Digital Storytelling about Community Food Growing Project: First Insights

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Our first engagement process has produced some exciting visual stories, click here to view them.

Over the past decade or more, community food growing has attracted more people, inspired cultivation skills and helped to build a sense of place and strengthen relationships. People have shared their knowledge about cultivating and preparing healthy food, thus contributing to a wider food culture. There has been ever-greater evidence that people gain many benefits including emotional well-being, self-confidence, cooperative relationships and mutual learning.

In early 2020, however, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted community food growing initiatives, while also revealing and intensifying the stark social inequalities in our society. People’s social isolation prompted even greater interest in community food growing initiatives. They were motivated to continue their activities by overcoming difficult challenges and reaching a more diverse range of people.

As part of the ‘Digital storytelling about group food growing’ project, participants in London and Reading have explored those experiences in a ‘Grassroots Visual Storytelling about Community Food-Growing’ course, which began in spring 2021. The aim of the course, developed by the Cobra Collective, was to build skills in digital visual storytelling while exploring and promoting participants’ experiences of community food growing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Initial stories that participants produced as part of the course describe how the pandemic stimulated efforts to overcome social isolation by sustaining or even expanding food initiatives, thus maintaining individual benefits such as health and well-being. Despite Covid restrictions, participants’ stories described how they (and often with their children) got to know each other better and extended friendship networks. The stories also showcased how community food growing activities bridged social differences of ethnicity, national origin and age.

The stories also revealed some profound impacts. While fulfilling their own needs, the stories showed how participants felt they were doing socially useful activities, such as supplying food banks and learning skills for enhancing locally produced food. Cultivation skills have been extended to homes, schools and other food growing spaces. Earlier feelings of being powerless were overcome by a sense of shared purpose, serving a greater good, the opportunity to ‘make a difference’ and create a group agency. One particular story described how a local community garden became ‘a place to be, escape and recover’. The stories showed how food activities have been growing community bonds; they have strengthened cooperative engagements, inter-generational learning, skills-sharing, inter-cultural exchanges and thus social cohesion.

Beyond the short-term benefits, the stories showed that such closer relationships strengthen the future basis for more cooperative, reciprocal, socially resilient practices. Participants described how their involvement in community food growing strengthened people’s enthusiasm and cultivation skills for localizing food production. In turn, local initiatives captured by the stories show how the multiple benefits emerged from coordinating staff capacities to facilitate cooperative, creative relationships among participants: “My aim is to develop group capacity so that they acquire the skills to teach gardening skills and embed the values amongst the wider community”.

So, what lessons have we learnt so far from the stories produced to date? They show that community food growing initiatives have provided a crucial collective asset and a social basis for rebuilding the future differently. They show that the way community food growing has adapted to the challenges of the pandemic can provide novel, creative ways to overcome current and future disruptions, towards a better, more resilient future. The stories produced by participants have allowed us to better understand these processes of resilience building, enabling food growing initiatives to build on their own strengths, attract greater commitments and extend the benefits. All those aspects warrant greater support measures, including core funds and secure tenure.

Those processes and benefits are richly illustrated by our participants’ stories, which are freely available here.

The Visual Storytelling project has a podcast featuring multiple experiences and voices:  episode 8 in the series, The Pandemic and Beyond.

Additionally, two of our team members, Dave Richards and Les Levidow have written blog pieces reflecting on their journey with community food growing and the impacts of participating in this project:

We encourage community gardens, organizations and volunteers to share, screen, and discuss these emerging stories, and generate new stories by participating in our upcoming Autumn live course and taking our online module ‘Grassroots Visual Storytelling about Community Food-Growing’.

For further details, please feel free to contact the project lead, Les Levidow, Open University, [email protected] , or the course coordinator, Julia Jung, Cobra Collective, [email protected]

Project Partnership: The Open University, Cobra Collective, Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC), Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming

Julia Jung
Follow Julia Jung:

Marine Social Scientist

Julia holds an MSc in management of marine biological resources from the international IMBRSea programme (2020). She is interested in using participatory approaches and action research for community-based environmental management. Julia is also highly interested in the use of technology for outreach, innovation and teaching within communities and in higher education.