The story of Sown in Bolton

Since our inception as a small constituted community group back in the early 2000s our main aim has always remained the same throughout this time, namely that people on low or no incomes should be able to access cleanly grown organic food that hasn’t been shipped half way across the planet only to lie idle in some distribution centre where it loses nutrients and freshness. We firmly believe that cleanly grown local food is a human right and that income and social strata shouldn’t come into it where food is concerned.

Proof of the pudding

We grow food in our moderately sized council house garden to great effort, in the early days, we majored in Courgettes, garlic, Tomatoes, peppers, purple sprouting brocolli, carrots and mixed salad leaves until they were coming out of our ears. There was even enough bulk produce to sell and swap bits if it, and seeds and cuttings to sell on ebay which helped generate some income when money was scarce. We continued developing and designing the garden and were able to grow enough hops yearly to make around a thousand pints of beer, we also grew different soft fruits and grapes which were turned into wines and lots of herbs, some to take cuttings from and sell, and some to be used in the kitchen. With a little reading up, orbservation and planning it is possible to grow a sizable amount of useful plants in a Council house garden

diverse skill set

On top of the horticultural skills in our little group two of us had studied Permaculture, myself briefly under Andy Langford whilst at Ruskin College in 1996, followed by a full PDC with Patrick Whitefield, Co-founder Jean Urmston also studied for her PDC under Patrick Whitefield. With our combined skills and our work in both the statutory and voluntary sector in mental health, and project and community work we were well armed and ready to go into battle, all we needed now was people to work with and some cash to do it with.

Connecting the pieces

Enter Bolton at Home, a modern Bolton based housing charity who had fighting food poverty as one of the major organizational objectives, Bolton at Home had over fifteen thousand tenants (potential growers) intelligent and forward thinking Neighbourhood Managers who weren’t scared of trying things out, and access to funding through their community development arm.

Our collaborative work with Bolton at Home has now just gone into its fourth year, with each passing year we have worked with more and more folk, in the first year of supporting people to grow in their gardens we worked with seven families, the following year the number rose into the 20s, the two proceeding years the numbers jumped to thirty five families who we helped in some way to grow food at home. During the 2016 growing projects we were inundated with requests from residents who wanted to try and grow their own food, but we had already stretched our budget out to work with extra families and had reached our capacity in terms of resources.

The need

There are lots of things wrong with modern food and how we go about it, Coming from a working class household things that we previously ate as treats such as takeaways have been marketed into replacing cooked meals, nowadays its simply a case of picking up the phone and ordering the take away, it is then delivered half an hour later, as one of our growers once put it ‘You can buy a large kebab and two large bags of chips for under a tenner, I divide it up into four portions for me and the kids and it fills us up’.

some of the Mums we have worked with have gone without a meal so they could make sure their kids had enough to eat, my own mother would sometimes go without when we were small,  four decades later the same thing is back and happening on Council estates across the country. Some of the folk we work with have no pots and pans, some have no cookers, some have to choose between heating and eating during the winter months. There is also lack of knowledge about what constitutes healthy food, I could go on and on and on.

Crowdfunding

After speaking to a guy at the Offgrid festival in 2016 where I was booked to speak about our work in Bolton we decided to give crowdfunding a go. There had been huge cuts made in both housing sector and social and community provision so it made sense to try something new out in terms of funding. The guy I spoke to at Offgrid festival told us there would be a strong likelihood of projects like ours attracting a lot of attention and funding, as he put it in his own words ‘There are a lot of food growing and permaculture type projects from affluent places who are crowdfunding, but what you are doing is really important and needs to be rolled out, people will support it I,m sure’ so we decided to give it a bash, there was nothing to lose by trying and the guy at Offgrid festival sounded really upbeat about it.

How the project will work

If our crowdfunder is successful we will provide resources for a 100 families to grow their own food, including raised beds, fruit trees, fruit bushes, seeds, pots, herbs and watering can etc. we will visit them regularly (once weekly) to see how they are fairing and provide horticultural support when needed. We will also be delivering cooking and horticultural sessions at two community food growing Hub sites in Bolton, the sessions are in place as extra support to our hundred food growing families, and for other folk who live in the areas who show an interest in what we are doing.

