Of living things - bringing together community for action on climate
Deep in the urban environment of Provanmill, St Paul’s Youth Forum has created a green oasis, bringing together the community and growing a generation of climate activists.
Over a decade ago, the seeds of Blackhill’s Growing where first sown. During an exchange trip to Zambia, local young people saw first-hand how growing, cooking and sharing food could help create a cohesive, supportive community. They wanted to try and replicate this back in their own community and started with a small flock of laying hens. At the time, due to the stigma of the area we were told that the chickens, and any attempts at improving the neighbourhood through something as fragile and easily vandalised as a garden wouldn’t last one night; they would either be stolen or destroyed.
However over ten years on we’re still here and the project has only grown since. We now have a large community garden, with three polytunnels, raised beds, hens, an orchard and bee hives. Alongside this we run three school gardens in two local primary schools and a local nursery. As a project we work with people of all ages, from mother and toddler groups, right up to retired pensioners. However a lot of our most passionate and committed volunteers and participants have been young people.
Young people work with us for a variety of reasons, some are big foodies, interested in learning more about where food comes from, others are nature lovers, wanting to help care for our chickens and bees, whilst some just appreciate the peace you get from a few hours work in the garden. As one young person told me this week after helping with the chickens, “it’s the most therapeutic thing I’ve done in ages.”
Through working with us a few of our young people have gone on to advocate passionately and articulately for a fairer food system and for climate justice, one young man made a short film with Glasgow Community Food Network last year about his local food system, whilst another of our young people was recently interviewed in a piece by the BBC about climate justice.
The garden has been a fantastic resource for the community. Not just for the food we grow there, but as a unique learning experience for people, both young and old.
A lot of the way we understand the world, including much of the learning we receive at school is increasingly disembodied. More and more as a society we are experiencing the world through textbooks, TVs, laptops and phones. However, if we want our young people to really care about their environment, or to even understand the dramatic changes that are taking place right now, we need to get them out into spaces like community gardens. Here they can experience the rich sensory world of plants, see how many different insects and animals share the space with us, and understand the huge journey a seed goes on to become the food we eat.
When we run school workshops, instead of labelling lifeless diagrams of cells and flowers we take the young people out into the garden and ask them questions like: why do plants have flowers, or why are leaves shaped like sails, where does bread come from?
They also learn a lot about themselves, what it means to be reliant on such a vast system of interrelated plants and animals, what it means to grow something yourself, to nurture it through an entire lifecycle and then see how it’s remains are recycled back into a massive interconnected system of living things.
Through getting young people to interact physically with and directly question their natural environment they can explore the deep interconnectedness of nature and understand both how ingenious and fragile a system it is.