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Resilience in Sustainable Lifestyles Research Project Report

Authors:
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RESILIENCE IN SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLES RESEARCH PROJECT
Rebecca White, Andy Stirling, SPRU, University of Sussex
December 2014
Contents
Executive Summary ................................................................................................................................. 2
1. Introduction .................................................................................................................................... 5
2. Research questions ......................................................................................................................... 8
3. Research context & methods .......................................................................................................... 8
3.1 Methods ........................................................................................................................................ 9
4. Key findings ................................................................................................................................... 10
4.1 For what ends do actors in the communal food growing ‘niche’ see food growing as a means?
.......................................................................................................................................................... 10
4.2 Pressures faced by communal food growing & sustaining communal growing ................... 12
4.3 Looking to the future: using MCM to unpack the politics of resilience building in Brighton’s
food growing niche ........................................................................................................................... 16
4.3.1 Methods & context ....................................................................................................... 17
4.3.2 Options development ................................................................................................... 18
4.3.3 Findings ......................................................................................................................... 20
4.3.4 Food, community and project-sustainability outcomes ............................................... 21
4.3.5 Ideal model ................................................................................................................... 25
4.3.6 Implications for Grassroots Civil Society and Transitions ............................................. 25
5. Discussion of the SLRG resilience in civil society project .............................................................. 26
6. Implications for policy ................................................................................................................... 30
REFERENCES .......................................................................................................................................... 32
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Executive Summary
This report investigates the building of ‘resilience in the communal growing of food. This is a sector
comprising community gardens and community supported agriculture initiatives, as well as many related
intermediary organisations. As such, it is a field characterised by diversity: in the people involved in
growing; in what they hope to achieve in the process; in the types of civil society organisation engaged in
supporting the activity; and in the missions of public agencies and third sector organisations linked to
communal growing (eg: education, healthcare providers, social services, green space managers).
In exploring this field, we use a novel conceptual framework that avoids conflating what it means to
sustain something. This acknowledges that different interests may wish to ‘sustain’ quite different
things. And it recognises that there are multiple contexts and strategies involved in processes of
sustaining anything. Instead, we distinguish different kinds of ‘sustaining’ in communal growing –
unpacking contrasting activities and implications for growing groups, for the food sector and for society
more widely.
It is of considerable practical significance to seek a more nuanced understanding of what ‘sustaining
means in this context. One reason, is because community groups and the intermediary organisations
that support them, offer arguably one of the most crucial ways to engage a broad spectrum of people in
making food systems more Sustainable in the classic sense of the Brundtland Report and Agenda 21. The
kinds of participation highlighted in this policy tradition drive provision of food to better uphold the
‘Brundtland qualities’ of human wellbeing, ecological integrity and social equity. However the groups and
intermediary organisations involved in promoting Sustainability are also vulnerable in the face of multiple
pressures. With these high stakes, it is imperative to understand how they can develop resilience in
sustaining themselves. But key strategies towards this more specific end can under certain conditions
raise possible conflicts between sustaining organisations and achieving wider political Sustainability. For
instance, efforts to become more financially viable through contract delivery of services can compromise
on deeper political change. With these challenges in mind, we conclude this report by proposing some
ways in which to reconcile the sustaining of the particular activities of communal growing with the
imperative to achieve more transformative moves towards wider social and political Sustainability.
This research used semi-structured interviews and a detailed multicriteria mapping (MCM) appraisal
working with actors from within the communal food growing ‘sector’ (project coordinators,
intermediaries, city council, local statutory organisations, academics, funders and fund administrators
and business owners). Time was spent in growing projects themselves observing group dynamics and
governance. We focussed particularly on Brighton and Hove as a case study area with a vibrant food-
growing scene. But intermediary organisations and funders working nationally were also engaged with.
These mixed methods enabled us to examine the dynamics of pressures acting both on growing projects
and the network of organisations within which they function, as well as how these pressures are dealt
with and with what consequences.
The study confirms past research in identifying and illuminating many benefits of communal growing, as
reported by respondents. At an individual personal level these included: (i) the development of
knowledge and skills; (ii) wellbeing; (iii) a sense of being in nature; (iv) saving money through
supplementing bought food; (v) education around food; (vi) changing relationships to food; and (through
the mix of people that food growing often attracts) (vii) exposing those involved to social diversity. At a
collective level, interviews highlighted the development of community, ownership of space, social
cohesion and better management of land. At a systems level (a perspective found amongst intermediary
organisations more than individual participants) food growing was seen as a way to engage people
around climate change, and as part of developing alternative food production-consumption systems.
