Food values can aid community well-being in 2020 and beyond
Food, how it is produced and how it benefits our busy lifestyles, is increasingly in the spotlight. Around the clock, a multitude of TV experts are on a mission inspiring us to feed our children meals that are affordable, delicious and nutritious. At the same time, a stream of reminders informs us that the way we produce and consume food is putting an impossible strain on the planet. So, how can we start to make amends?
Celebrating our relationship with food has an important role to play. By remembering that food hails not from a mighty supermarket shelf - but from a potentially tiny plot - we can start to view the bigger picture. Taking it a step further, by growing just a little of what we eat, we can start to improve our own physical and mental well-being, as well as enjoying fresh new flavours.
Because the very act of encouraging individuals to grow their own can unnecessarily cause apprehension about what is needed by way of resource and resilience, support and reassurance are vital.
One local, national, international example of the best practice in communicating what is good about growing your own food is the Edible Gardening Project, based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, it is for everyone who thinks they might like to grow their own, but don’t know where to begin.
From drop-in “Meet the Gardener” sessions to free workshops and dedicated sessions, the Edible Gardening Project helps people grow their own vegetables and fruit by offering advice on how to get started. Unexpected bonuses can be found along the way: while gardens and allotments are useful for growing delicious food, containers will often do very nicely!
To be most effective, any project of this nature needs to provide individuals with the right amount and kind of knowledge and skills they require. For many, the maximum benefit can come from company. When gardening and cooking become a shared experience for a community group, bonds are created through the common act of growing, preparing and eating food together.
The Edible Gardening Project shares horticultural knowledge, skills and enthusiasm for growing food with diverse communities, all free of charge to any members of the community who seek inspiration. Key to the project are the volunteers who work hard to keep the demonstration garden looking fabulous. They are on hand at workshops and drop-in sessions to provide support and advice to people who are interested in brushing up on basic horticultural skills.
But visitors don’t need to get their hands dirty, or even visit the community plots for their first taste of what’s good about growing your own. Diners in the on-site restaurant and coffee shops can now taste the vegetables and fruits being grown for the adjoining Kitchen Garden. This plot steps in another direction to ensure produce in purchased meals is as local as it can possibly be.
In complementing each other’s activities, the two ventures can provide a more holistic approach, right through the year.
More than ever there are opportunities to learn the skills and techniques to provide a year-round supply of fresh vegetables. Everything from crop selection to plot preparation, composting and indoor seed sowing are available within a short walk of the bustling city centre. And, sharing the delight of newly found recipes, with new found company in an inspirational setting.
Gardening is the greatest of levellers and, while visits to the Garden are hugely encouraged, all kinds of outreach are also explored, from the professionals visiting community groups out in their allotments to written website advice and email exchanged. Or, simply check out the website.
As we start a new year and a new decade, the opportunities are rich to encourage all the sense of well-being to be found from growing their own.
Looking to the future, with the Kitchen Garden having gained organic status, in July 2019, there will be new emphasis on the value of promoting sustainable growing. There will be fresh focus on more active climate change mitigation throughout 2020 and further promotion of plant-based diet options, seasonal and sustainable alternatives. Above all, there will be the desire to welcome new members of the wider community to find out more and join in with Edible Gardening Project activities.
Judy Paul is Community Engagement Manager, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
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