First things first


Monday, 20 April 2009

Brainwave Bazaar - The Report part 2

OK, welcome to part 2 of the report of our 8 April Brainwave Bazaar. If you missed part 1, click here.


This was a very busy table and there was huge enthusiasm for finding any which way to encourage people to grow more of their own food locally and to purchase more local food.

Research pollution concerns - However, there were questions about the health impacts of consuming food grown in urban areas and whether air and runoff water pollution were something we should be concerned about. Jakki G agreed to look into this, including whether there are ways to test the suitability of soil.

Community food growing - One idea was to arrange a visit to a good example of a community market garden so we could learn more about how it works and how to set one up, and Hackney's 'Growing Communities' site was suggested. The benefit to the community? Zero food miles, spreading knowledge, community cohesion through working together and greater food security. First steps? Already under way: Caterina C has kindly getting in touch with Growing Communities to get more detail, and reports that people far and wide are seeking to replicate what is happening there - and there is the chance of workshops being run there later this year. Caterina will keep us informed about whether we can arrange an outing.

Food-mapping - This would be about creating a food map of the area which marks out local sources of food, such as fruit, nuts and berries, so that we know what we do have and we don't let it go to waste. It could be done online through Google Maps or some other application, but it would be great to produce some kind of hard copy or booklet too. It could be arranged seasonally to make a year-round guide. First steps would, we suppose, include appealing to local people to share their knowledge of where the goodies are growing and when, so perhaps we will use the Yahoo group or email to start gathering local intelligence. If anyone wants to lead on this, it's up for grabs.

Food surplus events - The mapping could simply cover food growing wild in common areas, but another version might include those trees in private gardens where the fruit goes unpicked and rots on the ground - one idea was that, with the owners' consent of course, a harvesting group could be formed to get together and pick surplus fruit, perhaps culminating in something of a harvest festival or communal baking or jam-making day.

Still on the subject of using food surpluses, some thought that enough allotment holders and kitchen gardeners tend to end up with surplus - perhaps more potatoes than they can eat themselves - and events could be held to give away or swap or sell that surplus. Other events might include seed swaps, so we don't have to fork out for seeds, or seedling swaps when we grow too many to plant out, or herb cuttings swaps.

Foraging - This was a popular idea. Suggestions included a course in recognising wild edible plants, which would allow us to add to our food map - we all know a bramble when we see one, but there is other food available for free which we might not know about. This book is good for those interested in this theme, and we should soon be able to announce a guided foraging walk led by an expert - we'll let you know as soon as we have details.

Sharing gardening skills - Many of us are new to food-growing, and there can be a lot to learn, so one idea was to explore ways in which that knowledge could be shared - for example, through a local 'Gardeners' Question Time' event, perhaps at Mycenae House or St George's, where the more experienced among us could volunteer to answer novices' queries. An 'Open Gardens' day, like Open Studios in which artists open their doors to the public, could be a way to share ideas and knowledge too.

Food market - There was enthusiasm for having a local food market of some kind, whether a stall for selling, swapping or giving away surplus from allotments and gardens, or for farmers from near London. Imogene R volunteered to enquire about using the grounds of Mycenae House. One idea was to have it at Westcombe Park railway station, perhaps as commuters arrive home at rush hour, allowing them to pick up ultra-fresh produce on their way - obviously something that would need to be explored with whichever company is responsible for the station. Leon volunteered to begin by approaching the station manager.

Community garden at Westcombe Park rail station - Thinking about what nooks of land are going unused and have potential for community food-growing, a sizeable patch of land beyond the fence of the north platform came up again and again. Cathy G agreed to look into how this might be done, first step probably to approach Network Rail.

Preserving - Crucial to the community genuinely increasing its food security and its resilience is to relearn the various methods of preserving food, so we have access to food in the lean times and the cold months. So workshops in cooking, preserving, canning, drying and pickling got the thumbs-up, with some reservation that any canning would need to have an experienced overseer to avoid any hygiene pitfalls.


A truly resilient community needs to have the skills to look after and provide for itself - not to isolate itself but to ensure that it can withstand any external shocks or supply problems. This seems to be a very topical subject at the moment, with even a Location Location Location presenter embracing 'Make Do and Mend' - how fast things have changed in 12 months.

Classes! - This was a no-brainer, really - to relearn those skills we could do with some classes. Subjects suggested included:

- Joinery / carpentry / furniture repair
- Plumbing
- Bee keeping (love it or hate it)
- Permaculture
- Repairing electrical goods / phones / PCs
- Cooking
- Redecorating and painting
- Sewing and knitting
- Repairing shoes
- Gardening
- Fund-raising / budget management

How to arrange this? One idea was to develop a 'skills map' or skills database of the area, to see what knowledge and resources we already have collectively, and to identify who is prepared to share and teach what they know with others. We can do this through the blog, through the Yahoo group, perhaps through the Westcombe News, and of course we have some great community venues here to host any skills-swap events.

Someone mentioned that Greenwich Community College has an offer of free courses at the moment, and their syllabus is packed with make do and mend subjects, so do go and explore their website

Another idea as for a LETS scheme - or Timebanking - and there was some debate about their relative merits. Some think Timebanking has ironed out some problems with LETS schemes which had put some people off. Jakki G points everyone to an interview between C4 News presenter Jon Snow and Timebank founder Edgar Cahn - click here or just google Edgar Cahn. Jakki adds: "There are several Timebanks in SE London, but they are very area/community specific, so there would definitely be room for another one, if the group wanted it. I already sent off for all the bumph if anyone would like to have a look." Thanks, Jakki.

One first step identified for all this was for Andy C to review the list and come up with some priorities, so Andy is your go-to man if you would like to get involved with anything skills-swap related.

For part 3, click here.

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