Karen Moore Davidson is Chair of GrowGreen Scotland, which supports communities across the country to develop, deliver and lead on nature-based solutions to a wide range of issues. “Improving health and wellbeing to developing climate resilience, there are solutions on our doorsteps that can regenerate every community and ourselves through partnering with nature, and the planning system can be our ally.”

Karen, along with her colleague Lou Evans, was a speaker at the 2023 SURF Annual Conference.

The SURF conference showcased communities addressing economic and social injustice and tackling the climate and nature emergencies through food growing. It was an inspirational day, generating the hope that every community can participate and benefit.

There are community groups across Scotland developing locally led food solutions, demonstrating how tackling the health, environment, poverty, and other crises through the lens of food provides many, low cost and far reaching, benefits. The future has unprecedented challenges, and their activities are building assets, resilience, food security and restoring nature. Every community should have the opportunity to take part.

Finding and securing land is at the start of the journey, and urban and peri-urban settlements can fare better on accessing appropriate sites and resources than rural communities that are adjacent to agricultural land. However, in any setting, it is not a ‘walk in the park’ to start and sustain community-led food growing, and certainly requires imagination, navigating systems and barriers, and gathering and deploying resources with the tenacity of pioneers. We aim to support them at all stages, sharing ideas and experiences and devising solutions and, on a system scale, tapping into assumptions, practices, policies, systems, and silos, identifying what needs to change and work better for ourselves, nature, the climate and our communities.

The planning system in Scotland can be a key ally. National Planning Framework 4, Local Development Plans and other related policies and measures, when connected, implemented, challenged and developed offer an exciting way forward. We are working with partners and practitioners to identify levers for change in this framework, to inspire communities to activate ‘green citizenship’ through planning, and enablers to enact their role in it. Landowners, both public and private, developers, and local authorities and agencies are also getting involved as they see the deeper benefits of partnering with communities. This is all crucial, and with Local Development Planning moving from a 5 to 10-year cycle we need to act now to raise the status of community food growing, to prepare for the large-scale investment of funds, skills and resources where it is needed, and the attention it merits. We need to go faster and further, be fairer by including all, and safeguard the assets that many communities have yet to realise. A paradigm shift, to strengthen pathways, policies and frameworks to move ‘greenspace’ from a nebulous concept to one of local nature infrastructure, where communities lead, and food growing is the hub.

If you have an idea or story to share on how the planning system can support community regeneration through food growing, get in contact karen@growgreenscotland.org

This blog is the tenth in a series of follow on blogs from the SURF Annual Conference. The final blog to follow.