In 2016, Garden Organic launched an inspirational new project in the London Borough of Southwark. Funded by the Hirschmann Foundation, it set out to train Master Gardeners and Food Buddies to go into the most deprived wards in the borough and teach residents how to grow and cook their own organic food.
Southwark volunteers being shown around the Glengall Wharf Garden in Peckham. Pictures: Garden Organic
Southwark was chosen for the project because it has a large percentage of social housing and a significant number of residents at risk of food insecurity, often because of low incomes relative to disproportionately high housing costs. The borough also has a childhood obesity rate of one in four – the national average is one in ten. Very few residents have access to a garden or allotment, or even a balcony or windowsill – but, says Debbie Mitchener, Garden Organic’s Project Co-ordinator, “That doesn’t mean that people aren’t able to enjoy the experience of growing and eating organic food. It’s our job to show them what they can do with what they have.
“I was approached by a gentleman from Somalia, who came to the UK as a refugee. He was telling us about all the fantastic crops he used to grow in Somalia, but how now all he has is a small room with a mattress on the floor and nowhere to grow. He was struggling to adapt to his new situation and was in desperate need of help.
“We convinced him to sow some seeds in a pot made from old newspapers and explained how he could grow it by his window. He walked away with a huge smile on his face, carrying his pot, and said, ‘At least I have something I can look after now.’
“Gardening isn’t just a support in terms of putting organic food in your belly, it’s giving you hope. Growing allows you to see further than what’s right in front of you. It makes you think to the future.”
Christina, one of Southwark’s new Master Gardeners, says, “When I heard about the Garden Organic project I contacted Debbie as I wanted to have the confidence to be able to teach people and get them excited about growing.
“I now run a school gardening club – I would never have imagined that possible. Garden Organic has given me that confidence. We’ve gone from the children telling me the green tomatoes were apples, to them growing a big range of vegetables to make into soup. We have 40 children on the club waiting list now.”
The funding for the pilot project ends this month, and Garden Organic is appealing for donations to allow it to continue. Go to https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/supportsouthwark to find out more and lend your support.