I recently visited the market village of Axminster on the South West English coast, where the River Cottage Canteen is situated. River Cottage Canteen is the British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnly Wittingstall’s (HFW) cafe and local store. Why am I writing about a celebrity chef? Well HFW is a celebrity chef with a difference, along with Jamie Oliver he was hugely influential in the UK free-range chicken / egg revolution, through their programs, respectively Hugh’s Chicken Run and Jamie’s Fowl Dinners. In an independent poll by the RSPCA, it was found that since this movement 73% of adults in the UK claimed that they now only purchase birds that have higher welfare conditions.
HFW started a program titled River Cottage which is about him moving to the countryside and growing organic vegetables, harvesting from the hedgerows and the seaside, and producing organic meat. Since then he has created something of a brand, a brand of green living and sustainability, and he has grown in popularity as a result. I am impressed by his ability to shift the public psyche and popularise sustainable living, however my interest in Hugh has not been born of this, my primary interest in Hugh has developed from his interest in and support of the Landshare movement and Guerrilla Gardening movement in the UK.
I have written about Guerrilla Gardening on Brisbane to Bogota before, and HFW has shown interest in his program and on his website about this movement. He has reported on a wonderful urban group in Sheffield called the Abundance Crew. Although not Guerrilla Gardeners in the traditional sense, they are certainly utilising the urban space to harvest produce for the entire community. The Abundance crew have gained permission from landowners to pick the fruit from trees that usually go un-picked and are often left to rot. The crew pick the fruit (including apples, pears and peaches) and distribute these to poorer members of the community. Check them out hereon the Grow Sheffield site
Also Hugh has spoken about two Guerrilla Gardeners Pam and Mary in Todmorden, who started Guerrilla Gardening in Todmorden, because of a lack of Allotment sites. Pam and Mary started planted wherever they could in Todmorden, so they could inspire others to do the same in their town. They then launched the Incredible Edible Todmorden campaign and their plight was so successful that in March 2008 Calerdale Council got on board and now Todmorden has an extra 500 fruit trees and every school in Todmorden is now involved with growing food with the Incredible Edible crew. It would be amazing of more cities could take a leaf out of the Todmorden hat. I reckon you should check em out here and get inspired to grow some food on your streets.
What is Landshare?
With 100,000 people on the allotment list in the UK, HFW created the Landshare website which aims to connect people (or communities) who are looking for land to grow food to people with land to share. Landshare is to be launched in Spring 2009, although they already have 25,000people registered on the website.
In the UK interest in growing food has increased recently, this is partly due to the financial crisis and also due to a revival of the civic voice and community involvement, not to mention peoples increased interest in ethical and sustainable living. This increased interest in community agriculture has inspired the the UK National Trust has get on board and they are now working with Landshare to provide some National Trust land to keen growers, in fact in February they pledged to provide 1000 new plots over the next 3 years.
This is an inspiring contribution and will provide a lot of communities, families and individuals with a connection to the land that they may not have previously experienced. As individuals create their own food not only does the food security of that country increase so too does the social capital, as people connect with each other to share knowledge and stories (this is essential to creating sustainability). I think too often people hear the word ‘sustainability’ and they think only about the environment, however sustainability is the interconnectedness of the social, environmental and economic. Without all three of these working in unison sustainability with remain an overused, under-explained word, meaningless to too many.
I guess in conclusion I really appreciate HFW’s presence in the British public sphere; I think that anyone who can use their status to inspire conscious eating, sustainability and civic engagement is at least worthy of comment. I hope the UK citizens continue to strive to find connection to the land and each other, what else is there really?