During a year of quiet, contemplative research before jumping into the Incredible Edible movement both feet first, I spent a lot of time looking at what the gap in the community growing sphere looked like in Bristol and, in fact, whether there was one. Over an again whilst looking for places to volunteer myself, I realised it wasn’t as simple as it at first seemed. Certainly there were lots of community gardens but often they seemed very set in the group that was working on them, seemed nervous that a “professional” was interested in them and, in practical terms didn’t often answer emails. There are, of course reasons for this. Often groups fight for land, struggle to get things going and are really pushed for time and so perhaps my enthusiasm could be misread as overpowering rather than welcome!! But what I did discover was that it wasn’t that easy!
“I wonder how we ensure that gardening is a hobby, or a profession, that is inclusive?”
Being me, of course, that just meant I would do something about that, but looking back now, and thinking about the horticulture industry as a whole, I wonder how we ensure that gardening is a hobby, or a profession, that is inclusive?
Recently I had a fascinating conversation with a group of Somali ladies, who expressed what I had feared. If everyone in a community garden is of a certain demographic, how is that meant to be for all?
And this is where the Incredible Edible model wins out a million times. Never do we push our agenda onto people. Never do we go in and make something for a community that they don’t want, but we wait. We wait for people to come to us with their ideas and we support them to make those plans reality. We work with them. We make sure people can access what they need to create something really special, whether that is knowledge, volunteer support, a link to someone in our network or a business that might be able to help them. We introduce them to our other groups and help them decide important things that we know about because we have that experience, but we also learn huge amounts from the amazing people we work with. And the most important thing we learn, over and over, is that so many people love to garden, to grow food and to be together with people who enjoy the same. We also learn that people claim they know very little but in fact have huge amounts of gardening knowledge that once they begin to grow gently trickles back to them, often through childhood memories of older relatives or family friends.
“the most important thing we learn, over and over, is that so many people love to garden, to grow food and to be together”
What we have also found is that gardening can be very non-hierarchical and we fight to keep it that way. We introduce people to each other by their names not profession and mixed with the inevitability that we all wear our old clothes when gardening, and aren’t concerned by smears of soil and filthy boots, which is very levelling. This ensures that people can have open, honest and often unexpected conversations with people as they garden without feeling that they are speaking out of turn or about something that they might feel unsure about. For those amongst us who feel a little timid or unsure about meeting and talking with new people, this makes things so much easier and completely non judgemental.
“gardening can be very non-hierarchical and we fight to keep it that way”
And this is what we need to remember, all of us who are fortunate enough to work in the horticultural world. Gardening, it seems in many places has become something of a middle class pursuit that relies on a garden and being able to afford to buy plants and tools and all the other paraphernalia that we think we need to garden. I believe that what we need to ensure is that this image is broken down and fast. We who can must make it known that as gardeners we want to enthuse and inspire everyone to grow something, be it a hornbeam hedge or a windowsill of herbs. We need to share our knowledge lightly with anyone who wants to learn and help them, young and old, as they head through those first exciting but terrifying steps of growing something. We need to be honest about failures as well as success and make sure people know that sometimes things fail and that we learn through that, and don’t give up.
But most of all we need to show that gardening is open to all!!