Long term

This is a long term project for us, we will continue in whatever capacity we able, to support low and no income families in growing some of their own food. Bolton is littered with patches of derelict fertile land, and surrounded by farmers fields, many which seem to by lying idle, over time we would like to see a local food economy develop in Bolton, which we hope will create good quality and meaningful employment set against a background of tedious call centre and warehouse work. So that’s about it for now folks, the sun is shining, time to get out sowing seeds before the rain kicks in again, if you able to support us either by pledging money to our crowdfunder or sharing the Link, it would be very much appreciated.

Steve

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Sown in Bolton

During the last three years we have been working collaboratively with local housing charity Bolton at Home to address food poverty, we have helped to fight food poverty in the most direct and practical way possible, by helping people to grow some of their own food at home in either their gardens, yards or on their windowsills.

It makes sense!

There are multiple reasons why we took this approach, namely that people on low or no income are less likely to have access to cleanly grown fresh food, we also believe that if we can get people into growing some of their own food that they learn new skills, they get outside in the fresh air, save money and eat really well for next to nothing, and as the case has been with some of our growers in the past they have continued feeding their families and growing has now become a norm for some households.

What we are up against

We have seen a lot of things whilst doing this work and listened to a lot of concerns within the community, there is grinding poverty experienced by many including people who are working, a lack of basic knowledge of what constitutes healthy food and how to prepare it, some people who have no cooking equipment, and there are people who have to regularly make the choice between either heating their selves or eating. Some families now are almost completely reliant on cheap aways, as one young Mum once explained to me ‘If you aint got money to top your gas up to cook your tea you can buy a large kebab and two lots of chips for a fiver, this is enough to feed me and my three kids’

Light at the end of the Tunnel

But don’t get me wrong, its not all been grim, far from it, We have also seen a lot of good happening during this time, we have seen people with serious illnesses getting out in the garden and growing food with their kids, we have seen our growers sharing out their produce as was the case with one man Chris Gregory who lives in Breightmet who divided out portions of food he had grown and gave it out to people who had been the victims of benefit sanctions, and we have seen kids picking and eating carrots and peas as they leave the house to walk to School. On the community plots where we have worked we have listened to stories of how getting out and working with the soil has helped people with mental ill health. We also saw Congolese refugee women who were knew to Bolton engaging in food growing and the sharing of native food dishes with us.

And it is these successes and connections that are the motivating force for us to continue with this work and to try and take it to another level against a background of continued ideological austerity and scarcity, ours is a simple one ‘If you aint got food, grow some!

Ramping up production and developing communities

We decided at the end of the growing season of 2016 that we really needed to find a way of ramping the whole food growing thing up and try to get as many people growing their own as possible. We decided that we were going to try crowdfunding as a means of potentially funding this work and so we got together with managers and community workers at Bolton at Home and put together our crowdfunding page on Spacehive.

So whats the Plan for 2017?

The idea is to raise enough funds to buy food growing kits for a hundred families, and to provide resources and support for two food growing Hubs in Breightmet and Farnworth, both are areas of high social and economic exclusion. If our crowfunder is successful we will support the hundred growing families right through the growing season, whilst running gardening and cooking sessions at the Hub sites as a means of supporting both the growers we are working with and people who live on the local estates who might also want to grow some of their own food. We are not asking for a great deal of money to work with these families and offer them support, we only need twenty thousand pounds to make this happen, so please give if you are able to, if you are struggling for cash please share this blog post as any help is very much appreciated.

Steve

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Multiple threats to our food supply

There are lots of things wrong with our food supply, industrial agriculture poisons and renders land useless whilst at the same time leaving us to ingest the toxic herbicides that our food is sprayed and treated with. Industrial meat production grows millions of tons of food to feed livestock creating a huge strain on water supplies by growing crops that could be fed humans instead of being used to add bulk to animals  The food that many eat due to lack of knowledge about healthy food and economic circumstance is woefully inadequate in terms of its nutritional content and has greatly contributed towards obesity and ill health for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.preventing-obesity-1 There has been a huge surge in the amount of fast food outlets that are opening across the UK, many of these food outlets offer food that is high in fat and low in nutrition.

