Learning from Black Lives Matter

In recent weeks there has been a big push to make the Black Lives Matter movement even more visible. Although I spoke about this a lot on my personal social media, I didn’t do anything to raise any sort of awareness through this platform. This was wrong of me. Typical behaviour of a person who doesn’t have to confront these issues day to day, and I am sorry. 

If you do not know what Black Lives Matter is, please refer to their website and do some reading. 

What does Black Lives Matter have to do with peas? Why am I writing on a gardening blog about this?

I think that the media around gardening and growing is not welcoming to Black people, and that the institutes that shape our thought around gardening and growing are built on racial inequality. The pinnacle of British gardening, the Royal Horticulturist Society, has at its roots an entanglement with eugenics and much of white gardening is an expression of colonialism (I will write more on this later). These elements have built an environment that is homogeneous and exclusionary. 

To throw this back into gardening terms. Monocultures are good for industrial growers, but not for bees or the environment. They don’t really exist in nature and so need to be reinforced by chemical agents. We have a monoculture in British gardening and because we are in the middle of it we struggle to see the damage it causes. 

Gardeners are always learning about the invisible connections between different systems and how they affect each other, we need to realise that we too are living things who are just as connected to wider systems as our tomato plants are to the bees. We are not separate from nature, and just as we try to shape and control the forces around our plants we too are shaped and controlled by forces larger than ourselves.

Black Lives Matter has caused people to rush out and buy books to educate themselves about how systemic racial oppression exists in everyday life, and to try to understand what they can do about it. We are becoming more aware of what our lives of convenience are built on, and the terrible cost of the advantages that we take for granted. I only inhabit a small space online, with the tiniest contribution to social media – but I want to use it to say that I can see that things need to change here. I don’t fully understand how to make that happen, but I’m learning. 

Gardening for me is spiritually and mentally soothing, and brings me a calmness I don’t get from anything else. Having that connection to the land brings me joy. Not everyone is going to feel the same way about it as me, but everyone should have the chance to. Growing your own food and making your land welcoming for wildlife can be a radical political act which links into building communities, environmental action and food justice. If something is radical it has to be accessible to everyone, and right now it isn’t. By learning from Black Lives Matter I hope we can start to see the systems that exist that result in inequalities and exclusion in a whole variety of areas and learn how we can proactively dismantle them. 

4 ways I manage my eco anxiety

The world is a huge place with complex problems we often feel powerless to solve. Sometimes it feels like the planet is being asset stripped by maniacs with no long term thinking about the harm this will cause to all life. I don’t need to list the reasons why it is easy to have eco anxiety, because if you care about the environment they are obvious. Anxiety around any issue can have a massive impact on people’s lives and with scientists and the media reporting on climate catastrophe it is very easy to understand why eco anxiety is becoming more common.

When mine flares up I do the following things:

  1. Go for a walk

Do it, as soon as you can. Ideally try and get in near some trees. Changing your environment and moving your body is good for any type of anxiety. We are not all blessed to live among rolling fields and idyllic scenes, but even as someone who lives in Manchester city centre there are always things of beauty to find. Living in Ancoats I walk along the canal. Just making the effort to find a bit of nature is really rewarding, at the moment there are little goslings in the canal and I love spotting them while I’m out. 

  1. Start small

Part of the reason I personally find the environmental crisis so anxiety-inducing is the sheer size and scale of the problem, and the feelings of helplessness this brings up in me. It feels like there is nothing I can do to help. The thing is, that isn’t true. When I start to feel this way I try and go back to basics and do small manageable tasks that are quick to complete that I know have a good effect on the environment. Whether this is sowing seeds to grow my own vegetables, swapping plants with neighbours or helping out in a community garden. If you can’t get outside or have mobility issues you can help by finding local community gardening groups and supporting them on social media with likes and shares. If you don’t have a garden you can try some guerilla gardening, you can start as small as scattering wildflower seeds in unused areas. 

  1. Reach out

There are a lot of people who feel this way, and by reaching out and being open about your uncomfortable feelings you can find support. A lot of the time with anxieties it comes in waves. I have days where I feel incredibly positive and strong, and at those points I can be there for people who aren’t doing as well. I also have days where I feel like the planet is doomed and I worry about my baby but on those days I try to speak to others. Often just the act of framing language around my anxiety makes it go away and if that doesn’t work just knowing I am surrounded by like minded people really helps.  

  1. Read

If your head is proving a dangerous place to be, try and get out of it! There are books around climate change that are hopeful, I enjoyed Scatter, Adapt and Remember by Annalee Newitz. One of the big issues with climate change is that it is an existential threat on a gigantic scale, the likes the world has never seen. Although we don’t have a solution to this level of threat, we do have a tonic to existentialism which is absurdism. I find reading The Stranger by Camus to realign me. In general just getting away from a screen and from social media, and giving your brain something else to focus on and engage with is very calming. 

These are things that help my mental health around eco anxiety. Gardening has always been a massive boost to my overall mental health, so it is particularly good for this problem. People are innovative and feel a deep connection to the earth, with enough of us on the same page there is a lot we can do to help nature.

Let’s Keep Growing

Sow the City have started a series of weekly webinars ‘Growing Manchester’ and I caught the latest one which introduced us to Longsight’s Let’s Keep Growing.

As I look across the sprawling sea of skyscrapers that is becoming Manchester’s skyline it is comforting to know that even now under lockdown different groups across the city are still actively working on making the place greener. As one of (if not the first) industrialised cities Manchester is not somewhere that you would normally associate with local produce and allotments. Sow the City are working to change that by working with local people to encourage growing vegetables and urban gardening. To grow your own in Manchester, with our limited space and lack of gardening heritage takes resourcefulness and tenacity – something we have in spades.

Mo and Juliet from Let’s Keep Growing gave us a clear, comprehensive and accessible presentation of how they made their idea a reality. Mo has lived in Longsight for 40 years and met Juliet through a housing co-op. After enrolling in the ‘Making a Difference’ programme through Amity CIC they started working on their plan to turn the alleyways between Slade Lane, Hamilton Road, Hector Road and Palm Street into a community garden. Let’s Keep Growing was born.

Manchester has many alleyways and reclaiming them as a shared community space that incorporates food production, homes for wildlife and socialising is brilliant. There is so much underused space in cities that could be used to grow vegetables and help increase city food security. They were keen to emphasise how much research and hard work is involved in getting this project off the ground.

Mo and Juliet found during their research that there were a lot of gardeners and a lack of green spaces, so the idea to bring people’s backyards out into the alleyways fit with resident’s needs. One of the things I really liked about their presentation was how they kept coming back to speaking to the people in the community, whether it is through knocking on doors or handing out questionnaires. They asked a lot of questions of people who were already there to ensure they were creating something the whole community could feel part of.

Longsight is a diverse area and part of the goal of this project is to promote social cohesion. One piece of advice they gave that really stuck with me was to create as many different ways for people to get involved as possible. Residents came out and shared food with volunteers on the project, shared seeds and plants from their back gardens and helped to spread the word. A lot of the time people want to be more engaged with their communities but they don’t have a channel for it, a reason to communicate it. Let’s Keep Growing helped give participants a shared goal with their neighbours, something to work together on and bond over. To encourage as many local people as they can there is an active effort to make the project as visible and accessible as possible.

Give the webinar a listen if you are interested in setting up your own community gardening project, especially if you are in Manchester because they deliver a really comprehensive plan to help other budding community groups. The webinars are every Friday so do get involved.

Reading the comments in the chat box it looked as if Mo and Juliet had sown the seed for quite a few listeners and I hope we’ll see a flurry of urban gardening projects happening in Manchester soon.