In HIP Issue 152 (Power to the Pea-ple), Pea Pod Veg farmer Abby Nicol touched upon the crisis occurring within our local food system and put forward some initial suggestions (like the need for more community-owned farms). In this issue, Sarah Gomes Harris (see also Issue 139, Gardening Guerrillas and Biophiles) makes another suggestion, that of encouraging individuals to grow their own food. 

Through writing about her own experience of developing her neighbourhood ‘lawn’ into a viable food source, she illustrates that ‘growing food’ does not necessarily need to be limited to just those with the privilege of having a garden or allotment. Her words take on additional importance when one considers the recent report by the Office for National Statistics. The report (focused on Britain) demonstrated that, not only do one in eight households have no access to a garden, but within these figures lies great ethnic disparity, with black people four times less likely than white people to have access to their own outdoor space. 

By Sarah Gomes Harris

Cavolo Nero on the ‘lawn’
PICTURE: Sarah Gomes Harris

I’ve found myself looking at lawns a lot lately. There is so much of it everywhere, and people hold their lawn in almost holy reverence. I feel as though everyone is genuflecting at the altar of the divine ‘God of Topsoil’, reading from the same pocket bible of ‘miracle-gro’, the one that states, ‘thou shall mow every second Friday in June’. 

We are still in the throes of a badly handled pandemic and, as I look into the patches of green, I imagine myself a year from now. My industry is struggling from lack of investment, the savings I finally got together for a home are spent, and I’m relying on a foodbank that is buckling because so many of its usual donors have been made redundant and are now reliant on handouts themselves. People are uncharacteristically aggressive and self-preserving. I’m reduced to feebly staring at the lawn around the foodbank, wishing it were full of aubergines.

We need anything BUT lawn.

I live in a rented conversion flat with no garden and allotments are almost a two-year waiting list. So I started planting a communal garden on our street with flowers and edible leaves, trying not to make it too obvious I was on a food poverty mission. I stuck with the odd sculptural bit of Cavolo Nero and chicory, which went largely unnoticed among the flowers. After some time, the garden began receiving comments (good ones!) and donations of a cherry tree, rosemary bush, cauliflower, courgettes and peas came flooding in. Recently, parents and their kids have been out planting too. Now, flowers with their tags appear overnight and we have a mystery lawnmower man mowing every week. Although, I still live in fear of dogs taking a dump on the rhubarb – until street growing is normalised, people will continue to think their dog’s bowels take priority over starvation. 

Baskets of strawberries and tomatoes
PICTURE: Sarah Gomes Harris

In my opinion, anyone on the brink of food poverty needs to know that a relatively small piece of lawn (even a square metre) can be turned over to grow food. We need to assert that we can grow food on ‘common’ land. We need to be growing strawberries off of lamp posts while walls of nutritious spinach and rocket could be lining our twittens and wrapped around our railings. And, has anyone noticed the shopping centre is one giant greenhouse? We could be replacing a good chunk of the fruit and veg we import, at the same time as transforming it into a space of beauty and well-being. Sites due for development (that will very likely end up standing empty due to the oncoming recession) could be turned into community farms; it is inexcusable and irresponsible not to make the most of this opportunity.

Sarah’s current project: leaf filled tetra packs to hang in a twittern
PICTURE: Sarah Gomes Harris

Whatever your feelings about Maduro, he has at least given the people of Venezuela permission to ‘grow food anywhere they can’. Meanwhile, Boris and his faulty joystick Cummings have been playing at lowering food safety standards with the US, a country in which 1 in 6 people fall ill with food poisoning each year as opposed to 1 in 66 here (yorkshirebylines.co.uk). We, the community, have the power to take over the controls and to take food growing back into our own hands.

Sarah recently appeared to talk more about her guerrilla gardening on Episode 3 of ‘The Common Treasury’ series; find the discussion on Facebook at ‘Isolation Station Hastings’. 


For those wanting to get started on their own growing journey, Sarah recommends these resources

For information
• Local permaculture expert Anna Locke’s affordable garden forest course (‘Anna Locke Permaculture’ on Facebook)
• ‘Hastings & St Leonards Garden Friends’ (on Facebook): a network of volunteer gardeners promoting biodiversity and supporting vulnerable individuals to garden. They also have future plans to start a community garden in a long-disused playground
• ‘The Dig Deep Garden Group’ on Facebook has a plethora of expertise
• Talk to your neighbours! Post a note through everyone’s door with your number on it and set up a gardening WhatsApp group

For Plants/seeds
Alexandra Park Greenhouse Group have been helpful with cheap plants and advice. They need more footfall and fundraising help as the greenhouse is in desperate need of repair work before next winter or it will fall apart www.greenhousealexpark.com
• ‘Garden Gems’ nursery garden-gems.co.uk
• Email local allotments each year to see if they have any seeds
or seedlings spare 
• ‘Hastings Give & Takery’ on Facebook for seed swaps
• Gardening mags often contain enough free seeds to get one started


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