wide variety of tiny organisms will move in and complete the process of making a lovely rich fertile compost.