Martin Gerrish is the Project Leader of Grow Food Grow Dunoon, who are a group of people who want to grow food. Not only are home grown fruit and vegetables nutritious and tasty, they may soon be necessary. Food may not be all we need, but we all need food. Yet climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution, soil depletion, political, economic and many other factors threaten global food production and supply. However, growing food is hard work. It takes knowledge, skill and commitment. Which is why we work as a team.

Martin was a panelist at the 2023 SURF Annual Conference.

Community food growing combines different elements found in allotments, private gardens and commercial horticulture but offers a key difference in that it is a collective endeavour. It provides a place where people can come together, work alongside each other and grow nourishing and relatively inexpensive food. However, it can also struggle with being sustainable because often the income source is through grant funding and much of the work is done by volunteers. Though other groups and community projects can be involved in different ways. For example, education and support can be offered to different groups within the community in ways that can be more flexible and informal than when there is a  commercial directive to the project.

One important aspect however is that if community food growing is to survive, it has to find ways to be financially sustainable. Which means bringing in a more commercial approach to the selling of the produce. This can sometimes conflict with the community aspect because supporting people in the community on the project takes time and energy when sometimes getting the work done needs to be the priority.  A delicate dance involving different skills!

Community food growing also often relies on at least one or two people to drive the project who have the skills and knowledge required to grow good quality food. Experienced people with such skill sets need to share their knowledge and teach other volunteers – which is a whole separate task in itself.

It is possible that the true value of community food growing will only reveal itself fully when food supply, environmental and economic situations become even more fragile and perhaps in deep trouble. It will then become strikingly apparent how vitally important sustainable food production is within a community context. The future therefore lies in creating resilience, skill sets and economic sustainability now. This is exactly what community food growing can provide. However, while our supermarkets are full of produce and people are managing, even if with degrees of difficulty, the importance of such food growing projects is often unacknowledged and its advantages are not yet apparent. Including the benefits not only of the food itself, of the connection, support and nourishment such projects also provide.  It is only out of deep dark and fertile soil that really good plants flourish, perhaps this is the hidden secret in community food growing. That out of the dark future, such community projects will take root and grow.

This blog is the ninth in a series of follow on blogs from the SURF Annual Conference. Read the next blog from Karen Davidson of  Grow Green Scotland HERE