Feeding and learning unite community in crisis
Bereft of visitors, community groups and schools visits during lockdown, teams at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) have turned their attention to giving new kinds of support to residents in the capital in spring and summer 2020. And, while the gates are now open to the public in limited numbers, innovative styles of community outreach are set to continue.
Normally a busy time of community engagement for the Edible Gardening and Education teams, the Demonstration Garden and Botanic Cottage – to the north of the Inverleith site – have been empty other than a small team of staff since mid-March. While the Garden has been closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, crops have continued to grow so they have been benefiting the wider community via local food charities. At the same time, this outreach has afforded new educational engagement with children unable to attend school or access online resources.
Community Engagement Manager at RBGE, Judy Paul explained: “As spring sunshine brought on crops in the polytunnel - sponsored by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who have raised £2,425,000 for RBGE to sustain projects such as the Edible Garden – and also our kitchen garden crops, grown for Sodexo Prestige, our on-site catering partners, we had coriander, parsley, chard, chervil, chives galore and no one to benefit from this lovely fresh produce. After checking with all parties, we agreed we should donate whatever produce we could to local food projects that were springing up in response to the crisis.”
As the Edible Garden Team was already delivering growing workshops to community growers at Granton Hub, that was the obvious first choice charity to receive fresh organic produce. As a result, the Hub has been distributing RBGE vegetables and herbs as individual food parcels, as well as leaving vegetables in its fortnightly on-site ‘open pantry’.
A few days after the first harvest, the Botanics growers also linked-up with the team from Bridgend Farmhouse who are making and distributing meals to more than 300 people self-isolating or needing support in South Edinburgh. Soup and a cooked evening meal goes into each daily bag. With demand growing, fresh produce was most welcome.
“In week one we harvested and delivered 44 kg fresh organic produce to these two food projects followed by 30.75 kg in week two,” added Judy Paul. “We have harvested over 225 kgs of fresh produce and are now busy sowing more seeds to ensure succession crops for later in the season. It has been so nice to keep in touch with community groups and see people around Edinburgh enthused about Edible Gardening.”
The giving has not stopped with produce, however. Going out with Edinburgh Food Project deliveries have been printed versions of RBGE’s online Marley’s School of Garden Magic activities, in which Marley - the Garden’s resident cat – takes young followers on a virtual tour, giving them an opportunity to find out about some of the weird and wonderful plants and some magical creatures to be encountered along the way.
“Aware that not all children have access to devices to take part in our activities, we amended the online version as Expedition Dandelion and the printouts became a way of being more inclusive”, explained On-line Learning Manager Jane Robertson. “We issued 1,000 copies over the final few weeks of the school term to provide some outreach to children with the least access to technology or support. These have all been distributed through the foodbank, underscoring the fact that foodbanks aren’t just about food.”
Paying tribute to the project, Bethany Biggar, Director of Edinburgh Food Project concluded: “The Dandelion activity packs have been a great resource to provide to people who are accessing our foodbank services during this challenging time. We have been developing more than food services for a few years now, providing benefits and welfare advice and support services within our foodbank centres. During COVID-19 we have provided a next day delivery service, with only one centre remaining open. The Marley packs have been a great extra for people who are receiving a delivery from us.”
As visitors gradually return over summer, the Education and Community teams are aware not everyone will be able to access the Garden straight away and they are continuing to offer fresh routes of contact with diverse groups.
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