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Growing, cooking and going green

“It is overwhelming to think that we are helping to make a difference to the world,” said Dina Tsuro, who has been running projects in Northolt with a triple impact: Greening spaces, growing food and learning healthy eating and cooking habits.

Dina Tsuro has recently been named as a local ‘Climate Leader’ by Ealing Council for the work she has been doing.

She set up Building Bridges in 2005 in Brent, running innovative workshops on council estates. Then, when she and her family moved to Northolt, she combined forces with her husband who is a gardener wanted to give back to the community. Together, they started Urban Edible Gardens, which is about turning grey spaces green, and workshops around healthy food and nutrition.

Growing food – and building togetherness

Three girls and a man tending the flower beds in a community garden
The girls with Dina’s husband in the community garden at Radcliffe estate, Northolt

The pair have used the projects to create community gardens at Radcliffe and Medlar Farm estates in Northolt, where residents have helped to grow vegetables and plants; and they have also set up a community kitchen at Medlar Farm Estate to demonstrate how to prepare and cook the produce as part of healthy meals. They hope an outdoor kitchen will follow at Radcliffe, too.

The latest addition to the project, which has only recently opened, came about after they took over the disused sensory garden behind Northolt Library, with the help of the council and support from the Mayor of London greening fund. They have transformed it to become a community growing space with an edible garden, along with a sensory garden and a vegetarian café using produce they have grown and some of their own recipes.

“It’s a process from farm to fork, basically,” said Dina. “Growing something and then learning how to make something with it.

“In the Edible Gardens, we teach people how to grow their own food and so many people get involved and they take ownership of it. Residents can take the produce to eat, and we wanted it to be very accessible. We’ve not had any trouble.

“Then, in the kitchen, we show people how to use the food to make healthy and easy meals – and we also show them how to shop, too.

A girl's hands full of tomatoes
Ruby holding tomatoes grown at the community garden at Radcliffe estate, Northolt

“We have a lot of other add-on services, like personal trainers and nutritional therapists running workshops to give health advice for specific issues.”

Their children have helped to take the lead in the cooking workshops, and they have even set up a new YouTube channel to take their healthy eating message to more kids. But we will come to that later.

A climate leader

“Turning grey spaces green is a passion of mine, and the environmental benefits of what we are doing are so important,” said Dina. “Everything I do is so close to my heart; and it is overwhelming to think that we are helping to make a difference to the world, not just to people’s lives, by teaching them little lifestyle changes.

“And it’s a learning journey for me, too. I didn’t even realise the full impact of our eating habits on the planet until we got started with this project, and my research into planting, recycling, climate adaption and sustainable drainage systems has all taught me new things. It’s exciting.

“Being made a climate leader makes me proud and I hope lots of the children will become leaders in their own right.”

What inspired the projects?

Dina said: “I’ve got five children and my husband is a gardener by trade, so we started having our own allotment to grow some of our own food. That was my main inspiration because it really set off a passion and encouraged us to set up a community project.

“We’d moved from Wembley, where there is a lot of community interaction, but I didn’t find that here in Northolt. And the deprivation was also very alarming to me. I really wanted to try to help uplift the community from within and give people more opportunities and hope for their local area.

“I have always really enjoyed cooking and healthy eating too, so it all just came together.

“I’m so invested in the area because I live here, and our children go to the schools here.

“It’s all brought people together and got people talking to each other and so it has turned into a social project too. People look out for each other and engage in a way they hadn’t before, which is exactly what Building Bridges is about: Seeing gaps and bridging everything together.

“Working with the young people is an inspiration, too. It is so refreshing, coming from where I grew up, to see young people easily influenced into the good things and having minds that are open to it – rather than the gun and knife crime in other areas of London.

Three girls wearing cooking outfits preparing vegetables for making a smoothie, with a woman helping and chopping fruit
Dina chops fruit while the girls help or look on at the community kitchen in Medlar Farm estate, Northolt

“We have careers advisers come in, too. And if I see a child has talent, I’ll pick up on it and encourage it. We do a lot of signposting to places where they can develop their talent – whether it’s dance, drama, football or something else. I just want to help them to be confident to try new things – sometimes that encouragement and direction is all they need and, because they and their parents trust us, it seems to make a difference.”

Cooking Kids

After doing really successful workshops for planting and cooking, with two of Dina’s daughters – Angelee and Diya – active participants, they decided to start a YouTube channel (see the bottom of this article for a link). Their friend Ruby is a garden monitor at Radcliffe, too. You can see all three in the video with Dina at the top of this article.

Dina said: “After we started growing our own food, the girls actually turned vegetarian before we did. They do a recipe for spicy cauliflower wings that tastes better than chicken wings, with a coating like you’d get at KFC. They are amazing.

“We have found that children teaching children makes them more willing to try new things if another child is showing them.

“A lot of children have a bad diet and are even losing teeth because of it. If parents do not know how to eat, then it is passed on. Lots just get frozen food, while others get sent out to buy themselves fast food and little else.

“I feel we’re making a real difference and parents have been encouraged to eat a more seasonal plant-based diet – which has meant overcoming the perception that it is expensive. Another misconception among better-off parents sometimes is that if food is cheap, it is poor quality produce, but we show them that is not the case either.

A man and woman with their two daughters and their friend, also a girl, standing in a community garden
The Tsuros and friend Ruby in the community garden at Radcliffe estate

“We have teamed up with Lidl and they allow us to go in for a workshop an hour before they open so we can show people how to shop on a budget and select produce to make healthy meals. We then go on to show them how to turn that food into quick, healthy 10-minute meals – for example the girls showed recently how to make an easy mushroom soup with only six ingredients: Onions, garlic, thyme, stock, mushrooms and crème fresh, which lasts three days without being packed with preservatives like the soup you get in tins that takes like cat food.

“And we show people how to stretch their food further as well – and not just vegetarian food, but to make more meals from your meat by adding in more veg and pulses to what you make.”

Workshops include Cooking Kids for healthy cooking; Growing Kids for gardening and horticultural skills; and Save Our Planet for environmental workshops learning about habitats, recycling, plants, climate change and small ways to make changes in your life to help save the planet.

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