Food networking

Posted on November 6, 2011


Yesterday, we walked from Stratford down the canal, past Three Mills, through Limehouse Cut and right to Limehouse Basin.  It was a wonderful afternoon and hugely enlightening.  The canals still provide fabulous access right through the heart of this huge city.  We passed through so much of the city that is otherwise inaccessible – industrial landscapes, workshops, the backs of apartment buildings, tow-paths and riverine habitats.  crisscrossing the cut are bridges supporting busy arterial roads generally with no access to the canal below: worlds touching but not merging.

As my partner and I think about what will happen in the future, like many, we are trying to reduce our debts and liabilities and consolidate so we’re more resilient to whatever comes our way.  We’ve been thinking about combining our funds to buy small house with a sizeable back garden so that we could grow a decent portion of our own vegetables.  Our finances being what they are, buying without the need for a mortgage would mean buying outside of London and compromising on other amenities.  Is this sensible?  On the one hand we would have few running costs, but we run the risk of being isolated from friends and social networks.  On the other hand, it might force us to make new friends and networks wherever we choose to settle and this can be no bad thing.

The alternative is perhaps even more challenging but also necessary should it come down to it.  As we walked towards the Thames, we passed pocket parks, allotments, wild verges and green spaces dotted everywhere.  London is one of the greenest cities in the world, and it is also fairly dense.  We passed one community garden devoted to children, called Play, Grow and Sow the site shows what can be done when children, gardens and a little know-how are are combined.  Right next door was a pocket park and it stood in the midst of a private housing estate where it was clear that the houses were without gardens of any real size.   What would it take to turn a part of the park into a food garden for the estate?  Could Council be persuaded?  Would the best course of action be to simply take over a park of the park rather than seek permission?  One of the challenges of this untrodden world is not knowing how institutions will respond, and therefore what it the best course of action, particularly where time is of the essence.

So the challenging piece is clearly dealing with the uncertainty brought about by working with others.  We can all identify an individual preference or personal solution, but many are simply not in the position to be reassured by their own level of preparedness. Most of us will need to work together to make it through hard times. Having to negotiate with people who we don’t know is not something most of us find a comfortable place in which to be.  Some people are very good at motivating communities and galvanizing action, but this is not the case for everyone.  Still, perhaps we will all have to get better at negotiating within our communities for what we can offer, what we need and what we would like.

Somehow, sitting on the bench in this little pocket park made me feel the potential of guerilla gardening just when it is needed.  I wondered whether the local community could be a stronger and more cohesive place if the majority were growing the things they love to eat right in the middle of the estate.

Meanwhile, here’s to letting kids run riot with seeds, garden beds and loads of creativity! Perhaps it will be their lack of inhibition that will show the way.