Despite the contrasting motivating purposes found within and across the growing projects, activities of
communally growing can be a crucial unifying means to gather and engage people so offering a ‘way in’
to reflecting on and enacting new relationships with food that promote health, the environment, greater
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self-sufficiency and less waste. However, this potential is conditional on continual engagement of many
people and in ways that are open to different interpretations of food growing.
Given the time, energy and intensity of managing a growing project, pressures were often responded to
in ‘fire-fighting’ mode. Such challenges included: (a) energy levels within a group; (b), departure of
valuable volunteers; (c) land availability; (d) vandalism; (e) crop failures; (f) sudden influxes of high-need
individuals to a project; and (g) interruptions to funding as well as (h) the challenge of suddenly getting
a significant amount of money. However, when groups find time and capacity to consider their longer-
term viability, more secular strategic pressures can also be responded to. Challenges here included: (1)
structural issues around land tenure; (2) the cumulative emergence of tensions and conflict in groups; (3)
the balance of power and responsibility within a group and (4) changes in availability of skills.
In reflections during interviews and the multicriteria mapping process, representatives of projects and
the intermediary organisations supporting them, repeatedly emphasised the importance of addressing
these organisational pressures in ways that continue to enable the achieving of wider social and political
aims. For many, the growing of food is simply a means to these broader ends, rather than an end in itself.
But on the whole, the resulting dilemmas do not present significant obstacles to communal growing as
part of broader moves to Sustainable food systems. Particular strategies in action across the network of
organisations supporting communal food growing in Brighton are able simultaneously to sustain the
practices of communal food growing, whilst at the same time enabling the promoting of alternative
(more Sustainable) food systems.
A local Sustainability-focussed intermediary organisation: the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (BHFP)
and its Harvest programme has been central to enabling the growth of community gardens in Brighton.
BHFP has funded and connected many initiatives, providing a collective identity for growing projects,
promoting growing to the City Council and identifying and making available land for growing. At the same
time the BHFP is a strong voice for more Sustainable food systems in the city its mandate is to promote
‘a system that is healthy, Sustainable and fair’ (Brighton and Hove Food Partnership 2012). This dual role
of helping foster growing groups, irrespective of their aims, while also advocating and lobbying for
Sustainability and promoting food growing as part of this, means that BHFP can both help sustain
particular growing initiatives without compromising on values constituting alternative food systems.
Here, what is crucial is a conjunction of flexibility and a broad remit.
Also important, is that the BHFP has promoted a diversity of growing projects and remits, rather than
quashing such diversity in order to optimise around the single aim of promoting Sustainable food
systems. Diversity is a strength to be harnessed at both project and city-wide levels. By being open to the
different reasons why people come and grow (within and across projects), activities remain accessible
and attractive to a wide range of perspectives. Diversity also means that funding from a range of sources
can be harnessed to support growing. While many projects are not aimed specifically at food-related
outcomes, an altered relationship to food is nevertheless a common consequence of growing. Qualities
that respondents mentioned as arising from growing activities included: healthier diets, less food waste
and a more profound connection to nature. In other words, community growing is ‘a way in’ to many
wider issues. So attracting a diversity of people to this activity leads to more exposure to these ‘side-
effects’ of growing, helping both sustain particular activities whilst potentially making people more open
to more Sustainable alternatives.
Enjoyment or fun came through strongly, as being important in sustaining engagement in food growing.
Collective enjoyment is a kind of glue that binds people across diverse motives enabling both the sharing
of, and respect for, divergent views. Perhaps obvious as a virtue of many voluntary activities (and often a
concern of project coordinators), ‘having fun’ is something that can nevertheless get lost when people try
to deliver across too many demands, with mission-oriented bureaucracy and monitoring becoming ends
in and of themselves.
This research also suggests that academic-civil society collaboration can also be an important (and under-
exploited) route through which communal food growing can be sustained while enabling it to be linked
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to debates around the unSustainability of how society produces and consumes food. As ‘system
outsiders’, academics can both provide independent evaluation of what communal growing can achieve
(important for funders and growers). But, in collaboration with civil society actors, academic research can
also help transgress overly instrumental evaluations of particular activities or projects, with findings
helping to broaden attention beyond traditional means-ends views and disciplinary modes of operating.
For instance, this research argues for a more broad-based focus on ecologies of organisations operating
in a given area, as emergent outcomes of these diverse relationships and flexibilities in organisational
functions. All of these aspects can be missed in traditional methods to (e)value(ate) civil society activity.
