Review: Organic and No-Dig Growing Course at Sitopia Farm ★★★★★

Review: Organic and No-Dig Growing Course at Sitopia Farm ★★★★★

Get back to nature with the Sitopia Farm team, and learn how to create your own no-dig market garden paradise. If there’s a more energising, inspirational and refreshing way to spend a day in London, we’re yet to find it!

1 Day Organic and No-Dig Growing Course | Sitopia Farm, 331 Shooters Hill, London DA16 3RP

We’ve long been cheerleaders for the wide expanse of Blackheath, dissected by the bustling A2 at the southern end of Greenwich Park. The heath is a wide grassy expanse which feels a million miles from the city, an often windswept space perfect for clearing the cobwebs of the mind, be it the depths of winter or the height of summer.

What we were, until recently, less likely to do was head further east and south along the A2, past the junction with the Blackwall Tunnel Approach, and up (and then down) Shooters Hill Road. Occasionally, we had ridden a bus along to Eltham Common and the 18th Century folly that is Severndroog Castle. But just a little further along, just 3.5 miles from the southern entrance to Greenwich Park, is the enterprising oasis of Sitopia Farm.

Sitopia Farm – from the Greek sitos, meaning food, and topos, meaning place – calls itself a modern urban farm in London. And technically, this is an Inner London farm, falling wholly within the London Borough of Greenwich – though, on a hot and sunny day in early September, the farm feels delightfully distant from anything so troubling as city life.

The word sitopia was originally coined by architect & lecturer Carolyn Steel, who is a Sitopia Farm Advisory Board member. Her book Sitopia – which explores the idea that food shapes our lives, and asks what we can do with this knowledge in order to lead better ones – is available to buy online.

Working on land at Woodlands Farm Trust, the Sitopia Team – led by Founder and Chief Grower Chloë Dunnett – have, since 2021, turned two acres of grazing field into a thriving, organic farm producing fresh vegetables and flowers for sale to the public.

Dunnett and colleagues – Rachel Jones, Oksana Kobenko and Cat Salt, plus a community of regular volunteers – are pursuing a vision of the world where food production nourishes both people and planet, through their farming but also their sharing of skills and building of a community.

As well as as selling their veg and flowers through subscription schemes and market days, Sitopia also run events and courses aimed both at corporate away days and individuals interested in learning about no-dig farming methods. In September 2023, Ru & Stu from To Do List joined a 1 Day Organic and No Dig Growing Course led by Chloë Dunnett and Rachel Jones. On a beautiful cloudless day, with happy bees buzzing between flowers, we and nine others spent a gentle yet hugely inspirational six hours finding out about how to turn a patch of ground of any size into a productive farm for veg, flowers or both.

Dunnett & Jones are at once knowledgeable and easy-going – they know their stuff, but there’s no stern lecturing. Rather, a supportive learning and sharing environment is instantly fostered, laying the foundations for a day which combines the educational with the recuperative. Honestly, this course could be prescribed on the NHS as a treatment for all manner of ills.

The learning experience takes the form of a meandering tour from ground preparation to harvest, through Sitopia’s various growing environments – the polytunnels, the greenhouse, the tool shed, the outside beds, the mandala garden and the compost bins. At each, Dunnett & Jones give detailed yet accessible explanations of best practice, lessons learned and handy tips. Questions – however basic – are encouraged, and thoughtfully answered.

The crops are impressive – rows of rainbow heritage tomatoes, radishes, aubergines, beans, brassicas, cucumbers, strawberries, vibrant salad leaves and edible flowers, as well as dahlias, sea lavender, poached egg plants, zinnias and sunflowers, to name but a few. It’s a photographers dream, a multitude of colours and shapes – and also a pleasure for the nose.

At the mid-way point, a lunch is served which showcases some of the fresh produce grown at the farm – in our case, a nourishing lentil stew alongside incredibly tasty tomatoes and a leafy salad the flavours of which defy description. Supermarket salad bag this ain’t!.

At the end of the afternoon, we’re given a quick how-to guide to harvesting flowers, and then we’re set loose on the farm, collecting together our own curated selections for bunching and tasking away. It’s a really nice touch – as is the complimentary veg bag given to each participant.

To some extent, of course, days like these are reliant on the weather – but it’s really hard to believe that this course wouldn’t tick all the boxes even on a rainy day. Surrounded by nature, and learning from such caring professionals, no clouds could taint this experience.

The course is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about organic, regenerative and no-dig farming – and you don’t need to be planning your own multi-acre farm! You’ll learn skills and methods that can be put to use on a balcony, garden or allotment plot. By the end of the day, you’ll be wondering why you ever owned a spade! You’ll also feel confident knowing how to care for your soil, how to choose what to grow, how to propagate and transplant, and how to approach crop rotation, composting and harvesting. We really couldn’t recommend this course enough, either for the avid gardener or for the novice beginner. 

Future course dates are yet to be confirmed – check the Sitopia website for more details as they are announced.

You can also volunteer to work the farm on Thursdays – click here for more information.

Finally, do consider heading along to one of the pop-up farm shop days (the next is 14th October), or  – if you live in Plumstead, Eltham or Blackheath – subscribing to one of the veg bag or bouquet subscription schemes.