“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.” Robert Jordan
Back in the days before the burst money bubble of 2008 it seemed like community gardening and environmental projects in the voluntary sector could access all sorts of funding, and indeed many did. Times were good for gardening and environmental projects, funding was fairly easy to acquire and it was regular. On the other side of the the burst money bubble there is still funding about but the need for services and resources is much greater than it has ever been due to the shock and trauma caused by the credit crunch, and subsequent efforts to support and prop up a crooked and greedy banking sector that caused it. There is a huge need in terms of access to cleanly grown fresh food in the UK. Food banks gave out over one million food parcels in 2014 which was followed by a proliferation of newer food banks opening up all over the country. When this is combined with thousands of people being sanctioned by the DWP on a weekly basis and millions pushed into working poverty by zero contract employment, and the constantly rising price of fresh food the situation is a lot worse than any of the media dare to admit. This is where newer thinking and ways of doing things come in, and in particular Permaculture.
Resilience and systems
Central to Permaculture is the idea of creating resilient systems. It is interesting to note that in ecology, resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly. Similarly, in the world of human affairs such as economics we as human beings are responding and resisting damage by generating resilient structures and systems out of absolute necessity for the well being of people and planet as opposed to the failed model that puts the profit and wealth of the individual above all, whilst those who benefit from the old paradigm are still ever busying theirselves defending and propping up their failed and unfair model.
So what is the new model, and what does it look like? Healthy systems thrive when they are made up of diverse elements that form beneficial connections within the systems, so it will take diverse thinking and solutions to move us forward. We really need to look at each element of our system and give it that which works best for the well being of people and planet and allows it to thrive and do its work within the larger whole of other ideas and methods that are specific to different elements within systems. There is no shoe horning, and no one size fits all.
The main part of this diverse and emerging system that we are engaging in is centered around feeding people who through no fault of their own have ended up having to make decisions such as ‘do I keep warm tonight, or eat’? In Bolton where we are based there is an exciting and emerging process of local food production beginning to happen through collaborations between different local organizations and community groups across the Borough.
Community food hubs
We are currently involved in two food growing sites. Our Hub site is based on the Old Tennis Courts in the grounds of Southfields Pub and the other is on the hidden allotment site at Doe Hey in Farnworth. There is a another site off New Lane in Breightmet on which work will begin later in the summer.
The idea behind these food hubs is to grow produce on the sites that will be eaten within the community where the sites are situated, and also to encourage people on the estates near by to grow food in their own gardens and yards where they are supported and provided with the necessary skills to grow their own. We will also run workshops where we will show people how to prepare and preserve the food that they have grown. Further down the line we would like to see diverse strands of micro employment from urban agriculture, and community jobs created through expanding and developing these hubs. If good quality food is grown at low cost in an area that is actually buying the food there are numerous financial and ecological benefits that will occur when these growing hubs interact with local communities, particularly in times of dire economic circumstances. At present councils and other bodies have hundreds of thousands of acres of land within their boundaries and boroughs, and as council resources and departments are being pulled apart and asset stripped for private gain, it is a good time to get a group together and approach these bodies with a view to regenerating pieces of land and either renting long term or applying for Trust status over time. One of the great things about growing food is that doesn’t cost a lot of money to do as the yield far outweighs the cost. Fruit trees can be purchased from as little as £3.99 from budget supermarkets which will provide a family with fruit for decades and a packet of seeds that will give you a thousand cabbages costs around a pound. These are simple direct solutions to dire complicated problems!