Britain has only about three days’ supplies of food at any time. If our import supply chain ever gets interrupted, we’re in trouble. The world food system is more grotesquely unbalanced than the average western diet. Industrialised farming has devalued food production, separating it from everyday urban realities. The countryside is parodied as a slow […]

Britain has only about three days’ supplies of food at any time. If our import supply chain ever gets interrupted, we’re in trouble.

The world food system is more grotesquely unbalanced than the average western diet. Industrialised farming has devalued food production, separating it from everyday urban realities. The countryside is parodied as a slow yokel backwater. Adverts prefer to show plastic cows and comedy food factories. Even the sainted Jamie Oliver who came to rescue Rotherham from junk food has fled, leaving an empty shop and unanswered calls..Speculators are distorting food prices, huge territories are cleared for export crops to feed cattle, while the food producing global south is malnourished. Let’s get down to basics. Food production, surely the most important human activity after securing a water supply, is rotten.

It’s all too easy to farm out alarming fodder like this, then say something cheesy like, ‘Looking on the positive side, here’s what you can do at home – grow your own’. It’s not enough, is it? Well, this magazine is all about local grassroots stuff, but also about the big picture. Let’s not get lost in our own back gardens. Let’s do both.

World-wise Russian families, experienced in crises, own dachas– small second homes out of town with a potato plot, as a getaway and a survival plan. Why not? Here in Sheffield, this month features a flowering of food growing courses, seed swaps and activities (too many to squash in here – see the event listing on the Alt-Sheff website). There’s a crop of helpful groups from Grow Sheffield to Heeley City Farm ready and willing to assist. The city is developing a food strategy, and its food festival celebrates good, locally produced ingredients. Don’t forget, even buying food from the area helps sustainability, say through veg box schemes provided by the likes of Regather and Wild Star. Grow Sheffield can help with their online map, Sheffield Food Network.

Sheffield has around 3,000 allotments for its half-million-plus population, about five per 1,000 people – slightly higher than the national average, but hardly generous. The community-level social interaction of allotments can dramatically improve people’s lives and lifestyles. See the Council’s website if you want one, but don’t be surprised at overgrown waiting lists and rents being forced up by a hardy annual increase of 60%, making them among the country’s most expensive. Green City Council? Don’t get me started. If you prefer an invitation to join an organic community allotment, look into Ediculture. Grow Sheffield are also keen to help with growing almost anywhere. They map disused spaces with potential. You could find a plot in a backyard or local community centre, or just go for guerilla gardening. You might even be lucky with Land Share, which links unused land with would-be growers.

When bad news is all around, a few scattered allotments and green groups aren’t going to change much, are they? An elite of aristocrats and investors own most of the land, money and power. Most people are aware of the larger reality, and soil, plants and animals too, at species-level. Worse still, water scarcity could give the corpse of capitalism a shot in the arm for another market to bleed to death. But the oil-based economy will inevitably stop, and the gears will shift with a bang, either through collapse or recovery.

Green activists get portrayed as middle class, lifestyle-obsessed eco-freaks. But in fact they are effectively social engineers who generate changes in human society. For whatever motivation, they go beyond idle chatter and fear of the unknown. Recognising what’s happening and what may be possible, people like these begin experimenting, trying new things out, hard but exhilarating work, while the rest of us go along with life. Only people change things, using only their lives. That’s all we’ve got. How are you going to use yours, from now on?

Grow Sheffield
Heeley City Farm
Regather
Wild Star Food
Ediculture
Alt-Sheff

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