If social participation in community-based gardening and farming activities can lead to a greater understanding by the urban majority about the food produced, largely in rural areas, then this may contribute to a greater common understanding, and thus social cohesion. In turn, the rural farming population needs to acknowledge that efforts to create educational opportunities around food growing and environmental issues will bring new demands for more responsible agricultural practices and environmental stewardship.
The government has recognised this, and through work at the Department for Education and Skills, has piloted a new ‘Growing Schools’ initiative, to promote active learning opportunities through growing and farming. City farms and community gardens, allotments and school growing areas will all have a role to play. By laying the seeds of a better understanding of food production at schools, the hope is that a new generation will grow up with a better understanding of the true value of food, and with the knowledge to make informed decisions about future food policy.
In addition, the Home Office is keen to promote a more socially inclusive society, and the Department for Transport and Local Government has recognised the value of promoting increased social participation through a growth in the number of community-led gardening and farming projects. At a policy level we can expect to see policies being introduced which in turn might lead to a growth in the number and geographical spread of community gardens and city farms, as well as school growing projects and community-led allotments groups. The provision of resources will, needless to say, be another matter.
ENCOURAGING AN EXISTING OR NEW PROJECT
Whilst local authorities might be tempted to set up a ‘community project’ from top down, it is better to facilitate and encourage genuine grassroots social participation and community activity. Awareness, and promotion, of the benefits through the local community will reveal community or school groups who have, or would like to, set up new projects.
Local authority officers and councillors will need to develop supportive relationships with these groups to examine ways of making the projects stronger, well managed and financially stable.
Culpeper Community Garden, London
An organic inner city community garden, worked by individuals and by groups.
‘We hear a lot about community involvement and empowerment: in practice it can be the most upiifting thing,’ says Clare Sutton, Project Worker at Culpeper, and Chair of the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens.
The 48 plots on the community garden are a real local resource: used by a playgroup, a school, a mental health day service, and an organisation for people with learning difficulties.
The garden is open to the public and is popular with local workers at lunchtime. Garden workers and volunteers help with maintenance. Events such as a children’s summer art project, pensioners’ strawberry teas and plant sales are organised to bring local people into the garden.
How are projects like this funded?
Projects are funded from a variety of sources depending on their stage of development and sophistication.
Local authorities often provide core funds for salaries, and there are several streams of Lottery funds, which might be available for feasibility studies and project development. In addition, projects can sometimes access regional development funds, single regeneration funds and European funds. When applying for funds, help in kind and volunteer time should be valued as match funding.
Once established, many projects become more selfsufficient by charging fees for training courses and placements, and developing income generating activities such as cafes, horse riding, sports facilities, after school and holiday clubs. This kind of service provision is also often grant-aided by the local authority. However, when successful, such social enterprise becomes not only an income generator, but also another kind of social participation, leading to further strengthening fo the local community. Projects also fundraise from corporate and charitable sources, as well as from the local community.