Published: 05 August 2013
The Ryton Discussion
A group of gardeners from around the UK met recently at the Garden Organic head quarters at Ryton in Warwickshire to discuss some big questions as to the future of gardens and gardening.
These questions in particular related to the practice of sustainable food crop growing. The event was organised by Jane Cobbald of “Implementations” with Garden Organic offering the use of their venue. The day was run as an Open Space event with Sheila Marsh acting as the facilitator to keep the proceedings flowing. 
The starting points for the event were these questions: “How can we find what is useful in 21st century culture and nourishing in nature?” and “How can we best integrate these as we move forward? “
After the initial introductions the assembled audience were invited to put forward specific topics for discussion. Once these were agreed upon we divided into small groups to start the discussions.  Below are a few examples of the points discussed during the day.

Soil Health

An important aspect of all gardening is “How to better nourish the soil.” Some key points from this group were how to get the wider society to appreciate the importance of soil and take responsibility to ensure its well being, and does a change of attitude towards the value of soil come from the top down or the bottom up [from organisations or hands on gardeners?].  Also, how can we all encourage more people to understand the process of growing food crops and feel enthusiastic about growing their own.
A key point was that more people must gain a better knowledge and appreciation of the importance and value of soil and that it really is an essential living material required to sustain all life forms.

Getting young people involved with growing projects is essential.

Getting Involved

Another group discussed how to “Get people involved in growing plants and make it an enjoyable relationship”.  There are many existing community initiatives that people can get involved with including projects and networks that are both hands on and informative. It is important for everyone to have access to a garden or growing area so that they can interact with the natural world.

Also that it is essential that gardening subjects should be included in the National Curriculum for all school children. There is also a role for garden centres to stimulate more interest in gardening activities with their customers.

Food Image and Sustainability

Another point was that the super clean appearance of edible produce seen on the shelves of the supermarkets could be discouraging / off putting compared to the “dirty” look of grow your own produce! This point also related to the whole image of growing your own and the organic movement which many people find unattractive or part of an alternative life style movement rather than an interactive activity that everyone can participate in that also has positive outcomes for their own wellbeing and the wider environment.  
Another group discussed the topic of “Living an integrated life by producing crops sustainably”. Points raised included the culture of supporting Farmers Markets and vegetable box schemes versus purchasing food products from supermarkets. Also how the co-operative community growing projects could lead to more “grower experience” sessions for amateur gardeners to visit and get involved in. These could be developed on any available land within urban areas.

Growing Knowledge

An important issue that needs addressing relates to the lack of “how to grow” knowledge among beginner gardeners, it was agreed the media and retailers are in a strong position to play major roles.

Growing plants sustainably whenever possible to reduce the environmental impact 
Another point that should be explored further was how to access more land for allotments and community projects to allow more food crops to be grown locally by more people. It was pointed out that there is a lot of good practice being carried out, however it need better promotion to a wider audience to raise public awareness.


At the end of a day that had seen, and heard a lot of discussions by enthusiastic food growers we were asked to prioritise the key points raised, the top three are:

  1. Getting  a greater knowledge and appreciation of soil to a wider audience
  2. Encouraging local food growing initiatives that will provide hands on learning opportunities
  3. Stimulate “localism” and sustainability for food growing operations
Here are some final comments from those participating in this interesting event...
“...fascinating to meet people with great ideas and helping more growing to happen”
“The commonality of ideas and issues was interesting, there are things to do something about”
“.... We do care about our earth and the soil and can do something”

Soil  cultivation should be carried out with minimal damage to the soil and the life within it.
The Gardening Times is keen to hear from any groups, or individuals with similar thoughts, please let us know so we can encourage more people to be aware of these very important issues.
Reported by Chris Allen  

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