Charlotte Du Cann
A green revolution is unleashing. It’s not so much a grassroots as an edible roots movement, as people everywhere, whether urban or rural, hip, straight or radical, are all growing their own. Suddenly everyone is talking guerrilla gardening and glutney. The sale of vegetable seeds is up by 60%, outstripping ornamental plants for the first time in a generation. It’s not just Britain having a rethink about allotments, it’s a trend that’s happening all over the world in response to social fragmentation, rising food prices, industrialised farming, and perhaps most potently, an instinctive feeling that that our collective sanity is linked to having a relationship with the land. “It’s not just about growing food,” said Clare Joy of Organic Lea, “It’s about growing community.”
Joy was speaking to a packed hall for Growing Local!, a conference organised by Sustainable Bungay in partnership with Emmanuel Church (following its Climate Change conference last year). Speakers from established food growing projects came to provide practical help, advice and inspiration for group and individual growers, ranging from Tully Wakeman, director of East Anglia Food Link to Nepal-born Mahesh Pant of Grow-Our-Own, a start-up allotment scheme in Norwich. The hall hummed like a hive of bees as growers, allotment holders, gardeners and transition people from all over East Anglia discussed different ways of engaging in community-led food production.
“It was all about making first contact,” said Josiah Meldrum of Sustainable Bungay who spearheaded last month’s event, “Bringing people together in a room and catalysing practical action, thinking small farming rather than big gardening. It felt like the start of something quite significant.”
Our attitude to food is shifting fast. Looking to the future it is clear that real food security means growing and processing food locally and organically. It also means making a transition to a one-planet diet. We will have to stop feasting like kings and eat a lot more like peasants, cutting our consumption of meat and dairy (due to its high, and frequently destructive, use of land, especially for palm oil and soya animal feed). Cheap oil has meant cheap food, and peak oil will severely affect a global transport system and agriculture reliant on petro-chemicals. In place of our addiction to a fast and glamorous eating-style however will come health, connection and clear conscience. Growing local is not just a question of redesigning a food system but of deep earth ethics, farming in a small, fair and sustainable way that brings return to local economies, restores heavily-contaminated soil and water systems and works in harmony with the living planet.
It’s also about restoring the heart of community, living life as if it were shared rather than owned: not just sharing our produce, seeds and tools, but also space, stories, knowledge and time. It’s about the apple and pear juice scrumped from the backgardens of Walthamstow, the 60 different salad leaves grown by an army of volunteers for Growing Communities in Hackney. It’s about Care farms that give the disadvantaged a chance to reconnect with the earth in the Waveney Valley. It’s about people all over the country renovating allotments, rescuing derelict land, working on projects together, sharing gardens, meeting in city farms and community kitchens.
But most of all it is about life. Putting life back into plants, places and people. Life in our own hands.
Sustainable Bungay is Suffolk’s first “official” Transition Initiative. To find out about future events or general information contact transitiontowns.org. Charlotte Du Cann writes about the relationship between people, language and the land and lives in Reydon. She has recently completed a memoir about plants called 52 Flowers That Shook My World.