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.
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.
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.
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.