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Revolution in the Greenhouse: Our Collective Lungs

As the world self-organises, how can we move towards a more sustainable, equitable and food secure society? Holly Stark discusses the potential for restoring Sheffield's allotments, back gardens, green infrastructure and roofs in order to feed the city.

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Photo by Thomas Verbruggen on Unsplash.

Staying Home

Over the last 8 months I have begun to learn, at the ripe age of 25, that growing from seed is the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by an ever-changing, uncertain world.

A very primal connection with plants lies within us. At any time of uncertainty, we can rely on the unfading truth that plants breathe life into the planet and act as our collective lungs. Innately bonded to them, we find that they bring nourishment, shelter, safety, warmth, food, and medicine. They can even deepen our understanding of how the world works.

In the simple act of growing seedlings or nurturing plants, we discover a need to move forward, in sync with seasons and their produce. Through our connection to the natural, we can open up transformative opportunities for a more equitable and compassionate version of ourselves, in turn contributing to a more equitable and compassionate world.

Staying home is an ecological imperative, an ethical imperative. It is also a joyful option. It is the practice of 'oikonomia' as the art of living. It is earth democracy in action, cultivating and expanding the freedoms of all beings.

Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs The 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom
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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Sowing, Tending & Harvesting

Having never grown before, I set my first seeds in March. Growing, caring for and propagating a variety of seeds and cuttings - whether from wildflowers, shrubs, sunflowers, and delphiniums, tomato, cucumber, pimiento de padrón, and squash plants, along with avocado, apple, bay, and pear trees, and herbs such as mint, basil, chives, thyme, coriander, rosemary, wild garlic, and lavender - came to be grounding and calming tasks which brought my mind to the present and cultivated a small sense of achievement.

These kinds of activities can aid us in nurturing a sense of connection to ourselves, and all that lives, grows and shares the earth and its climate. In solidarity with all around, when caring for or watching another earthly being grow, we see ourselves in relation to it, often connected with love and often with a sense of awe, wonder, hope or protection. Noting how we feel when caring, tending for, propagating, sharing or repotting plants, their fruits and flowers, is a good way to understand a sense of connection. Through seeds, bark, fruit, oils and leaves, we grow and heal collectively.

Bloom

Bloom Sheffield.

Fostering a Sense of Community

In our local neighbourhoods, there are signs of impactful community responses; groups such as PlantSwap, LoveSheffield, Sheffield Food Bank Network and no-money Sheffield Trading Zone, as well as environmental conservation projects, food raising initiatives and community allotments.

In Heeley, therapeutic horticulture organisation Bloom run open days and programmes to improve and promote women and girls’ mental health across Sheffield. Teamed up with community allotments and organisations, like Groundwork South Yorkshire who support disadvantaged communities as a priority, many local projects are collectively reconnecting people with nature and transforming neighbourhoods. Improved green spaces for people and wildlife give the community strength in shaping its own future and potential.

Local food banks and small businesses are always looking for ways to support and share resources and knowledge equitably. Despite a rise in fear, and fear-based consumerist reactions, angst and uncertainty among our communities, a global crisis exposes the fragility of our food supply and asks us to confront whether our local and immediate spaces are comforting, pleasing, safe and providing the basic needs for everyone. It is perhaps the wake up call that gets people to understand the importance of our local food systems and food security.

It asks how we respond to a pause, how we respond to the present and how we respond to others in crisis. Can we reframe it as a learning curve or an opportunity; a global masterclass for those privileged enough to be wasteful, an anomaly of a moment, and a turning point for people and planet? Perhaps now is the time to explore a more sustainable economic model, pulling together as communities and moving forward in a better direction, because infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.

As people self-organise, an opportunity to learn, care for and understand each other emerges, alongside a more reflective, compassionate and equitable world unravelling itself if we are willing to unravel ourselves too. Our local response can enable people to come together while being apart. In this time, we really must push for change. This may start as local as understanding sustainability, a capitalist economy and food security within our immediate communities, then perhaps the impact of these and how, as a community, we have enough between us to come together to make sustainable, ethical, inclusive and compassionate choices.

Being a planetary citizen does not need space travel. It means being conscious that we are part of the universe and of the earth. The most fundamental law is to recognise that we share the planet with other beings, and that we have a duty to care for our common home.

Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs The 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom
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Photo by Patrick Federi on Unsplash.

Sheffield's Green Space for Growing Food

A recent University of Sheffield Institute for Sustainable Food study found that allotments account for less than 2% of Sheffield’s green space, but nearly 40% of the total greenspace was made up of gardens, which have immediate potential for growing food. A further 11% of green space is suitable for larger allotment-style growing and 4% of the city’s green space is suitable for community garden-style growing. The city also has land-use and green infrastructure and roofs which are also potentially suitable for growing.

With this in mind, if all this land was converted to urban horticulture, it would be equivalent to 98m2 of green space. 10% of gardens in combination with 10% of the land available in the wider green space network across the city could feed over 15% of the population. That's thousands of people in the city. There is clear potential for urban horticulture to make a significant contribution to local food security. Restoring Sheffield's allotment and green spaces could feed thousands and urban agriculture is a future which means growing our own food security and taking ownership, regulating as a community while understanding our responsibility to others.

The business of grabbing and money-making, through a violent extractive economy that the 1% have built, is burdening the earth and humanity with unbearable and non-sustainable costs, and has brought us to the brink of extinction. We do not have to escape from the earth; we have to escape from the illusions that enslave our minds and make extinction look inevitable.

Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs The 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom
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Food Security & The Future

In the United Kingdom, now and in years to come, food insecurity is a growing concern. Importing 48% of the food we eat shows that we are not self-sufficient, with an agricultural sector reliant on the weather and import. Growing our own food is a great way to curb food prices and counting our own produce will give noteworthy and exciting results.

In the future, as a community, we can aim to grow our own produce in our back gardens and allotments, circulating an accessible chain of low carbon, local, seasonal food. In a world of heightened choice and power to select, those privileged enough have the freedom to eat bananas, pineapples and mangos all year round through a global food chain, leaving many to live on far less. We can reduce our own personal impact by shopping local, aiming for organic growing, using rainwater collection and a composting bin, recycling or aiming for zero-waste, and avoiding meat and meat products. Taking accountability means making informed choices, creating positive impact and encouraging others to do so.

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Photo by www.zanda.photography on Unsplash.

Biologically & Evolutionarily Made for Connection

Now more than ever, people are looking for information related to local food, and especially where they can access and grow food. Let this moment in time be the force to connect us back to what’s existing.

Let’s become better informed, residing, acting, learning traditional ways of food preservation, buying up the seasonal bounty, pickling, fermenting, sharing and delivering. We can defy the systems that teach us that monetary gain takes priority over humanity and refuse the systems that create our insecurities then capitalise from them, instead understanding that we are biologically and evolutionarily made for connection.

Kindness goes a long way in creating co-regulation and helping each other move through feelings of distress. Small acts of kindness and consideration show that we value each other and promote feelings of safety and connection.

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Food Works Sharrow.

Local Space for Discussions About Food

We can make creative use of the opportunity to be outdoors, stay active and connected, and create food for ourselves and others on windowsills and outdoor space, all the while remembering we are in charge of ourselves and the health and safety of each other, not the entire government outbreak response.

As safe spaces and social gatherings emerge, and events are being adopted and adapted to an ever-changing society, we can use this spark of positive contagion to encourage others to have more awareness, to reframe thoughts on how we have been existing and residing together, whether harmoniously or not.

As the all-consuming influence of an instantly-accessible marketplace retreats for a time, and as the world self-organises, community by community, we can join together to amplify a more hopeful and sustainable path for ourselves and our planet, one in solidarity with future generations, promoting a societal mindset which is food-secure, protected, hopeful and curious about its relation to the planet and to others.

We are living through an emergency response that shows us that things can be done differently. With no route to guide us, we will find our way by depending on the universal principles that surface when local insight and action are born from a community in crisis, because “crises refine life. In them you discover what you are”. We begin to illuminate and navigate our own way ahead. With creative, compassionate and connected communities leading the way, we can learn to walk more lightly on our planet - all the while enjoying the fruit and flowers of our crops equitably.

Simplicity and nonviolence are the basis of an economy of wellbeing, and such an economy must be localised.

Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs The 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom

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