Jonathan Giddings-Reid is the Community Regeneration Officer at Elderpark Housing. Jonathan has over 30 years’ experience working in social housing and has worked previously with a number of high-profile names within housing notably Shettleston Housing Association, Southside Housing Association – both in Glasgow – and Shire Housing Association in Ayrshire.

Walking through a beautifully tended garden and into a bright vibrant lobby with a beautiful open plan café, the smell of freshly baked goods and food cooking, seriously, what better way to not only start the day, but when you are attending an event that is garden and food based, it really can’t start any better! When you land in a great venue – like Centre Stage -you know that you are going to have a great day, and this day certainly did not disappoint.

I think we all get how important it is for us as a sector to think more about food production, distribution, access and land use in our communities. I’m not sure that we all know just how much work is being done across Scotland and certainly in Glasgow to support local food growers and increase access to quality fresh food for our communities.

Spoiler alert – I am going to slay food analogies and food puns in this blog, so forgive me right now!

Attending the SURF annual conference this year, seeing that the focus was going to be on food really grabbed my attention – Sign me up !! let me in!! I’m an expert on food, I know all there is to know about community food growing, there’s not much to it, who can’t grow a carrot? How wrong was I? On this occasion, very wrong.

What SURF achieved for the conference was not only bringing together those that have a lot of experience in this field, but the whole day was structured in a way that brought together growers, policy makers, community organisations and community groups to share their lived experiences of growing, setting up a project, funding the project and better understanding how all this fits in to the Scottish legislative and government agenda.

Actually – it’s a lot more complicated than just growing a carrot. But it is just as rewarding to know, that we are all pulling in the same direction, as planting up a veggie packed veg bed!

Food costs are challenging for many more of us than ever before and it is a sad fact that access to good quality, locally produced food is not as accessible as we might like to think for all of us, but that does not mean that we can’t try and do a more to address this challenge.

For me, the conference was a bit of a light bulb moment, hearing from so many wonderful speakers, at the heart of community growing, Good Food Nation demonstrated that the menu for the day includes many Michelin starred contributing dishes. You could even say that the ‘community garden’ of the conference was well and truly stocked with a myriad of exotic produce.

Exotic contributors from a really varied mix of expertise including,  Edible Estates, Larkhall Community Growers, Campy Growers and the wonderful Girvan Tattie Fest all making food growing a priority and a joy, alongside understanding how this fits into the framework of great governance and policy, like the Glasgow Food Plan, supported by Good Food Nation and Get Growing Scotland and then getting context from Joe Fitzpatrick MSP, Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning certainly helped me get a feel for where all this fits.

Working in the social housing challenges me to face situations that truly are life altering for many of our tenants. What I’m seeing – and in my 37 years in Housing I’ve never seen before – is not only how difficult it is for many people to decide to eat or heat, but how willing people are to grow their own, support local food supplies and get stuck in.

Food growing is slowly but steadily rising up the agenda for many social housing providers and certainly at Elderpark, green spaces is one of our top 5 priorities, as identified by our tenants in a recent survey undertaken earlier this summer.

The conference showed all of us that there are multiple models of operating community growing space, from window boxes, public grass verges, back court boxes and pots on a window sill.

We also know that life outside the veg bed leads to increased social interactions, a sense of pride and achievement, improved mental health and wellbeing, whilst being more physically active has a list of benefits as long as your arm.

Is all this just ‘pie in the sky’ or is the ‘grass greener on the growing side’? Well, you decide: attending this conference certainly confirmed for me that things are pretty rubbish when it comes to the cost-of-living crises that we are all experiencing. BUT the light at the end of the tunnel could glow green, we just need to be that tad more active by ‘double digging’ our way into a more food sustainable future, because ‘everything’s coming up roses’……in community gardens across Scotland.

This blog is the sixth in a series of follow on blogs from the SURF Annual Conference. Read the next blog from Seonad Hoy of Wheatley Foundation HERE