How is it that in today’s world, a flower in a concrete place can become a thing of magic? A natural inhabitant long outcast, along with vegetables, fruit trees, and other edible plants, plants like this flower are heralding a powerful new movement back to, not only localised food production, but to building a strong sense of community. And today in some places, the simple act of gardening and growing your own food has even become something of a rebellious act.
In a world of seemingly endless problems, with hunger, loneliness and poverty being some of them, individuals are creating ripples in their communities through simple solutions, with extraordinary results. People are transforming unused spaces or their own front yards into food. And even more radical, they are gifting it to others. One of our most basic needs – food – is becoming an effortless and free reality for communities around the world, through the innovations of projects like Food is Free, and on the other end of the scale, guerrilla gardeners who are cultivating land they don’t own and growing food to share with anyone who needs it.
From the suburbs of Melbourne to the streets of Texas and the concrete jungles of downtown LA, gardens providing free harvests are popping up, as people are turning their lawns into food forests.
Growing food and giving it away for free is bringing people out from behind their fences and closed doors, to meet their neighbours and connect. It is changing the face of communities, linking people in a profoundly practical and low-key, yet powerful movement, in a world where food production is big business; along with genetic modification and seed monopolies.
Food is Free
Imagine your street filled with vegetable gardens and food forests on the verge of every home. A street where neighbours come together for potluck meals, share their seeds and food, and establish tool-sharing and community composting programs, and in doing so create a safer, more beautiful neighbourhood. Imagine too, not having to buy food. We’re always being told to decentralize food production and return to the garden, yet to many overly busy people, these things seem well out of reach. But now there is a global movement helping people to grow their own food easily and without a huge time and labour investment.
The idea behind the Food is Free Project, is to transform communities through ultra-local food production which uses recycled materials. Food is Free founder, John Van Deusen Edwards, discovered wicking bed gardens, which only need watering every 2 – 4 weeks, and so the idea for Food is Free was born.
The project started in 2012, using old shipping pallets and political signs to create a vegetable box. Initially, the founders had one veggie patch and a sign saying ‘free.’ But in less than three months, the pilot project had 19 out of the 30 houses on their block involved, and together they planted over 200 gardens around their hometown in Austin, Texas. Today, over 300 cities around the world have started Food is Free Projects.
The economical, low maintenance, simple wicking beds are key to the success of the project. In an ever changing world; with rising temperatures and water becoming scarcer, wicking beds are an ingenious solution. Basically, the beds are designed to water plants from below, rather than above. They’re essentially containers with water reservoirs at the base – like a giant self-watering pot. These self-contained, raised beds draw up moisture through capillary action or wicking. While being both easy to maintain and economical on water, the wicking action creates better growing conditions for plants by allowing moisture to be more evenly distributed through the soil.
The gardens are built and offered for free using salvaged resources that would otherwise be headed to landfill. A wide variety of vegetables along the block invite neighbours to interact and connect; strengthening communities while empowering them to grow their own food. People can also leave their surplus vegetables and fruit at a designated spot for others to take or swap, or neighbours can help themselves to your garden.
The Food is Free Project not only transforms neighbourhood blocks but has installed gardens at elementary schools, community arts spaces, farmers markets, churches, and small businesses. Community gardens, food forests and green spaces are becoming a beautiful reality in this project that enlivens and revitalises neighbourhoods and connects people, while at the same time providing free food. In a world full of natural abundance, we can easily be feeding people instead of just growing grass.
Never underestimate your power to inspire and affect your community around you. Even the smallest of acts can really ripple out. ~ John VanDeusen Edwards, Founder of the Food is Free Project
In Australia, the Food is Free movement is spreading rapidly around the state of Victoria. Inspired by the US Food is Free Project and guerrilla gardeners, it was started by gardener, Lou Ridsdale, who says the concept behind Food is Free is for gardeners to bring excess produce and seeds and for anyone to take what they need. Food is Free brings communities together, while also providing nutritious food for anyone who needs it. The beauty of this movement is that it is based on kindness and sharing.
People share their seedlings, seeds, produce and gardening tips, along with stories and smiles. In a movement that empowers people to take back control of food production and fix the broken agricultural model, much more than food is being cultivated as a result.
Food is not only a practical necessity, it is about social justice, especially to the growing bands of guerrilla gardeners around the world. These renegade gardeners appropriate unused land in the heart of cities. They take over vacant lots, forgotten parks, verges, or the middle of roundabouts and plant food crops. They grow food for the poor and homeless. And the tale of an urban gangsta gardener in LA is inspiring people to ‘rebel’ and grow their own food too.
The Gangster Gardener
Ron Finley is known as the gangsta gardener. His crime? Beautifying his south central LA neighbourhood by growing food and engaging communities. He believes that plants change people and he derives great solace from his gardening.
Why should there be people hungry? One plant can give one thousand, two thousand, twenty thousand seeds. We have the land to plant them. When you look down the streets you see all this brown grass, when you could be feeding people.
In one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the country, Ron is changing the perception of urban spaces with only a few seeds. In a place where people have lost hope and forgotten how to dream, he is motivated by the desire to provide meaning, beauty and healthy food, and he is redesigning communities to uplift them instead of keeping them down.
You are changing the biodiversity of the soil, bringing in bees, birds, and changing the ecosystem when you put in a garden. We are a part of the ecosystem so our garden is part of us. Then there’s the beauty factor. It changes your perspective and health.
Ron has not only transformed his downtrodden neighbourhood with lush edible plants and flowers, but his actions and relentless determination have led to a change in the law, so now people are permitted to grow gardens on their nature strip.
Growing your own food is one of the easiest, yet most extraordinary things you can do. The powerful benefits of being in charge of your own food go beyond just eating organic and healthy natural produce. You become connected to the earth, more in tune with the seasons and your own body and needs, and more connected with others. Gardening elevates your mood and has been scientifically proven to help with depression and anxiety. The simple act of planting a seed and watching it grow has a magical effect on the mind – it puts you in touch with the heart of creation. Having food to eat is almost a tiny byproduct of all the other benefits of growing food.
There is a quiet revolution bubbling under the surface and it’s starting with growing and sharing food, along with creating relationships and building closer, happier communities. When we take charge of our food production, we take charge of our health and wellbeing and we end the cycle of poverty and hunger.
This World Hunger Day, UPLIFT and The Hunger Project are collaborating on ending World Hunger. In the new UPLIFT film, meet the inspiring and unlikely leaders who are ending world hunger: from school girls in Bangladeshi villages to elders becoming literate in Malawi, we are all more capable than we think. Watch the film on May 28 and sign up to join the movement! And for every subscription, UPLIFT will donate $1 to The Hunger Project’s inspiring work.
Be a part of this powerful movement for change. Watch the online premiere of the new UPLIFT film today.