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A Magazine for Sheffield

Growing a Community

Food charity Green City Action share how community growing connects people, improves wellbeing and helps us to develop our communities.

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During these strange times of Covid-19 and lockdown, there have been more stories of people discovering the benefits of nature.

Although restrictions limit some activities, the positive work of the food charity Green City Action (GCA) is worth sharing.

GCA has been active for over 20 years, with their work based partly on a community garden at Grimesthorpe Allotments.

They’re a charity focused on food growing projects in the local community, seed saving, developing the sharing economy through running a tool bank, and raising awareness of environmental issues through education.

We spoke to Sarah, Tim, Saskia and Jenny, who’ve collectively been involved with GCA for a number of years.

“For me, the plot has a special energy and I feel instantly peaceful when I’m there.”

Sarah has worked on the GCA plot for around ten years, starting as a volunteer and just over a year ago becoming an employee.

“It has always been a place I look forward to going to.”

Gardening and growing food are proven to be beneficial to mental health and. It’s good to be outdoors, get exercise, be in a calm place, get to know other people and work as part of a group towards a common aim.

For me, going to the allotment makes me feel better mentally and physically. It clears my head, creates a calm inside me and uplifts me.

“I think local food growing is so important everywhere.”

I love being so connected to what I am eating and also love the satisfaction of growing what I eat. It’s important for reducing pollution, air miles, packaging and pesticides, as well as for the continuity of heirloom seeds.

Food growing is beneficial to people’s health on many levels and it’s an important community to support. We’re producing tasty, organic food and encouraging more and more people to enjoy it.

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“Gardening and growing make us what we already are.”

Tim spent 15 years living in rural parts of Europe and now he’s coordinating the work of GCA.

“As a teenager, I was fascinated by growing vegetables.”

I was befriended by an elderly couple who taught me a sort of gardening mythology. This was fed by bird watching and by a love of nature writing and poetry, which has never left me.

I volunteered for many years with GCA and for five years I organised a weekly allotment session with asylum seekers.

I experienced first-hand how a food growing project could benefit the health of the planet and help to build community with people who may feel isolation.

“Growing food communally evokes deep memories, peace and healing.”

Being close to the rhythms of nature is so fundamentally tied into the human condition.

Gardening and growing make us what we already are, full individuals and full community members, able to nurture and share.

“Developing a network of growers across Sheffield is a vital element in teaching and learning by example.”

Sharing ideas and knowledge, having our growing practices pollinated by different cultural influences, is important.

A connected food community is truly like a rhizome. It takes strength from its connections and gives independence and a flourishing life to every node within it. It produces a fruit which can be seen by others and brings a confidence that we can feed ourselves while taking care of our environment.

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“Gardening is a slow and contemplative activity that takes place outside, makes you feel alive.”

Saskia has been working for Green City Action in various roles for ten years. She started on the project two years ago as a volunteer.

“Up at Grimesthorpe allotments, it is so beautiful and peaceful, overlooking the Don Valley.”

There are trees and birds and when people come we take such great pleasure in seeing them.

It’s a place where you can come and forget about everything, chat to people and it’s relaxing. There are jobs to be done. Everyone works together for the communal good of the garden.

Being outside, having your hands in the soil and watching things grow from the seeds that you planted in the ground is nothing short of a miracle. Then the plant grows into the most beautiful thing that produces something you can eat.

“Being part of a wider community of growers is a rich experience.”

Food links people across the city. Everyone shares the desire to grow quality food and to experiment with new varieties, which they learn about from other people.

Sharing growing experiences and having a desire to keep learning encourages people to keep sharing knowledge, which helps us grow.

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“I love being involved as I am constantly learning new things.”

Jenny started as a volunteer about six years ago, with no real gardening or growing experience. She’s worked as a paid employee with GCA for five years.

“Seeing how other people connect with gardening and become part of our growing community continually inspires me.”

I also love the way that people can have really open and honest conversations with one another whilst gardening. There's a real level of acceptance of each person in the group.

I have seen volunteers come to the allotment isolated, not knowing many people, some not knowing much English.

After a few weeks, they talk about the allotment being a kind of home for them, feeling welcomed and all commenting on the peace of the place; it being a place where they can get away from it all for a few hours.

“I think gardening and growing are really important as they reconnect us with nature and the natural rhythms.”

This is something that a lot of us have lost in our 21st century busy lives. Growing slows us down and helps us to observe the seasons, learning that there is indeed a time for everything.

You learn about the interconnectedness of nature: how important insects are for pollinating plants and reducing pests, the importance of rainfall and weather, helping us to realise we are part of a larger picture. All of this can contribute to positive mental health.

“I think being part of a food community in our city matters...” it's important to be aware of where our food comes from. Being connected to local food initiatives helps to bring us closer to the source of food production and supports local food production. It will also help to diversify our food sources, increasing food security for our city.

Learn more

Green City Action, Abbeyfield Park House, Abbeyfield Road, Sheffield, S4 7AT.

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