How the coronavirus led to a community food growth boom in the UK | Coronavirus epidemic

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WWhen Covid-19 and the lockdown hit, a two-acre stretch of a field on Barnwell Road just outside central Cambridge, the UK’s most uneven city, was nothing but bare soil.

But thanks to 110 volunteers and a donation of fences to keep rabbits from snacking on crops, an organic market garden was established to help stock seven local community food centers with an abundance of tomatoes, pumpkins, broccoli, eggplant and more by the end of July. .

Volunteers sort the harvest for donation to local community food centers in August. Photographie: CoFarm Cambridge / Guardian Community

“We don’t agree that you should pay a premium for having delicious and nutritious food,” said CoFarm Cambridge founder Gavin Shelton, who aims to create a community farm in every local authority in the UK. United by 2030, using own money, local donations and corporate grants.

“Something has gone really wrong in society if people cannot afford this food. We’ve focused on growing as much organic food as possible and, for this year, giving it all away for free.

There is no doubt, he added, that the impact of the coronavirus has highlighted the fragility of global supply chains, but Shelton believes there is now an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the problem. both public health and the climate crisis.

“We can improve our health by eating fresh, local, organically grown foods that are free of chemicals, pesticides or harmful products, while dealing with combined health, climate and biodiversity emergencies.”

Earlier this year, the homeless charity Crisis warned families receiving benefits in Cambridge may have to cut back on food to cover rent, and some vulnerable people are known to be even deeper in poverty. food, foreclosure affecting income.

Cambridge volunteer co-farmers helped sow seeds and fight thistles on the community farm.
Cambridge volunteer co-farmers helped sow seeds and fight thistles on the community farm. Photographie: CoFarm Cambridge / Guardian Community

Shelton said the project, on the last strip of land in the city of Cambridge’s greenbelt, which is leased to a church as part of a “farm business lease”, was both aimed at fighting against food poverty and bringing people together to reduce social isolation and improve mental health. and well-being. “We were the first place some people were next to their corner store when they started volunteering during the lockdown,” he said.

Across the UK, a number of other local food culture initiatives have sprung up and thrived during the lockdown, amid concerns about the supermarket shortage, to help provide healthy food to vulnerable people . As many as one in 10 people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been forced to use food banks during the lockdown, as some government food packaging aimed at the most vulnerable has come under fire for offering foods of low nutritional value.

In Northumberland, the week after the lockdown, Ginnie O’Farrell, a school tutor who found himself out of work after public exams were canceled, launched Hexham Fresh Food Bank – a network of volunteer producers coordinated by a Facebook group – after being inspired by gardeners in a nearby village growing additional crops which are sold in a volunteer-run store, with the funds raised being reinvested in the community.

“Many people in Tynedale have plots or gardens producing fruit and vegetables and they often have a surplus that they now pass on to us for distribution to households that need support,” she said.

“We started by giving people produce straight from the ground, but now we produce jams, pies, crumbles, salad bags and herbs in recycled cans. We got great feedback from the food bank. People were touched by the fact that strangers tried to cook for them.

Ginnie O'Farrell with her local produce, which she donates to the Fresh Food Bank.
Ginnie O’Farrell with her local produce, which she donates to the Fresh Food Bank. Photographie: Hexham Fresh Food Bank / Guardian Community

A network of up to 200 food producers has been established and is providing produce free of charge to some 280 households in the western Northumberland region, fearing that the end of the leave program and increased unemployment could increase still demand.

“I hate the fact that food banks exist, it’s a shame in a developed country, but I feel that if they are to exist we have to make sure people get decent food out of them,” O’Farrell added. “No one should have to eat mostly canned food because they don’t have access to good products.”

Lunch boxes prepared in Solhaven from organic farm products.
Lunch boxes prepared in Solhaven from organic farm products. Photographie: Solhaven / Guardian Community

In Northamptonshire, a community permaculture farm started in 2018 by a couple who have both lived through homelessness have started delivering meals made with their own beets, broccoli, kale, pak choi, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and butternut squash to dozens of homeless people. in hotels under the banner of the Loving Chef.

“A friend of ours is leading a local Covid support group that has grown to around 3,000 people who couldn’t go out for food or needed donations,” said co-founder Sammuel Yisrael.

“We also help them provide services to key workers, people staying in sheltered homes due to domestic violence, people with learning disabilities and older people unable to leave their homes.”

About his mission in Solhaven, which is partly funded by the National Lottery, the Covid-19 government support fund and the benefits of the event space, he said: “Our goal is to connect adults without- shelter and vulnerable with Mother Earth to improve physical well-being, while giving back something to nature.

The project continues to distribute vegan snack boxes filled with community farm produce to street sleepers in and around Northampton, with visible homelessness growing on the streets of the town of East Midlands, according to Yisrael.

Hundreds of seedlings prepare to germinate at Loughborough Park Community Garden, south London.
Hundreds of seedlings prepare to germinate at Loughborough Park Community Garden, south London. Photographie: Myatt’s Fields Park / Guardian Community

At Myatt’s Fields in Lambeth, south London, staff and volunteers came together in response to Covid-19 and grew around 40,000 cavolo nero, spinach, pumpkins, lettuce, tomatoes and bean plants in a greenhouse and distributed them to a wide variety of households for free during the height of containment.

“Since then, we have been growing and distributing seedlings; working with people on estates and other parks to grow food in community spaces, in estates, on roadsides and in back gardens with funding from the City Bridge Trust, ”said Tori Sherwin, Manager development of the park.

“Hundreds of people in our area are growing up for themselves, for their neighbors in need and for community emergency food projects. We also worked with Incredible Edible Lambeth, who distributed seeds, compost and pots to 170 new growers throughout the borough during the lockdown.

Community leader Fabrice Boltho and volunteers work in a glass house in a 14-acre Victorian park, south London.
Community leader Fabrice Boltho and volunteers work in a glass house in a 14-acre Victorian park, south London. Photographie: Myatt’s Fields Park / Guardian Community

Sherwin said she had witnessed a resurgence of interest in people growing their own produce during the lockdown as some feared they could not depend on commercial food systems and demand for growing spaces exploded .

“The idea of ​​having to rely on yourself for food hit people for the first time,” she added. “Plus, it’s often extremely cheap and with a little help anyone can grow a lot of delicious food.”

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