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1. Introduction
There exist growing pockets of grassroots-level experimentation, developing innovative activities and
practices that might offer examples for improving general Sustainability
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(Brundtland 1987). In their
writings on these pockets of alternative practice, termed ‘grassroots innovations’ (GIs), Seyfang and Smith
(Seyfang and Smith 2007, p.3) elaborate on how they can be beneficial both through ‘intrinsic’ and
‘diffusion’ benefits. Intrinsic benefits arise from activities responding to local problems, and if replicated
can have impact in proportion to the uptake of said activity. Here, benefits may include, jobs training,
welfare, wellbeing and community development. Diffusion benefits, on the other hand, inform activities,
institutions and paradigms more broadly. Here particular GI initiatives can act as exemplars, highlighting
how conventional and mainstream practice can be unSustainable, acting as alternatives to it and operating
as experiments promoting wider learning. We understand communal food growing as a form of grassroots
innovation.
‘Grassroots innovations’ like all innovations do not represent ‘the answer’ alone. They often engage only
with a subset of the many factors constituting unSustainable lifestyles. But historical experience shows that
many activities later acknowledged in mainstream practice to be among the most Sustainable, were initially
developed in grassroots settings (Smith 2006; Smith 2006; Lovell 2007). So, it is important to understand
these currently marginal community based experiments, particularly given they are traditionally quite
under-researched in the study of innovation (Little, Maye et al. 2010; Middlemiss and Parrish 2010;
Mulugetta, Jackson et al. 2010).
The practices found in grassroots niches are often not the ‘easiest’, cheapest, or most convenient course
of action for those involved. Yet they need to be sustained indefinitely in the face of various political,
demographic, cultural, economic and social pressures acting both in acute episodes and over long periods
of time. This raises the necessity for a quality often discussed in relation to Sustainability, that of resilience.
The strong relationship between these two concepts is well reflected, for instance, in the field of social
ecology, where “managing for resilience enhances the likelihood of sustaining desirable pathways for
development in changing environments where the future is unpredictable and surprises are likely” (Folke
2006, p.254).
This research seeks to understand what constitutes this quality of resilience in grassroots sustainable
innovations what it looks like from different perspectives and contexts and how it arises. This task is
complicated by the manifest ambiguity, diversity and dynamism that exists within civil society and which
seem variously implicated in the constituting of resilience. Civil society is often described as existing
between the state, business and the family (Pearce 2003), comprising third sector organisations (NGOs,
representative bodies, charities) and the vast range of voluntary associative activity manifested in relatively
more formalised groups like the scouts or choirs, to informal book clubs or history societies. Civil society
embodies institutional pluralism allowing multiple interests to be represented, disparate functions to be
enacted both within and across the formal and informal forms of organisation that exist, and a variety of
capacities developed as a result
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(Edwards 2004). This introduces a plurality of views and interests
concerning not only how to understand and enact resilience in relation to various practices and activities
as proposed ‘means’ towards Sustainability, but also in relation to underlying divergent ‘ends’ in the
defining of the fundamental meanings of Sustainability itself (alongside any other ‘ends’ that participants
desire)(Leach, Scoones et al. 2010).
Given this diversity, Folke’s quote and his use of the term ‘management’ obfuscates what is potentially a
deeply political process because what constitutes a desirable pathway for development will be different
for different people. Particularly in the context of a civil society activity which attracts people to it for
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A capital ‘S’ in Sustainability denotes the normative version of the word as defined by Brundtland. A small
case ‘s’ in sustainability denotes the temporal property of whether or not something is being sustained.
2
This might be contrasted to public sector agencies and private firms, on the other hand, who can be
appraised more readily against relatively clearer missions defined by government or the market.
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different reasons. Similarly, Seyfang and Smith, while outlining intrinsic and diffusion benefits of grassroots
innovations do not question whether these are mutually supported by those participating in communal
food growing and the forms of support available to the sector, or indeed whether there might be conflicts
between these different outcomes.
Civil society at the grassroots is an important context in which to explore these issues given that there are,
indeed, many framings of its utility and role, and hopes for its potential. Commentators on UK civil society
note that ‘the Big Society involves giving “below the radar (btr) groups
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a higher profile and substantially
greater role in the delivery of Government policy agendas” (McCabe 2010) (emphasis added)(HM
Government 2010). This extends the spread of an already existing trend, over the last decade, towards
statutory funding of civil society, away from government grants (Ellis Paine, Taylor et al. 2012). This is to a
degree that Ellis Paine et al suggest that ‘there has been a blurring of boundaries between third, public and
private sectors’ (ibid, p.5). Hess (Hess 2009), a sociologist of technology, and Rosol (Rosol 2010; Rosol 2012)
a critical geographer, see this greater role in policy delivery as characteristic of neoliberal ideologies around
the shrinking of government and devolvement of public duties to the third sector with negative or mixed
outcomes. There is also observed potential, within the transitions and alternative agrifood literatures, of
‘capture’ of innovative practices or their dismantling and cherrypicking by the mainstream, which
diminishes the potential for more radical forms of innovation (Guthman 2004; Hess 2005; Smith 2006). This
may create incremental change, but can militate against the kinds of radical change that would be
associated with wholesale adoption of the more Sustainable systems taken as a whole (Smith and Raven
2012). Optimistically though, academics also see grassroots civil society’s involvement in Sustainable
development as potentially beneficial because there is a need for ownership, norm and meaning
development, and embodiment of more Sustainable forms of living and working at the local level (Jackson
2005; Seyfang and Smith 2007).
