Sites of resistance and possibility
Last month, Susanna Grant and I hosted our second Radicle X LINDA talk. This time on community gardening with Sara Venn, Carole Wright and Seng from the Garden of Earthly Delights. Many things were discussed but a common theme that ran through the conversation, perhaps unsurprisingly, was one of resistance.
Towards the end of the talk I asked the question of how community gardens might play a role in creating a more equitable world and also make a difference when it comes to the climate crisis. But I realised that, in a way, that question was being answered all along... Everything about community gardens, from the reasons they begin, to the struggle for them to exist and continue to exist (despite pressures to the contrary from systems that don’t see their value), to the way they bring a diversity of people together of all backgrounds and ages, all whilst doing this in community and building mutual relationship with people and holding on to the integrity and ethics that created the garden in the first place (despite pressures to compromise them from those with the power who might control the purse strings or own the land)… well, it’s all in there really, isn’t it?
Over and again in the experiences that Carole, Sara and Seng spoke of and the advice they shared, there was a dogged determination to not accept things as they are simply because that’s the way they currently are. A thread of resisting the status quo and the systems we have to operate under ran throughout. As did a thread of community and relationship. The answer to my question is perhaps that community gardening helps show us glimpses of what is possible. That things can be done differently and we can help to make it happen. And also that it can be joyful and fun too.
In his book, How to resist: Turn Protest to Power, Matthew Bolton (Director at Citizens UK) writes how it’s in collective action and local associations that people learn to lead, to listen, to cooperate and to compromise - fundamental skills and attitudes that underpin a democratic society. He also points out that gathering places of a local community - places where people come together regularly with a positive purpose - have great potential to be engines of democratic participation over the coming decades. Community gardens strikes me as being exactly this type of place. Although, as Bolton also says, it does require a “broadening of responsibilities and repertoires in order to adopt a focus on new civic responsibility, of teaching and enabling democratic skills, developing new responses to social problems, and fomenting conversations and conspiracies for positive political change”. There has to be intention there too - we have to want to advocate, build mutual relationships and be actively justice-oriented.
People gathering in community gardens often have common interests that have brought them together in the first place. There is so much potential there. As Bolton says: “finding common self interest can move people over the barriers of prejudice into coalition”. Isn’t that something to be tapped with community food growing - it’s growing power over a shared interest: a shared interest in food, connection to the earth and each other, access to land, human health and health of the wider ecosystems we’re a part of.
In a culture where there is so much separation and individualism, where people get “cancelled” and pushed into sides and extremes, community gardening can provide the space for us to find common ground.
I read an article recently in which Donna Haraway, a multispecies feminist theorist, says:
“…our politics these days require us to give each other the heart … to figure out how, with each other, we can open up possibilities for what can still be. And we can’t do that in a negative mood. We can’t do that if we do nothing but critique. We need critique… But it’s not going to open up the sense of what might yet be. It’s not going to open up the sense of that which is not yet possible but profoundly needed.”
Gardening in community gives us the opportunity for this: for us to give each other heart, find positivity, build mutual responsibility and open us up to possibilities of what might be. As Carole Wright from @blakoutside said in the Radicle X Linda talk: “community gardening is a platform for a lot of things”. One of those things is surely to imagine, to play and to practice an otherwise - better ways in which we can live and be in relationship and even, as Bolton says, as an engine of democratic participation.
Photo credit: Gemma Revell
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