The Edible Herb Barter

Natasha Kaur Grewal, and James Clarkson, Architecture

The Edible Herb Barter (ERB) machine

Minimising our food miles — the distance the food we consume has travelled — has become an essential element to enable us to reduce our own carbon footprints. Inspired by the theme to create a productive space, to grow fresh foods, utilise recycled materials and encourage a social engagement around nature in smaller settings; The Edible Herb Barter (E.R.B.) The machine provides a sustainable alternative approach to growing herbs and micro greens indoors, using recycled tin cans.

The project was conceptualised and modelled by Natasha Kaur Grewal (M.Arch) and James Clarkson (Stage 4, Dip.Arch) for the RHS Pop-Up Garden Competition at Gardening Scotland 2019 held at the Royal Highland Showgrounds in Edinburgh.

As students currently living in halls of accommodation, we had noticed that a large amount of packaging quickly accumulates within the shared kitchen areas, especially canned foods and drinks. By collecting our used containers, we discovered this amounts to approximately 40lts of recycled waste each week.

Through the project, we aim to inspire students and young professionals who live within these smaller accommodation units to grow low maintenance fruits, salads, and herbs — such as coriander or mint — and other leafy vegetables. These can be grown within the recycled tins and cans which could be arranged and organized within a prefabricated frame to create a vertical ‘vending machine’ type garden.

In most student halls and short-term accommodations, there are large areas of ‘grey’ wall surfaces which are left blank and under-utilized, often in well-lit areas both internally and in some cases externally. The vertical structure optimizes the area used to grow the fresh foods, where a potential modular design could allow for flexibility in the scale of each garden from an individual to a flat or larger group. The plug-in nature of the cans will provide an easily maintainable and usable selection of produce, allowing users to engage in the bartering, or exchange process of consuming and replenishing the garden dynamically to suit their own needs across the changing seasons.

The entry for the RHS Pop-Up Garden Show which was guided by the theme of ‘Greening Great Britain’ had received a positive audience and overwhelming feedback from both judges and guests throughout the weekend exhibition — 31st May to 2nd June 2019 — where the project had sparked interesting discussions regarding its usage, viability and modularity. The GSA Green Team received two awards for the competition:

1. Silver Gilt
2. Discretionary Award for Innovation

The overall comments of the judges indicated that the design clearly encourages healthy eating patterns within student accommodations, and they were very excited to know and suggest how the idea could be further explored.

The model has now been placed in the lobby of Blythswood House (GSA Student Halls). During a 4-week period that students from GSA Singapore are residing in these halls, a joint exercise, engaging with the students, creates a scope to study the impacts ‘The Machine’ would and could potentially have on student habits and living experiences.

Relationship with my IRP

Though my Individual research project I am exploring different methods of designing for nature in the urban environment. The vending machine is not just a source of food but also creates relief in the plastered environment. There is substantial evidence that nature needs to be layered in different scales to create an environment that encourages productivity and improves mental wellbeing.

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