The initial element of the Acorn Farm Project simply aims to connect over 250 families and households to climate action by connecting their lives to the food they eat by mentoring them to grow food at home. This individual activity will support a wider and more strategic project aim of building a local food movement that helps to inform and change the food system led by community involvement, academic research and multiple agency collaboration.
To begin, families and households involved were encouraged to take up tools and learn the basics of food production at home. Families were given everything they needed to grow food at home, learning from horticultural experts to begin the creation of a more sustainable food system throughout the city and district. Research into the local food system is also being carried out throughout the project life and the longer-term vision to create an innovation and educational climate hub for sustainable food production in St Columb's Park is at the design and consultation stage.
“My son really loves checking on the veg and watering the plants and I've enjoyed getting some tips which I've passed onto friends. It's lovely being able to lift something from your back garden and bring it into the kitchen to cook for dinner,” said Aine, one of the local growers.
''It's catching too with neighbours popping over to have a look and being inspired to give growing a go themselves.” Aine looks forward to the time when, as a community, they can begin to come together, share produce and have little tasting sessions in each other's gardens.
She added, “We have to take care of our community and 'I Can Grow' is empowering us to be more self-sufficient while cutting out all the pollution involved in transporting food. We hope it's the start of a wider movement saving families money, helping them eat a bit healthier while caring for our environment & instilling that ethos within our children.”
Other project elements such as training 60 new horticulturists and 10 new permaculturists, the design and build of an iconic climate and growing educational hub will support the families and households to take ownership of a food movement that they have helped build.
In parallel to ensure that the movement has a geographical reach across Northern Ireland, our sister project 'Growing Food, Growing Communities' is managed in partnership with Holywood Transition Towns. It aims to democratically engage communities in a bespoke decision-making process. Already underway, this partnership aims to build thriving local food movements that cultivate community resilience and reduce the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.
This project idea emerged from previous research visits to community-led social enterprises within the UK, in particular in Bristol and Cornwall. There were similar synergies and collaborations between local authorities, community initiatives, and local philanthropy which we felt could help communities in our city and district connect with climate action in a meaningful way. The idea for a working urban farm within the city was the initial proposition. Conversations with stakeholders, collaborations with community groups, individuals and businesses revealed a huge variance and gap in skills, knowledge and capacity for people not connected or aligned to a climate action campaigning organisation to take individual climate action. Communities and individuals expressed that they felt overwhelmed by the scale of the issue and that the language associated with explaining it was complex and technical in nature, which alienated rather than enthused.
The connections between food, health and wellbeing, climate, sustainability, and economics became the main focus, and the 'I Can Grow Project' was conceived. The 'I Can Grow Project' is one element within a larger strategic project which aligns individual action and change with a wider strategic food policy and a cultural change within the region and country.
A development grant of £200k was awarded by The National Lottery's Climate Action Fund to deliver an 18-month climate action project which supports the development of a food movement led by families and households. The partnership comprises The Community Foundation for NI's Acorn Fund, The Conservation Volunteers, the local authority Derry City and Strabane District Council, and University College Cork who are providing the academic research piece on the current food system, its impact on carbon and the carbon savings gained by the 'I Can Grow' initiative.
Covid has impacted some elements of the collaboration we hoped to achieve between the 'growers'. We have not been able to bring everyone together as we had planned. The project Horticulturist and volunteers had long hours delivering plants, seeds, and the growing apparatus to each home within a rurally diverse district. We had hoped to use an electric vehicle from the offset but have been hampered by a range of delays. The hope is that this will be in place for the spring.
The project also has a parallel sister project in Holywood, 'Growing Food Growing Communities', which will focus on amplifying the community voice around the issue of food sustainability food policy and biodiversity loss in both a small town and a regional capital. This too has faced delays due to Covid restrictions around bringing people together safely. Zoom has helped to keep elements driving forward.