Climate change

In more recent times newer threats to our food supply seem to be emerging with great frequency due to the fact that these problems are interlinked. for example the recent failure of crops in Spain due to the effects of our changing climate. Supermarkets in the UK suffered shortages in lettuce, courgettes and Broccoli. The UK like much of Europe relies on countries like Spain to provide us with fruit and vegetables. Climate weather events are largely unpredictable and as we saw from the failure of cherry and corn crops in the US within the last decade.clim As climate change rolls on unchecked there can only be more disruptions and failures within our food supply chain, and of course there is no saying exactly when these weather events are likely to manifest and on what sort of scale they are likely to occur. The way that we produce our food has to change due to the current methods of production and processing being significant contributors to our changing climate.

Ongoing Austerity Policies

The seemingly relentless cuts to services, provision and wages is another important contributory factor in the war that is being waged against food and access to it, as a result of these cuts there are now well over a millions people using accessing food banks on a regular basis, and a increasing number of food bank users are actually in work but simply do not earn enough money to pay for their weekly food supplies.foodpov There are little signs that these austerity measures will stop at anytime soon, the effect of continual austerity will only see yet more people using foodbanks and other food related support networks. It is estimated that there are now well over 4 million people living in food poverty

Brexit

We have already seen the price of staples rise due to the pound falling against the price of the Euro as we edge towards the UK leaving the European Union. once we actually leave Europe this will again effect the price that we are paying for our food as our currency falls against the Euro as we exit the Union.

Potential trade deals with the US

When UK prime minister Teresa May visited the US recently to meet newly elected president Donald Trump there was talk of a food trade developing between the UK and America, for us this could mean none labelled Genetically modified fruit and vegetables entering our food chain, chlorinated chickens and a load of other agricultural practices that DEFRA wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.

The solution

We can start to remove ourselves from much of the above by simply generating scaled up localized food supplies and markets, this would entail people growing food at home and the setting up of micro enterprises in the urban environment, and of course we need to change our outdated agricultural model to one which is low carbon and perennial heavy.thinkglob Of course we, like other land masses on earth will be subjected to unpredictable climate weather glitches and events, but its surely better not to rely on other countries for our food supplies in the long term and to grow as much as we able to. From our end of things as a small local community growing group we will be ramping up food production this year, both at home and with the people who we work with within social housing. Our crowdfunding campaign will begin very soon where we are hoping to work with 100 families offering them growing resources and ongoing support throughout the growing season

 

Steve

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Men in Sheds and Community growing @ Breightmet Hub Dec 2016

A rather damp and dull start to a grey and sluggish morning, but we don’t care about that, its our weekly Men in Sheds and Community growing workshop at Breightmet Hub and we wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Our work on the site today has centred around two things really, firstly the painting up and trial of our locally made woodburning stove acquired by Landrover Dave and clearing more raised beds and making them cat poo proof by covering them with wooden pallets over the winter.

So yes there was much excitement and anticipation of getting woodburner burning and to add to the good vibe Tony Cottam turned up with some tools that a very kind retired local engineer has donated to the project, a big thank you to this big hearted fella from all the Lads!

Over the course of the morning the lads sanded, grinded and painted the woodburning stove and by lunch time it was ready for ignition.

The stove lit easily and soon dried the heat dispersant pain whilst providing some much needed heat in this cold December Morn. Again another great session today, some great ideas from the lads about hooking up the Men in Sheds project with Red lane community allotments just round the corner from the site. And before I go and have my tea I would like to say a big thank you to Welder Joe from Hindley for making our woodburning stove with great skill and at a very reasonable price, onwards and upwards!

Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How our work has helped to bring about well being

It is now being acknowledged that gardening is therapeutic for those engaging in it, this is something that we have been aware for quite some time, both on a personal level and in our interactions with community members who take the trowel and grow some of their own food. There is now increasingly more evidence coming from diverse strands of the academic community relating to gardening’s effectiveness in helping to bring about well being

The main objective of our work in Bolton has been to try and help people to grow food in their gardens and yards, but what also comes from this action is the sense of well being generated by this activity, here are some of the projects that we have delivered that have had a direct effect on the well being of participants.

Sow and Grow Project

The sow and Grow project came about when National criminal justice charity NACRO contacted us in the early spring of 2012. We delivered a growing project underpinned by permaculture ethics and principles to around a dozen hard core ex-offenders housed in an East Manchester hostel. After only two weeks of the project, the residents began to talk about it being great working outdoors and how it gave them something to get up for in the morning, they also began waiting in the classroom long before I arrived to deliver the sessions. One of the lads who attended the sessions became a volunteer on a local gardening project something he never thought he’d do. Throughout the project the men grew fruit and vegetables in the hostel garden, learned how to cook and made Rocket stoves to cook their produce on. Towards the end of the session one of the men said ‘All I’ve ever made in my life is a mess, now i can grow food and bake bread’ Another man said ‘When I eventually get my own place i am gonna grow stuff, it don’t half chill you out’

Gardening & well being @ the Courtyard

The gardening and well being project was delivered at the HQ of local mental health charity Bolton Steps, this project ran throughout the spring and summer of 2014 to people suffering with mental ill health. Similarly we saw a great level of keenness, and one thing that is always a good measure of delivery is when people start to turn up half an hour before the sessions begin, which like the Sow and Grow project discussed above was also the case here. One woman who attended said ‘I have never worked outside, its such a good feeling’ One of the men attending took some seeds home and began growing on his windowsill. By the end of the project there was a good level of confidence amongst the growers who had been initially shy and nervous at the beginning.

Cawdor street Growers

In 2015 we worked with a group of Women from the once troubled Cawdor Estate in Farnworth in Bolton. We provided the women with gardening resources and horticultural support. One of the growers wa brave enough to do a video with us about how gardening had had a positive effect on her well being

Beechcroft community allotments

For the last three years we have provided some support to the growers on the Beechcroft community allotment site in Darcy Lever, In a similar way to the Cawdor growers one of the growers on the Beechcroft site allowed us to make a short video personal video about gardening and the beneficial effects it has had on life and his general well being.

 

 

 

Steve

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Men in Sheds and Community growing @ Breightmet Hub 30th Nov

What a cold start to the Morning! Usually, shortly after arriving at the Breightmet Community food growing Hub I walk up to the UCAN centre for water for brews. not this morning, as soon as I hit the site I fired up the rocket stove to try and add a little warmth to the proceedings.

One by one the lads turned up to the session, as usual due to their keenness they all arrived at least half an hour before the session started, which again from our point of view is great to see. Today on site the lads continued making internal shelving for the sheds and moving large volumes of timber from one shed to another, I helped them out a little and also went round the site and had a clean up rubbish that had been thrown over the fence, and bits and pieces of old gardening kit from the summers growing.

Just before lunchtime Men in Sheds tutor Landrover Dave cracked open a few boxes of cream cakes which he had picked up for the lads as a way of saying thank you for their input into the project.

The plan for next week which everyone on site is excited about is the painting and installation of the woodburning stove. Judging by the size of said stove it looks like it is capable of throwing out a lot of heat, which after the cold of this morning is a great thing.  All in all a good mornings work from the lads.

Steve

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Men in Sheds and Community growing @ Breightmet Hub 9th Nov

And so most of the leaves have left the trees, autumns mildness and golden sun dimmed for another season as the year pulls up its blankets and settles in for a sleep.The Hub site in Breightmet on the other hand is still working away, whilst the Men in Sheds continued shelf building and moving timber from one shipping container to another.

I weeded the raised beds by hand and covered them with pallets to keep the local cats from using them as feline conveniences.

At the end of the session myself and Landrover Dave did a little planning and calculations about how we can ramp up capacity to almost double what it has now in terms of growing space, and this is something we will be working towards in order to grow a lot more food on the site in 2017.

Steve

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