Community Growing #2

Community Learning Exchange

Community Growing #2

On the 23rd of November, the Rural SE Hub held their second Community Learning Exchange based on the topic of community growing in Fairlie, North Ayrshire.

The initial thought behind the exchange was to bring together like-minded individuals in order to share examples of best practice on the topic of community growing which also highlighting some of the challenges and pitfalls that come with the territory. It was our hope that through this exchange, we could create a vibrant and successful network of community growers from rural and urban Scotland.

We recognised the importance in acknowledging the rural context, but also the value in building connections between rural and urban organisations and communities so we can better understand the respective similarities as well as weaknesses.

The exchange was hosted by Nancy and Malcolm from Organic Growers of Fairlie (Organic Growers of Fairlie | It’s Your Neighbourhood (keepscotlandbeautiful.org)) who offered the use of their space and facilities for the day while also giving the group a guided tour of their community garden.

Organic Growers of Fairlie run a sustainable community garden with 169 members, 181 outside beds and 134 polytunnel beds. They grow for themselves and the community, have wild areas and wildflower beds, and actively seek to reduce climate impact with tree planting and other practices. The group always look to involve the community and welcome other groups and visitors to their garden.

There were 3 other hosts who joined the group in Fairlie to share their experience as community growers: Inverclyde Shed, Grow 73 and Grow Food Grow Dunoon.

Inverclyde Shed are a group of like-minded people who meet up to make and share ideas, skills and experiences. By creating, developing, sustaining and maintaining workshop facilities, they offer opportunities for people in the Inverclyde area to meet and undertake creative, physical, purposeful and recreational activities of their choice. The Inverclyde Shed operates two community gardens in Greenock and Port Glasgow respectively.

Grow 73 is a community group made up of volunteers from the Rutherglen area. Their aim is to develop and increase the opportunities for people of all ages to grow their own produce and to engage with their natural environment and learn about sustainability and biodiversity. They want to tackle issues such as social isolation, mental and physical health issues and loneliness through shared gardening and creative activities and events. They currently run a community garden based in Rutherglen.

Grow Food Grow Dunoon are a group of people who came together because they wanted to grow their own food, not in a private allotment or garden, but as a team. By working this way, they can support each other as they each have different skills. It also means they can enjoy spending time with other people rather than slogging away on their own.

In addition to the hosts, there were around 20 people in attendance at the exchange from various groups and organisations with an interest in community growing. It was wonderful to see such a range of people from throughout rural and urban Scotland, all at different stages in their community growing journey.

The exchange started off with a tour of Fairlie Community Garden. We were shown the raised beds where an amazing variety of vegetables are grown with more exotic ones such as figs, oka, sweet potatoes, aubergines, chills, grapes.

The garden also featured fruit trees and a woodland trail around the garden as well as a pond. We were told how the trail is popular for children’s scavenger hunts and activities. Many native trees have been planted in the garden and wildflowers were brought in to attract pollinators. There is a woodland shelter at the front of the garden to protect the area from wind.

Malcolm described how they take advantage of being on the coast to gather seaweed which provides trace elements to their soil. The garden is involved in low carbon activities which reduce the effects of climate change which include their vegetable growing, recycling garden and food waste to make vegetable and worm compost. They also collect rainwater and reuse building materials.

Following the garden tour, the group returned to the barn (to shelter from the strong winds) and asked Malcolm and Nancy any questions that they had not had the opportunity to ask during the tour. The other 3 hosts then spoke about their own respective gardens and community growing projects followed by a quick Q and A.

Following a lunch of soup and sandwiches, the group moved onto asking the big question: “Where do we go from here?”

It was decided that the group would form a network of community growers so they could stay connected with one another and continue to share and learn from each other. They also decided to hold a further exchange (this time without coordination from the Rural SE Hub) in Greenock and visit the Inverclyde Shed’s community garden.

Feedback from the exchange was very positive and it was wonderful to see this type of session have real, tangible outcomes.