To unpack the politics involved in sustaining an activity like communal growing, we draw on a framework
developed by Stirling (Stirling 2013) with reference to the general governing of technology. This framework
distinguishes four distinct properties that are implied when it said that anything is sustained’. He calls
these: stability, durability, resilience and robustness. The significance of these distinctions hinges on
appreciation that different actors perspectives on any activity - in this instance, communal food growing
will tend to frame the associated pressures and actions very differently. In order not to simply roll these
together, the framework differentiates between framing pressures as a shock (or ‘blip’ where a short
term change is quickly reacted to with the aim of returning to prior conditions); and stresses (which are
longer term and involve more lasting and fundamental changes in circumstances). The framework also
distinguishes the different ways in which actors can frame reactions to these pressures: by seeking to
control them (involving efforts to manage drivers of the problem that are held to be manageable); or by
aiming only to respond to the pressures (involving efforts to mitigate the consequences, without seeking
to reverse the pressures themselves).
It is in this way, that the framework resolves four dynamic properties of sustainability. Stability is where
transitory shocks are seen as tractable to control. Durability is where longer term stresses are seen as
tractable to control. Resilience is where transitory shocks are held to be accommodated by response.
Robustness is where longer term stresses are held to be accommodated by response. Stability and
durability aim at controlling the source of a pressure to return to prior conditions. Resilience and
robustness aim more modestly simply to respond to the outcome of changing circumstances and thus
themselves involve more change. With each property a necessary but individually insufficient prerequisite
for maintaining any valued quality, this framework shows that there are actually quite different ways in
which something can be ‘sustained’. But to cover all eventualities, sustainability requires all these options
to be achieved.
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McCabe defines these groups as ‘small voluntary organisations, community groups and more informal or
semi-formal activities in the third sector’
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Figure 1: Properties of sustaining framework
As well as being interested in the politics of sustaining communal food growing, we are also interested in
the ends to which this is seen as a means for instance, promoting alternative, more Sustainable food
systems. This focus is also subject to different perspectives and power relations. For instance, there is an
obvious distinction between interests emphasising the need to sustain communal growing in ways that
align it with existing unSustainable systems, or in other words do not challenge ‘modern life’, and those
seeking to disrupt existing institutions and practices held to be unsustainable. This captures the contrast
between insider’ framings of communal food growing, which see it as ameliorating local ‘end-of-pipe
problems akin to Seyfang and Smith’s ‘intrinsic benefits’. These are arguably negative externalities of
‘modern life’, such as obesity, joblessness, lack of community, psychological illness and stress. ‘Outsider’
framings of communal food growing, by contrast, see it as having ‘diffusion benefits’ - part of challenging
and building alternatives to ‘modern life’ and the unSustainable practices this involves. In this instance,
growing might be seen as encouraging people to question mainstream food production and consumption
practices and learn about alternatives.
An outsider view then wishes to see communal growing contributing to more systemic change, and might
use pressures on the sector or a project as an opportunity to engender these changes. Using the same axes
as the previous schema, we can differentiate in the same way four distinct modalities of change:
transduction, is one where control-style actions seek to harness short term shock and reorient the
development of an activity into a specific new direction; the dynamic property of transilience is displayed
where a shock is harnessed to shift an activity in an open-ended way (as opposed to aiming at a specific
outcome); a transition occurs where control-style strategies build on long-term stress to reorient a
trajectory in some specific new direction; and finally, transformation occurs where responsive actions
harness contingent stress to help catalyse reconfiguration in an open-ended manner. This creates the
conceptual cube below (Fig. 2).
This cube then helps to understand some of the different dynamics at play in the processes of sustaining
an activity (the back of the cube) and the developmental implications this can have over time. The
framework also acknowledging that some actor groups have insider views of the activity’s role in society
and do not see it as fundamentally challenging mainstream ways of doing life, while others see it as part of
broader trajectories of significant societal change (front of the cube). Taking an outsider view may mean
that shocks and stresses are approached differently to those with ‘insider’ perspectives or interests.
