Over recent decades, the ways in which we communicate, interact and organise as a society have changed dramatically.
Social issues have become more complex and interconnected, yet the slow breaking up of communities into ever smaller and smaller parts is causing problems at all levels: mental health issues are growing at an alarming rate, more people are sleeping rough year-on-year, childhood obesity is on the rise, and the heart-breaking levels of isolation amongst our elderly have forced us to appoint a Minister for Loneliness. The list grows. Doom and gloom seem to lurk around every corner, and this narrative only serves to discourage and overwhelm. So let’s talk solutions. Let’s talk about food and farming.
What is more common and unifying than the simple act of growing, cooking and eating food? For millennia, peoples’ lives were arranged around these activities for survival, bringing land, weather and people into close relationships. We’ve previously discussed how industrial-scale farming hollows out local economies, and how small-scale farming can help rebuild them; we at The Farm also believe that small-scale farming is a force for good at a much deeper, social level, creating interdependent communities that ease issues of social and rural isolation while boosting mental and physical wellbeing.
One of the core values of The Community Farm is to encourage people to 'Get On Our Land’. We bring people together through a wide range of activities and have created an environment that is inclusive, welcoming and supportive. In the past six years we’ve seen ever increasing numbers show up to enjoy our open and safe space; just last year we welcomed over 1,400 people to The Farm!
People come here for many reasons. Our community farmer programme gets countless eager hands digging into our rich loamy soils and harvesting fresh, organic veg. Local school visits are also frequent events (we hosted more than 300 children last year), as are nature inspired activities (such as owl prowls, bee counts, bat walks) and cookery classes (like our ever popular “Pick and Cook” programme, and our sushi and pickling workshops). We also run health and wellbeing courses provided by Ecowild, as well as our own weekly therapeutic horticulture course called Grow and Make. By coming to The Farm, locals get to learn and share skills, socialise and forge friendships, or to simply reap the positive benefits of spending time immersed in nature.
When funding from central government is thin on the ground and local councils are struggling, it falls on the people to join together and move forward to address problems that only seem to be getting worse. The Community Farm was started by local people responding to a very real and local need for food security and increased social connection. Community-oriented agricultural projects like ours have the power to bring people together under the guise of growing food for their local area, but with the added impact of creating new, strong social links in their local area, links that change lives. A quick Internet search will show you that, in the West Country alone, there are currently multiple projects working to have a positive impact on their local area by using variations of the community-supported agriculture (CSA) model. Such projects form new, vibrant networks that bring far more tangible benefits than typical social media platforms, providing face-to-face social contact while filling bellies with healthy, organic food.
We may not all need to grow food to survive, but, by participating in something bigger than ourselves with others, by choosing to join in with the dance of nature, it’s difficult not to be inspired and irrevocably changed for the better.
Come visit us! And yes - dancing in wellies IS possible!
Feeding Britain - combating food and hunger in the UK.
Sims Hill - CSA in Bristol.
Root Connections - Improving health and wellbeing for adults with complex needs via volunteering.
The UN Refugee Agency - Case study - Refugees lighten UK farmer's load in lambing season.
Ecowild - Engaging children and adults in green-based activities to promote better physical and mental health.
Earthwise - Reconnecting young people with food, farming and the natural world.
Transplanting Traditions - Providing refugee adults and youth access to land, healthy food and agricultural and entrepreneurial opportunities.
New roots for refugees - Supporting families to start farm businesses by growing their own organic produce.