Marie-Amélie Viatte is an Advocate for regenerative localised food ecosystems. Founder of The Power of Food Festival, Edinburgh’s festival of community food growing Trustee of the Granton Community Gardeners On the Management Committee of Dig-In, community-owned greengrocer. Marie-Amélie’s career straddles environmental issues and health and social inequalities, mainly in policy-focused roles in the UK and overseas. Food has been a recurring theme throughout (for better and for worse…).
When I got news that SURF, Scotland’s Regeneration Forum was to dedicate its annual conference to community food growing, I rejoiced! Community food growing has been a core interest of mine and a source of great inspiration and joy for around 10 years. I was delighted to accept an invitation to be on the morning panel, alongside brilliant changemakers including the Concrete Garden in Possil and Grow Food Grow Dunoon. Our panel chair, Lou Evans of Get Growing Scotland, skilfully wove our conversation and successfully brought out our diverse perspectives. She gave me the word ‘celebration’ as the stimulus for my input.
Celebration is indeed called for. Scotland has a vibrant community food growing scene, led by people who, tired of waiting for answers to come from elsewhere, are rolling up their sleeves and taking action for positive change. When I began to pay more attention to, and enthuse about this movement, I realised nearly no-one knew what I was talking about (and assumed I was referring to allotments). At that point, I’d been working for 20 years on protecting nature and improving lives, and found the world increasingly gloomy; I was frustrated and deeply concerned by the lack of leadership and progress on these issues, at least in the policy circles I was operating in. As I shifted my gaze from the international and national scales to the very local, and from strategic conversations to practical action on the ground, I found the true leaders. They were humble and busy transforming street corners on housing estates, and vacant and derelict land, into beautiful and productive oases of calm and nourishment for all to see, enjoy and eat from. They were deploying their creativity, resourcefulness, knowledge and skills to respond to their most essential need: food. This discovery spurred me on to create The Power of Food Festival, to showcase and celebrate community food growing in and around Edinburgh. Eager to counter the prevailing doom and gloom, the Festival highlighted the positivity and relevance of community food growing at the crossroads of the major social, environmental and economic challenges our times.
A few years have passed. The world has been shaken by major political, economic and environmental shocks and tremors, coming one after the other in quick succession; the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine amongst them, rippling out across our lives, and ripping through the lives of many. The climate and biodiversity dual emergency is increasingly experienced in the present, shifting from the long-standing concern for “our children’s generations”. It may be strange therefore to suggest that, more than ever, we must pause and celebrate. A celebration, however joyful and fun, can be a serious proposition. It allows us to take stock of what we do have and cherish; to recognise the riches that we hold; to be inspired and re-invent our place in the world; to harness joy, shared purpose, and a sense of possibility as our fuel for change.
The SURF conference was further illustration of the truly transformational impacts of community food growing: growing food and much more … growing people, growing community, growing resilience and good health. Yet, all is not well in the garden of Eden. The sector continues to be poorly understood and chronically under-funded. It’s often regarded as a ‘nice’ thing to support by those failing to see how essential it actually is. As we search for answers to the big complex questions around health, energy and cost of living crises, food security, community cohesion, economic renewal, and of course climate and biodiversity, we must see community food growing (and urban agriculture more widely) as a strategic sector worthy of deliberate major investment. Think of it as a key pillar of our collective insurance policy as we navigate the stormy seas of the 21st century.
We hear the public sector is on its knees. Yet, we are fortunate to live in one of the richest countries in the world. So, we must open our eyes, lift our gaze and look out of the box. Let’s ask ourselves “where is the money?” and “who is not yet in the community garden to see its beauty and value?” Let’s not be so complacent to ignore our individual and collective vulnerability.
For those who enjoy the sense of safety that financial wealth brings…
For those who haven’t yet had to grow their own food to ensure they can eat healthily, without damaging the very ecosystem that feeds them…
For those dealing with big, global, intractable problems…
Let’s have the humility to realise that the answers can be as small as a seed sowed on a street corner.
Let’s have the imagination to see how community food growing can be the lynchpin of our economy and the engine for change we’ve been yearning for.
Let’s have the courage to trust ourselves and one another.
Let’s make the concerted effort to invest our collective financial and human capital in earnest, so that we can grow more of what we eat and eat more of what we grow.
The magic is within.
Want to explore further? Email Marie-Amélie at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is the fifth in a series of follow on blogs from the SURF Annual Conference. Read the next blog from Jonathan Giddings-Reid of Elderpark Housing HERE