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Growing initiative to combat food insecurity in London

A grassroots initiative is raising funds to bring community gardens and growing skills to BAME residents in south east London in order to reduce food poverty. 

Grow Lewisham hopes to transform unused and unloved plots in an existing community garden into thriving growing spaces to address food insecurity in the borough, which has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in London. 

It will focus on growing culturally diverse fruit, vegetable, and herbs for a culturally diverse population in the south east London borough and has launched a crowdfunder to raise £4,500 by 11 May 2021, as part of its application to the Mayor of London’s Make London programme. 

Food poverty charity The Trussell Trust has estimated that 19,000 parents in Lewisham skip meals so their children can eat, while 6,000 children sometimes or often go to bed hungry.

The new project, which is backed by former Charlton Athletic midfielder Bradley Pritchard, wants to counter these statistics by giving residents the skills and the spaces to grow their own food, while supplying food banks and community organisations. 

Pritchard said: “From converting unused spaces into food-growing hubs to running workshops on how to grow a diverse range of foods, Grow Lewisham seeks to address many of the inequalities we face in our own communities, for example around access, distribution, and provision.

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Grow Lewisham wants to turn abandoned plots into community growing spaces. 

It comes amid growing awareness of how community and local food movements can have a wide array of benefits beyond providing food, such strengthening communities and social cohesion. 

However, critics have commented on the dominance of these spaces by white people, and how they can exclude the needs and wants of people of colour. Environmentalist and president of Black Environment Nature, Judy Ling Wong, wrote in Wicked Leeks recently that food growing is a vital way of engaging multicultural communities in wider food issues. 

Valerie Goode, founder of the sustainable fashion network Coco Collective and stakeholder in Grow Lewisham, said: “Coco Collective is partnering with Grow Lewisham to bring the BAME community to community gardens. 

“These are spaces we’re not typically occupying, and that is partly by default of the types of foods that are typically grown in community garden spaces, and the fact that they are usually occupied by white middle class people.

“We want to shake that up, disrupt the whole perception of community garden spaces and create something that is not only inclusive but also hopefully a little bit more colourful and energised and soulful,” Goode explained. 

As well as teaching permaculture methods, no-dig gardening, indoor and container planting, the project will have a more experimental arm devoted to growing Afro-Caribbean food, hoping to inspire the younger generation of Lewisham residents. 

“Coco Collective will be focusing on growing Afro-Caribbean foods, which will be largely experimental. To get the younger generation involved I see us having a little bit of music, and some events and activities going on that can be directed by the young people,” Goode added. 

Above all, the project wants to remain loyal to community that it serves. Pritchard said: “As it is a grassroots organisation, its purpose will constantly evolve to meet the needs of Lewisham residents – you could say it's as organic as the food we grow.”

Pritchard is not the first footballer to make a foray into food and social justice issues; Manchester United star Marcus Rashford has been lauded for catapulting the issue of child food poverty into public and political consciousness, off the back of widespread campaigner efforts. 

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