What factors support and promote home-based food-growing in four neighbourhoods in SW Sheffield?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Community Activism, Social Activities and Resources chart #2

Chart #2 shows a comparison of various factors across the neighbourhoods. The parameter total sq m indicates the overall size of the home garden while sq m in food indicates how much of it is planted in food crops. Solar res for solar resource, is a subjective rough estimate, done with compass in hand, based on a comparison of all properties’ shading and aspect.

I established an index of community activism and social activities based on key words given in the interviews. The most commonly cited issue across all four neighbourhoods was parking, though absent in neighborhood #1’s responses, the only neighborhood that had any activism relating to transport, with organised bike rides and walks. Organisation, with the highest level of responses, was indicative of any mention of an issue involving some degree of organisation such as meetings, petitions, leaflets, networks or forums.

Neighbourhood #1
Chosen for of its reputation for being activist, the neighborhood organisation is largely centered on sustainability issues. A resident professional activist has been organising this neighborhood on issues ranging from micro generation to food. All 5 households interviewed, some who have been in the neighborhood only a short time, knew their neighbors and knew neighbors who grow food. 11 of the 13 households that returned a questionnaire grew food, the second highest percentage among all 4 neighborhoods surveyed. As interviewee #2 put it,
“Around this area there are a lot of people with allotments and decent sized gardens they can grow in. I would say that three quarters are already growing a reasonable amount of food.”
Every household surveyed except 1 had some experience with allotments and 4 had their own allotment. This neighborhood along with N#4 had more residents expressing a greater need for more time than for a bigger garden in order to grow more food. It should be noted however that both neighborhoods had the largest back gardens and the best solar resource. This neighborhood had an average garden size of 110.4m2 but with only 5 interviews, one at 376m2 and one at 0, by removing those two, the more realistic average is 58.6m2. An average 8.1m2 is in food cultivation. With every single house having a southern or SW aspect, the average solar resource is 8.3 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best. One household, a rental, has only south facing windows and no land available. Every house except that one has tools available. 2 of the 5 practise vermiculture, 3 of the 5 practise composting and RWH.
Even within this very active neighborhood, only 2 were willing to own up to influencing their neighbors to grow food. 3 of the 5 stated that they had been influenced in some way by having neighbors who grow food.

Neighbourhood #2
Chosen as a null group, the residents in N#2 have a remarkably low level of involvement in any neighborhood activism. With a mixed length of tenure and no consistent level of interaction, very few residents know more than their immediate neighbours. The only issue mentioned was a council parking scheme. Interviewee #10 said that the parents of the neighborhood are known to be quite militant about their children’s education but no one claimed to have been involved in any sort of collective activity pertaining to this issue, indeed this situation was described as “anarchy”. Interviewee #29 described being an activist as an “unreachable ideal”. The neighborhood was also described as insular. Interviewee #9 said she had put up a screen to reduce her exposure, prior to which she used to chat over the fence with her neighbors. Several attributed the low levels of neighbourly interactions to high student population and the transient nature of the area. In fact, all 3 students interviewed in this neighborhood are at least aware of activism in the area and 2 are the most involved of all those interviewed here. These two also know their neighbors better than the non-students in the neighborhood. This is also the case in N#3.

Of the 9 households interviewed, 7 own their own home. This neighborhood has the second smallest gardens and solar resource with 29m2 average garden size and 3.6m2 average area under food cultivation. This is misleading as so few grow food and one has 19m2 under food cultivation. If that number is zeroed the average drops to 1.5m2, which makes this neighborhood the worst for food-growing based on area in cultivation. The average solar resource is 6.5 out of 10. One house has no southern exposure for the garden, only south facing windows. Every house except that one has tools available. 3 of the 9 interviewed practise vermiculture, composting and/ or RWH, but not the same 3 for each. Not surprisingly, this neighborhood has the second lowest level of food-growing with 61% of residents surveyed. Of the 18 households that returned a questionnaire, 11 are growing food but only 5 of the interviewees said they knew any neighbors who grow food.

72% of surveyed households have university training which would suggest an understanding of the challenges facing the UK relating to energy and climate and thus the food supply, yet there seems to be a complete disengagement with the issues at a neighborhood level. They do not appear to be at all interested in working together to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood. There are individuals growing food here, even a composting specialist, but because the neighbors cannot be bothered to get to know each other, that resource and potential for common knowledge and effort is being wasted. Not surprisingly, only one of the food growers interviewed here said they had had any influence on their neighbors, accomplished in the form of gifting plants, pots, compost and advice. Conversely, 4 of the 5 interviewees who do grow stated that seeing their neighbors growing did influence them to grow. Chart #3 shows a comparison between the total number of households surveyed, how many are growing, garden size and solar resource.

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