Our November Ignite meeting was set in the most amazing location-the tropical glasshouse at Chelmsford’s wonderful Writtle University College. The University College offers a myriad of courses including 2 new degree courses concerned with Art and the Environment. Samantha Humphreys who is the course scheme manager and Senior Lecturer in the department, greeted us by giving us an insight into our surroundings for the night and to the courses available.
The theme for the night was ‘The Art of Growing’ so we were in the perfect location-with low lighting to make it a magical and enchanting environment.
Our first speaker was Jenny Lynn.
Jenny started her non-profit project ‘Get Diggin’ it’ after she had been involved in a permaculture project In Kashmir. Her first full-on step into growing in the local environment was when she undertook transforming a neighbour’s garden. The garden had a barren strip of land approximately 40ft by 30ft. Within two years, she had transformed it into a thriving, prolific vegetable plot. Jenny uses a ‘no dig’ method and places the vegetable waste back into the ground which is then layered with topsoil-enabling the soil to become rich and fertile. Money should not be a barrier to being able to ‘grow your own’-Jenny explained that there are lots of ways to harvest seeds and gain equipment that you need, if you just take the time to look or ask.
So why does Jenny say that growing food is the most radical act of protest you can do? Well, with the use of some powerful data about food waste, Jenny explained how million of tonnes of food is wasted in industrialised countries. Jenny believes that by growing our own food locally and returning control of the economy, health and wellbeing to the local people, we can assure we are not being dictated to, and can actually force large corporations to change their ways by starving them of this economy. –
The benefits of applying a local food growing ethos over a commercially farmed ethos are many. As well as the locally grown produce being organic and nutritious, the food does not have to travel miles to get to our home-which means there is less pollution. Local ‘waste’ can be recycled-from bean poles to vegetable matter. Of course, it also does wonders for community building and helps with mental-well-being and reaching out to isolated people. By using local people to run the project, they are empowered to get involved with various ideas connected to the project such as seasonal cooking, various crafting activities and education in nature.
People who wish to find ways to being more environmentally kind have the perfect solution in a project like this-they become a producer rather than a consumer and are therefore being part of a solution to the destruction caused to the earth.
Jenny’s talk certainly gave the guests ‘food for thought’ and there were many people gaining advice and discussing their own ideas with Jenny when the talks had finished.
Jenny used a powerpoint alongside her talk, which you can find here:
Our next guest speaker was Cam from Company drinks.
Company drinks is no ordinary drinks company. It started life as a heritage commission art project which explored the history of people from areas such as Whitechapel, Bow, Limehouse, Barking and Dagenham. From the start of the 20th Century to the late 1940’s, people (particularly women and children) were sent to pick hops on farms in and around Kent. The Barking and Dagenham area was, at that time, surrounded by agricultural land and the tradition of hop-picking was strong. The project was successful and went from strength to strength, eventually becoming a community business started with a kickstarter fund, to buy premises. The premises were originally a bowls clubhouse, and this is still where the company is based today.
The workforce consists of volunteers who not only hop-pick, but also forage in local parks for other drink ingredients, (a variety of drinks are made, from cordials to a cola syrup) and get involved in local community gardening projects. They can be involved in any stage of the procedures which include processing the ingredients, bottling, distributing and selling the drinks. The business is a completely circular economy that residents of Barking or Dagenham can be involved in. Company drinks provide visits and talks to groups at any stage too, involving the community in a different way.
Company were recently approached by a mental health group in the area, to ask whether they could start to grow on the premises grounds. Prior to this, Company drinks had used mainly foraging methods to gain ingredients. The grounds are now used to grow ingredients for the group to make their own tea products.
What do the volunteers get out of it? Well, similarly to Jenny’s ‘Get diggin’ it’ project, this project has huge mental and physical health benefits, from ‘being part of something’ to being outdoors, to having access to open spaces when they wouldn’t otherwise (the annual ‘hop-picking’ event involves contacting hop-growers for the volunteers to collect the ‘waste’ hops and sees these people come back each year)Alongside this, volunteers are given free talks from other projects, so that they know they are part of a much bigger movement. Cam said that the volunteers get a great deal of satisfaction and feel a sense of investment when they see a product they were part of producing for sale locally. Company drinks also recently had their products displayed in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum-which has made them very proud.
Tying in with Jenny Lynn’s message of changing the way we deal with large corporations. For example, selling the cola syrup to festivals and events means that a particularly large corporation that also manufacturers cola, gets less income and so, this is another way of protesting.
Both of the talks were really motivating and were thoroughly enjoyed by our audience.
Thank you so much Jenny, Cam, Samantha and Writtle University College for a wonderful evening that we are sure will have many positive reverberations.