Environmental view: Visiting Growing Communities
Alice Bonifacio, environmental campaigner
- Credit: Richenda Wilson
May, known in the Roman calendar as ‘Maia’, the goddess who oversees the growth of plants, is an apt month to visit one of my local veg bag scheme’s plots. Set up by Julie Brown in 1996, Growing Communities has been supplying organic fruit and veg across Hackney for 25 years. As a climate policy enthusiast, I was particularly curious about their food sustainability initiatives and impact on local supply chains.
Tucked away at the top of Springfield Park is one of GC’s main salad growing plots, also boasting an impressive glasshouse and polytunnel. Sophie, the site manager, introduced me to some of the interns, including Larissa and Warami from Feedback’s EcoTalent programme and trainee Kaya, who is part of the Hackney Kickstart scheme.
I was so struck by how progressive GC is in its approach to local farming, as Richenda (Chen) Wilson, marketing coordinator of GC, explained some of the ways in which the social enterprise has been politically active. Sitting on the government’s recently set up Horticultural Round Table, Julie has debated with large supermarket chains as to why farmers should receive at least 50 per cent of the retail price of food, as opposed to just 10 -15pc.
“People need to understand the costs of climate change”, says Chen. These ‘hidden’ costs, including soil degradation and pollution, amount to £1 for every £1 spent on conventionally grown foods. By contrast, GC adds a further £3.70 of value for every £1 where everyone benefits, from the producers to the consumers.
Chen explains how GC is discussing the option of low income bags, thereby making organic fruit and vegetables more accessible for more families living in Hackney. GC is also passionate about eliminating food waste and will donate any unwanted bags to charities, including North London Action for the Homeless and local migrant community centre, Akwaaba.
As we walk around the beautiful plot, Sophie points out the different types of salad leaves, which are rotated every year to keep the soil enriched with beneficial nutrients. I am deeply envious of anyone who gets to spend time here. It’s a real sun trap, and bees buzz happily around the sage flowers which line the length of the polytunnel. Before I leave, Sophie goes to collect some winter purslane for me to take home.
I reluctantly leave this Eden, excited for what will be in my veg bag next week.
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