Last week, I had the chance to sit down with Carley-Jane Stanson to talk about a sustainability project across the Oxford hub she’s heavily involved in, called Edible Gardens.
Can you explain the Edible Gardens project to me?
So we are a small team starting now with a 5 week training program involving about 14 students from different colleges and we provide training on how to start your own garden: from space planning, what you have to plant, where, when, how to harvest them for also the community impact and the activist side. We really want people to start thinking before they even plant a vegetable about how these things affect the community, how do we bridge the barriers to access, how do we do this in a way that will change the food system to one that is more equitable? We want to teach people to plant seeds of vegetables but also to plant seeds of more equitable food systems. For a number of our participants, it was the first time they had really planted something that I think was really valuable to them. It’s the first days but the group is very enthusiastic.
How did you get involved with Edible Gardens?
I’m from Edmonton Canada and was heavily involved in the local food scene there. I worked for a farm for a number of years, volunteered for a community garden, was on the food council and so my whole life was around food. And then here I didn’t do much in terms of gardening until the Oxford hub just started these environmental projects. So they received funding from the University to fund sustainability projects and Lizzie from the Oxford hub wanted to start new environmental projects and I was immediately signed up. I was interested when she mentioned wanting to do things in edible gardens because I think as a student it can be very difficult to access gardens around Oxford.
What is the idea of the location of these gardens?
The training program, which we plan to do each term, is open to students and non-students. For students, we think they would start university gardens. Some people, even students, have extra space and that’s really the idea of urban and edible gardening, it’s about looking creatively at unused space and figuring out how you can learn to do there grow food and share that food with the community. My vision for the legacy of this project is to really use these community gardens to break down the walls between the city and the dress. To give these long-term residents access to these institutions and tracts of land and resources that have been closed for centuries to those in the university.
What’s been the biggest roadblock you’ve encountered so far?
Not yet for our particular project, but in Oxford in general, with the start of university gardens, there is a very strong culture of gardening – and by gardening I mean British gardening, right? Which is not edible food plants and so many of these colleges have immaculate gardens and lawns and caretakers who have a long history with colleges taking their jobs very seriously. So to suggest that they give up some of that control and land to students who are very transient in many ways, can be a big hurdle, in trying to convince those colleges that this is something that students are getting into. engage and that it is a good project. In the past, it has been quite difficult for many “potential gardeners” to organize themselves and work with their colleges to secure space. We hope that being associated with the Hub and having this long standing institution will create a network around gardeners that students can bring to their college as a kind of leverage in being part of and being trained by the Hub d ‘Oxford.
For the reader who doesn’t know much about food sustainability, can you explain why people should be passionate about it?
So I think for most people, planting a garden in itself is a socially just act, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s very fair to the community. Thinking about community gardening and being aware of these issues early on can be a way to bring communities together, which can improve food security, i.e. people’s ability to access healthy food at all times. and culturally appropriate. So how we see gardening fitting into that is that gardens are places where people come together to work on a project and so it’s not just a place where you find food, it’s is sort of a side benefit. The biggest benefit is things like meeting other people in your community so maybe if you need child care you can tap into those community connections so you don’t run out of work so you can afford to buy groceries, so all these kinds of benefits that are really about the community rather than the production of food. And then there are also side benefits like being outside working on a garden which is good for mental health, a really good form of exercise for older people, and having fresh vegetables is always nice too
How can students or non-students get involved in edible gardens or, for those who don’t feel able to commit as much over time, get involved in community gardening in Oxford?
We will be reopening the training program next term, so for those who want to know how to start a garden and how to think about these things in a social justice activist way, they can just stay tuned on the Oxford Hub website/ Facebook page to register for the next term. As for getting involved casually, there are already a number of community gardens around Oxford, the most notable and open to volunteers is called OxGrow and it’s just off the road from Abingdon. It’s really open to everyone and you can just hang out in the afternoon, they have work parties every Sunday and it’s absolutely lovely. In terms of other things related to food sustainability, there’s Good Food Oxford, an organization that links many very important projects across the food system dealing with food waste or food charity – they’re really the central resource for that.
Thank you very much CJ, and thank you very much for the work you are doing leading this, I am delighted to see the impact this is having on the community here at Oxford.
Photo credit: Lizzie Shelmerdine
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