A quiet revolution is stirring in the countryside and gardens of Wales. Around Machynlleth, fields are being dug for vegetable production, with potatoes and hundreds of kale plants being planted. Here, and in Cardiff, hundreds of families are receiving seed packs to grow more food at home. In Llandrindod, a former school playing field has been turned into a fruit orchard, providing free food to the community.
These projects are examples of people deciding that we need better ways to feed our nation, providing fruit and vegetables that are healthy, locally grown and sustainable. It’s part of a bigger idea – of making us more resilient, improving our health and happiness, tackling poverty, and enabling us to withstand shocks such as the current health crisis.
These ideas aren’t new, but the Covid emergency has brought the need for sustainable development into sharp relief, and injected new energy into the movement. Even before the pandemic, a fifth of people in Wales worried about running out of food. Although growing our own vegetables won’t solve this problem on its own, it can form part of the solution, providing an additional food source to draw on when we can’t get what we need from (emptying) supermarket shelves.
Furthermore, when we emerge from lockdown, poverty, climate change and the nature crisis will still be staring us in the face, needing urgent attention.
At this pivotal point, it’s up to all of us to make lasting changes to how we live.
No-one wants a country where we grow food but many people can’t access a healthy diet, where we generate energy but 155,000 households live in fuel poverty, or where we send hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste to landfill or incineration each year.
Fixing this is hard. Yet across the country, there are examples of people just getting on and coming up with the solutions.
For the past 18 months, I’ve been part of the Seismic Wales podcast, speaking to some of the people who are challenging societal norms through practical action. These projects are redefining ideas of consumption and how we live together, such as the ‘library of things’ which provides affordable access to household essentials.
Since we spoke to them in our first episode, Repair Cafe Wales has expanded rapidly from 5 to 25 locations from Llanfyllin to Fishguard. During the lockdown they have taken their workshops online, helping people fix bikes, jewellery and furniture. We’ve heard from business people with social goals, such as Lauren from Wild Thing in Cardiff who has been delivering food to those in need. There are many others who are innovating, adapting and planning for a different future.
The pandemic has sparked a lot of conversation about building a better society post-lockdown. It’s also brought home the fragility of our food system, as well as the strength of neighbours who support each other. We won’t all start our own amazing community projects and it doesn’t mean being perfect or doing everything at once (I’m not sure my kale seedlings and mini-pond are going to save the world). But we can all be part of a creating that seismic shift, choosing to repair rather than throw away, to grow some of our own food, to support our communities, to appreciate and protect nature in our backyards.
I hope politicians and businesses also find inspiration in these projects, and support them and enable them to flourish. When we do start to lift the lockdown, let’s all think longer term. For example, let’s make the additional social distancing space for walkers and cyclists in Cardiff part of a bigger shift to active travel.
Across the country, people have sown the seeds for a healthier, happier future. As we come out of this crisis, let’s help them grow.