During the recent Covid 19 crisis, small community growing groups around Northern Ireland were quick to respond, safely, and effectively, to the needs of their communities. They led the way in diversifying their activities, providing food delivery to the vulnerable and isolated, checking in on neighbours through phone-round schemes, and later on in lockdown encouraging their neighbours to grow at home, so that fresh food is still being provided locally.
Food gardening really took off, – and this in the face of difficulties obtaining basic supplies like compost and seeds. It would seem that our basic need to hoard for security can be translated into a wiser and wider need to create a store of growing plants, shared and saved seeds and a wider sharing of knowledge, hints and tips through videos, blogs, and live online gardening sessions. Social Farms & Gardens launched ‘Lockdown Gardening’. We were so grateful that our funder the National Lottery Community Fund supported us. It was urgent, people were at home and had the time, maybe for the first time in their lives, to germinate seed and grow their own supply of fresh vegetables. We produced a series of Lockdown Gardening videos which, proved extremely popular themselves. Some chose to distribute seeds and compost to new gardeners while others grew on plants for later distribution, some did a mixture of both. 35 gardens were involved supporting on average 64 households each, with great feedback and results coming in. These included traditional community gardens, new community groups without a site, school groups, disability action groups, and allotment projects amongst others.
Other sites adapted their working practices and continued to operate, contributing to the local food supply in times when food insecurity was causing panic buying in the supermarkets. The groups that were best able to adapt and respond quickly to the situation were the ones that had strong infrastructure in place secure access to land and control of decision making processes, core funding or funding that could be repurposed, and strong core staff and volunteer teams.
As time has gone on there is increasing evidence that transmission of the Covid19 virus outside is less likely. This obviously gives hope to community gardens that with sensible social distancing practices in place and rotational workloads, they may become safe centres for meaningful socialising and work. To allow safe work in community gardens users must be prepared to follow stricter rules than were hitherto adhered to.