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What does community gardening have to do with the climate emergency?

Added: 13/07/2021


At Leeds ACTS! (Academic Collaboration with third sector) we know the difference that third sector organisations make for people, communities and for our sustainable future. In particular, third sector organisations play a critically important role in enabling people to enjoy, benefit from, understand and work in harmony with nature. We believe that by delivering our mission to bring third sector organisations closer to academics we can provide a stronger evidence base for what works, develop new ways of doing things and demonstrate the difference that third sector organisations make to people’s lives.

The Leeds ACTS! seedcorn fund provides a small amount of funding to enable third sector organisations and researchers to come together and test out ideas that may lead to further collaboration. Climate and the environment is one of the Leeds ACTS! thematic areas for collaborative engagement.

In a recent round of Leeds ACTS! seedcorn funding, Incredible Edible Garforth, a community organisation promoting on-street edible gardens, applied to evaluate the community impact of the edible beds they have planted and maintain.

What is your seedcorn collaboration?

Incredible Edible Garforth is working with Jenna Barnard, a Masters’ student in Sustainability and Environmental Management at Leeds Beckett University, to evaluate the community impact of building and maintaining edible community gardens. This evaluation will provide insight into how the different edible bed locations impact on community engagement. The organization will then be able to plan more strategically, attracting more funding and volunteers, which will help to increase their overall impact.

Jenna explains why she got involved with the project:

“I have recently completed my masters dissertation on the Alternative Food Network in West Yorkshire. During my research I was inspired by all of the community initiatives going on in Leeds. I took on this project because I thought it would be a great way to apply my dissertation research to something useful for the community. Working with Incredible Edible and LeedsActs has been really rewarding so far, I’d love to get involved in the volunteering sessions.”

What are the benefits for the community?
Incredible Edible Garforth is a volunteer-led organization.  Volunteering has many positive impacts, providing the chance for social interaction and sparking unlikely friendships, which has been particularly important this year as lockdowns have been isolating for many. Getting involved in a community group builds confidence and gives people a sense of purpose and hope for the future.
By growing food together, it helps to make learning about health and nutrition engaging and fun, while reskilling people in growing and cooking with vegetables. It also encourages people to spend time outdoors and reconnect with nature, which is good for wellbeing.

The organization also builds networks between schools, local businesses etc., which helps to build resilience in the community.

Scott, a local community member sums up the benefits.

“Incredible Edible has really helped bring the community together, especially in recent times. It’s a real visual presence and conversation starter. It’s different to other community projects as it’s something you can actually benefit from and use. It’s great for community spirit that these crops, things like herbs, can be planted and nurtured by someone else for us all to benefit from.”

How does this work impact the climate emergency?
Food systems contributes roughly one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Through the promotion of community food growing, this project helps people to connect with their food, making them aware of seasonality and the positive impact that growing food locally can have on physic, mental and planetary health. The project also maximises the potential of green spaces, particularly in urban areas and engages people as active citizens, thus building confidence and resilience in the community, which makes people more likely to take positive action.

Dan Robinson, IE Garforth explains the benefits of the evaluation:

“Incredible Edible has been a huge success and completely surpassed our expectations, especially as much of our work took place during 2020 in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. The growth of the project has been completely organic (no pun intended!) and has inspired the community to plant, nurture and consume food grown locally. However, where we placed our public edible beds, was often at random – in particular, where the community asked for them. That’s ok of course, but we wanted to understand if there were any particular patterns or similarities into what worked especially well, so that we could maximise our impact in other areas.”

What is Leeds ACTS?
Leeds ACTS! is a partnership between the city’s three Universities (the University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University and Leeds Trinity University), and the many voluntary and community organisations in Leeds. Leeds ACTS! supports the building of closer collaborative relationships between researchers, students, charities, and voluntary and community organisations to support joint work that benefits the communities of Leeds and shapes how the higher education sector engages with the city.

The recent seedcorn round has funded four third sector/academic collaborations. The outcome of these collaborations will be shared later in the year.


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