I have long intended to write a piece on some of the research projects I was or am currently part of and now the moment seems just right with one of the milestone events of the “Everyday Growing Cultures” having recently taken place. There is a mention of the project in the “I am a researcher” section of the blog, where I talk briefly about how a small study of allotments in the UK, initiated by my then MA supervisor and now a valued friend and mentor of three years Dr Farida Vis, has grown into a larger project aiming to open up a debate on how more land could be made accessible to those willing to grow food (and the project has taken quite a few steps – literally! – in this direction with three mapping walks having been organized to discover and put on a map currently unused plots of land that can potentially be turned into growing spaces) as well as how digital technologies, tools and apps could be introduced into growers’ relationships with land to help them more effectively identify and take up suitable plots. Because the project is all about land and food (and also data) I thought a post (or two!) about our work would be a nice and valuable addition to the blog.
The project can be conceptualized as both part of the open data and grow your own movements and we are collaborating with growing communities and organizations (The Kindling Trust and Grow Sheffield) as well as open data groups and activists from the UK cities of Manchester and Sheffield (e.g. Open Data Manchester). The battle for opening up growing spaces and the information about them has been going on different fronts. Overland, we have organized two mapping walks in Manchester and one in Sheffield and Farida, Steven, Erinma and Caroline from the project team went as far as to the US to connect with the 596Acres organization and talk to some of the people whom it helped to get a patch of land as well as to do some filming. Through the What Do They Know, a website that allows you to place Freedom of Information requests, we have collected allotment data from 267 councils across the UK and compiled a substantial database containing information about the most pressing issues around allotments, such as rent charges. Finally, our fantastic film making team, Caroline Ward and Erinma Ochu, have produced a fascinating documentary about our project which I’ll talk about a bit later.
So on Tuesday, the 23rd of July, we came together with key partners and stakeholders to reflect on the work that has been done so far and discuss some of the major issues the project helped us see and identify in terms of opening up growing space and data. The event was broken into two sections with morning and afternoon being dedicated to the “Very Useful Workshops” for the project team members and the evening part open to general public. A one-hour social media training session kicked off the workshop part. Participants were then split into three teams who soon immersed into lively discussions about a range of grow your own and open data issues. After lunch, each team had a couple of hours to pull the ideas together and produce a presentation to sum up the key things raised during the day and be later shown to the public (slides from presentations to be uploaded soon, but some pictures from the workshops here already).
The public part started at 4:30 pm at the Sheffield Showroom Cinema and was packed with fascinating documentaries. First, a short clip from the 1994 BBC2 documentary ‘The Plot’ (by David Crouch) about allotments was shown to set the atmosphere. The teams were then invited to the stage to do their presentations, which were followed by a Q& A section. It was somewhat surprising and certainly very enjoyable to see very high levels of audience engagement and interest in the project and the issues it raises.
But the gem of the day and the epitome of our work to date was certainly the project documentary. Filmed in Manchester, Sheffield and New York, it tells stories of people – people separated by oceans but connected through land, people willing to grow their own food, people still knowing what community really means. The documentary has left deep impression on the audience, myself included – no more details, you just have to watch it ! (for all lovers of the “behind the scenes” sort of thing – read this first-hand account of how the movie was filmed, and if you happen to be in Manchester in early August, don’t miss our documentary which will be shown as part of the Dig the City gardening festival – more details here).
Finally, an award-winning Grown in Detroit documentary was screened as the grand finale of an evening of telling and showing stories of people who share the land, grow food and want to change the world for the better. The event closed with a drink reception to allow people to relax after a long day. I am sure each of the participants left full of impressions to which a growing number of very positive and encouraging feedbacks is a proof – and we look forward to more.
Do visit our project website if you want to learn more about the work we are doing and follow the blog for more updates – our final project event – the Data Show and Tell, where we will launch our allotment data – is less than a week away!