Community Gardens, London – a short documentary

With more than 12 million inhabitants
speaking 300 languages, London is one of the world’s
biggest global cities. Though the cityscape reflects the need for
re-establishing citizens’ connection to nature, it was one of the most polluted cities in
Europe until the middle of the 20th century. In the UK, there are more than 200 city farms
and more than 1000 community gardens, and London has the biggest ones. In the next short documentary, our aim is not
only to discover the inner life of these gardens, but to inspire those who ever
had an idea to settle a plant or create a community garden
with neighbours or friends. Our first way goes to
the Tulse Hill Station where we can one of the biggest
allotments in London: Rosendale. This particular site has
been here since the 1920s. The allotment movement in Britain
began originally in rural areas. And it was because of the
industrialization of agriculture. Before then, many peasants
and labourers in the fields, had, as part of their contract with
the farmer, had a bit of land. But farmers realized they could make a
lot more money with a much larger farm, so they took away all the
common land from the people and enclosed it with fences or hedges. And people were left with very low
wages, nowhere to grow their food and became very poor or hungry, or had
to move to the cities to find jobs. Personally, I think that
allotments are fantastic places because you get every sort of
person in the society here, and everybody shares a common interest,
everybody’s interested in food growing. So, perhaps in your daily life,
if you go to an office, you mix with only your
own type of people, whereas at allotments, there’s people from
every ethnic community and social class, and because you share a common
interest in food growing, everyone is prepared
to speak to one another. And you’re on common ground, in a way. You’re sharing this one interest, and
people who are perhaps less educated, maybe even illiterate, can share their
knowledge and experience with you in a way that, in a wider society,
wouldn’t happen. There are lots of concerns
about the quality of food, about the ethics of food growing,
things like ’food mile’, so the issue of food, say, grown in Africa
and brought to Britain, concerns people. There’s a sort of ’political’
interest in food growing and in the reasons why it might be good
to grow food. Lots of children these days know very little
about either food or nature generally. I know statistically that
a lot of children now… Parents are so frightened to
let their children outside, they spend a lot of time just
watching TV, playing video games, and they aren’t allowed to play and interact
outside in wild places or even gardens. Parents don’t like them to get dirty, they are anxious about their
touching the dirt and getting germs. Personally, I think it’s really important
for children to learn by experience, not by being taught something in
a book at school or on a video, but actually to experience
the outside world. And an allotment is a very safe place
for them to see wildlife in action, to see how things grow, to understand the time and commitment
it takes to grow something for us to eat. So it’s not just something you
walk into a supermarket to buy, somebody has spent time tending that crop
before it gets to the shelf so you can buy it. Here, people grow traditional root crops,
British root crops like carrots, potatoes, beetroot, parsnips, salad crops,
beans, peas, tomatoes. Now, more people are growing Mediterranean
crops like aubergine, peppers, chilis, lots of pumpkins, squash, sweetcorn. We have lots of trees: apple trees,
pear trees, plum trees. People grow strawberries, raspberries… Those are easy to grow and what the children
would enjoy as well, the soft fruits. People grow grapes, people make wine here, others grow wheat, they house the wheat
and make bread, so one the plot houses has got
a bread oven up the hill. So you can try anything. On one of the school plots, they’re
growing flax to make cloth so they can teach the children how to
use crops in a different way, not just eating them, how you
can make clothing from crops. Spitalfields City Farm near Whitechapel Station
on Buxton Street was originally taken over by squatters.
Let’s find out how they developed it. So they came along, took it over
and started the allotments, just growing veggies,
and so on and so forth. And it gradually grew, people started
to bring ducks and chickens, and before we knew it, we got the Farm. That’s the history in a
very small nutshell. Spitalfields City Farm does a whole host of
things, we’re a lot more than just a farm. Where do we start? Actually,
there’s so much that we do. We are engaged in environmental
education, so we do classes, we do tours for schools, we do workshops
that are linked to what they are learning – about the life cycle of hay or frogs… We also do volunteering
on a day-to-day basis. Our volunteers come from all walks of life,
sometimes with poor mental or physical health, drug and alcohol misuse, homelessness… There are 16 city farms in London,
which is pretty phenomenal. If London can have 16, you can have
a city farm anywhere, in any big city. Obviously, the most important thing is
to find a bit of land that you can use. And maybe I shouldn’t
say this but, you know… if nobody’s using it and you take it over…
This was started by squatters. Without them, we wouldn’t be here today. So it’s about taking action, taking over a bit
of ground and say, this is what we want to do, we’re gonna turn it for the good
of the community. I think you have to get community
and people behind you. You can’t come in, just one person, and say ’I
want a city farm here’, it’s not gonna work. You have to put together a core group. If you can involve people willing
to commit to it, it’s a big thing. And then you need to start thinking
about what your focus is going to be. Are you going to concentrate on animals
and in the background on growing, or try both? But first you have to get the people,
this is more important than the land. But don’t ever think that you can’t do it,
because you can. I believe if you have enough people behind you
who want it to happen, it will happen. So the thing I’m involved here at the City
Farm is work in the community gardens, so I’m a community gardener. As a community garden, this came into place 3
years ago through consultation with community about what they wanted to do with the piece
of post-industrial land that we got back, it was previously used
for parking and stuff. So even those in the building seen there
said they wanted a community garden, so that’s what we’ve created. And already that ground we got
is very productive. Last week we took 24 bulging
carrier bags of greens of it, so there’s a lot of food coming of this. Lots of members of the community
gather to grow their own food. This is also important from a
point of view of social cohesion. We have extremes of rich and poor, different
populations that live close together with not always much communication
between or even within the communities. A city can be a very isolating place sometimes.
This is about bringing everyone together. We supply well-being,
it’s the obvious thing, we supply people to get in touch
with the ground and things like that. It increases people’s sense of
self-esteem and empowerment you deal with something mysterious that you
can’t control first, then suddenly you can. These sorts of things you see manifesting in
people, and they just have a lot of fun. What motivates people when
they walk out of my garden? Definitely, they walk away
with food in the end. Sometimes people’s goals
are not about food, what they really want is to come in,
contribute, help and learn. A lot of motivation for them is
to help others and to learn. I’m trying to teach them
to take food home as well. Why buy food that has travelled
a long way to the supermarket when they can have food of
much higher quality locally? They don’t have to sustain weird
businesses and stuff like that. There’s a lot of education here. Some of the people who come here, like
the Sylethi community (from Bangladesh), are from a farming background,
so it doesn’t take them long. The same’s true for the Turkish population. It doesn’t take them long to get in touch
with what they know already. There’s not so much
education needed there. And some people know a lot already
but some of them are closed to new permaculture and organic
techniques that we do here. You can come here knowing nothing
or you can learn more.

3 thoughts on “Community Gardens, London – a short documentary

  1. Quite nice…however I noticed that you have tires in your garden. Tires will leach into your gardens. This leaching of chemicals are most likely carcinogenic/ Cancerous in nature. Don't put tires near or in your garden. Lovely video. Good Will

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