Florence Pardoe of Bristol-based start-up grOWN IT is on a mission to create a just and sustainable local food system through hands-on workshops. She explains how.
“Give a person a meal and they’ll eat for a day, teach young people to lead a food movement and they’ll feed a community for a lifetime.”
This is a quote from Teens For Food Justice (TFFL) an organisation in New York City that builds productive hydroponic farms in high schools, together with students. Alongside this they deliver a learning programme that includes biology, chemistry, environmental science, nutrition, entrepreneurship, community development, advocacy and more.
Their website reads: “Our young urban farmers experience the rewards of building a meaningful, working solution to food insecurity in their communities. In the process, they transform their relationship to the food they eat, while developing the science and technology skills needed in a new green sector economy.”
Often when we think about solutions to food insecurity we default to the food bank; the redistribution of surplus food to those in need. This model is akin to applying a plaster to an infected wound, or giving a man a fish as in the old adage. It validates wasteful practices, propping up our current ecologically destructive, unjust and failing food system of aggressive agribusiness and profiteering. Emergency food distribution is absolutely necessary in our current economic climate, but it cannot be the solution.
What organisations like TFFJ and my own Bristol-based start-up, grOWN IT, aim to do is create truly sustainable and systemic change for disadvantaged communities by sowing the seeds of knowledge and passion in our young people so that change can grow from within communities and take root.
I have been passionate about environmental and social justice as long as I can remember and have come to realise the incredible power food has to address a multitude of ills; from the health of our planet, to that of our bodies, minds and communities. I have worked as a science and food educator for over six years, and as a food insecurity researcher, including co-authoring the Feeding Bristol Food Provision report.
grOWN IT was conceived in 2018, through volunteering with local hydroponic heroes Grow Bristol, who were one of the partners who contributed to Bristol gaining Silver Sustainable City status. The beauty of vertical farming technology as a teaching tool is that it can happen in classrooms, all year round, and opens so many avenues of conversation about food sustainability – from innovative tech solutions, to regenerative farming, from the role of grassroots urban agriculture to the importance of advocacy and political campaigning. And crucially, it looks really cool!
grOWN IT workshops focus on solutions. We aim to educate, inspire and empower! As well as working with young people, we have also developed a workshop for business and corporate groups. We are looking for organisations that would like to learn more about these exciting technologies, hear from inspiring Bristol farmers and learn how to be part of creating a fair and sustainable food system, all while supporting our work with schools and young people. Please get in touch if you are interested! As an organisation, this could count as one of your Going for Gold actions.
One of the key objectives of the Bristol One City Plan is, that by 2050 “Everyone will have access to healthy, ethical and sustainably produced food.” Our individual actions around Food Equality will help – along the lines of Going for Gold – but it will not be enough. To realise this aim there needs to be a multitude of changes at government and policy level around economy, ecology and agriculture.
And we also cannot underestimate the importance of working with young people; to give them the passion and the skills to grow food, to create their own jobs and businesses, to rebuild their communities, to make decisions, to have ownership over these things. They need to have grOWN IT. This is where truly sustainable change takes root.
We’ve created an unjust and unsustainable food system that is failing us all. We know we can do better. And we know that we owe it to young people to help them make a glorious, nourishing future a reality. It’s going to take inventors, entrepreneurs, growers, campaigners, advocates, politicians and a whole lot of knowledge and passion.
So let’s start sowing the seeds of this future, arming our youth with the knowledge and attitudes they’ll need to show us how it should have been done.
Florence Pardoe is Director of grOWNIT and has worked in many community engagement projects around the city as a science and food educator. She also manages The Pod in the Park, a social enterprise cafe that employs adults with learning disabilities.