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Figure 2: Sustaining-transforming framework
This research does not set out empirically and objectively to determine how well community food growing
helps achieve some particular overarching ‘objective’ notion of Sustainable lifestyles. Instead, we assume
here that community food growing does itself both contribute and constitute Sustainable ways of ‘doing
life’, as subjectively – and diversely conceived and enacted by those actors directly involved. Instead, we
are interested to explore how to sustain communal growing practiced in what are often small scale
volunteer reliant groups while also enabling them to be part of a broader movement to promote
Sustainable practices. The conceptual model will then help us analyse the politics and tension at play within
this balancing act.
2. Research questions
1. For what ends do actors in the communal food growing ‘niche’ see food growing as a means?
2. What pressures are experienced by communal growing projects and their ‘sector’ (i.e. network of
intermediary organisations operating to support them), and how are these contrastingly framed?
3. How do projects & intermediaries respond to these pressures & so work to sustain the local
communal food growing sector?
4. What kinds of ‘sustaining’ arise through this process?
5. Is there a politics to the framings involved? And if so, with what implications for pathways to
Sustainability?
3. Research context & methods
Community gardens are found throughout North America and Europe (Holland 2004; Lawson 2005;
Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens 2012), and increasingly world-wide (Irvine, Johnson et
al. 1999). While the main activity in the UK is growing food, much else is grown in the process including
community, confidence, welfare and skills. Stewardship is undertaken by groups of local people collectively
working space and the produce shared. For its part, CSA is defined as, ‘any food, fuel or fibre producing
initiative where the community shares the risks and rewards of production, whether through ownership,
investment, sharing the costs of production, or provision of labour’ (Saltmarsh et al 2011). Albeit arguably
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on a continuum, CSA is distinct from community gardens in that food is produced on a larger scale and
often with greater division of labour.
The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (FCFCG) has seen growth in communal growing
initiatives over the last three years and now estimates that they support up to 1000 community gardens in
the UK (Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens 2012). The Capital Growth project in London has
also developed 2012 new communal growing spaces in London since 2009. The economic downturn,
awareness of food and health links, limited allotment availability, increasingly busy lives and an awareness
of food production externalities are all thought to have contributed to this trend (Federation of City Farms
and Community Gardens 2012; Sustain n.d.). There are also now 80 active CSA schemes in the UK, grown
from only a handful five years ago, with the median number of individuals receiving produce from these
schemes being 40 (Saltmarsh, Meldrum et al. 2011). Here, motivations for engagement are driven mainly
by a desire for access to Sustainably sourced produce, offering healthier, higher quality food at the same
time as supporting associated farmers (ibid).
Over the past seven years, communal growing has also been boosted by considerable grant funding from
the Big Lottery Fund. This has been administered through three major funding streams, which were
leveraged through multi-NGO partnerships. The funding streams are: the Local Food Fund a £59.8 million
fund aiming to make locally grown food accessible and affordable to local communities; Making Local Food
Work a £10m fund that has provided advice and support to community food enterprises (including CSA)
across England; and Food for Life a programme aimed at delivering whole school food reform to schools
in England, part of which was the encouragement of food growing in schools. The coalition of organisations
who sought this funding are an institutional reflection of the range of normative perspectives and practices
towards which growing initiatives can contribute health, education, community building, disability
support, training, therapy, Sustainable and secure food systems, organic and permaculture techniques,
wildlife.
3.1 Methods
Altogether 51 interviews were conducted for the fieldwork, spanning informal, semi-structured and
structured formats, and actors working both nationally and in the local case study area. Participant
observation was also drawn upon to substantiate interviews and enable a more experiential view of
community food growing for the researcher.
A staged approach to fieldwork was taken. Initially 22 interviews, half of which were semi-structured and
half informal, with members of intermediary organisations, academics and practitioners working in the
area of food in general or growing in particular were conducted.
A key feature of the civil society context under investigation, are the diverse relationships and networks of
many kinds and levels between different people and social actors. In order better to address this relational
complexity and dynamism, we decided that concentrating research attention in fieldwork on a single city-
region and its outward connectivities would be preferable to focussing on a number of geographically
disparate projects, each (given finite research capacity) necessarily addressed more superficially. The
resulting ‘thick’ account would give a richer picture of how communal growing is sustained in a particular
area with more in-depth attention to the dynamics of the area (Geertz 1973). This contrasts with the
‘thinner’ and more generalised lessons that can be drawn from contextually-separated individual projects,
each with their own contingencies. Due to the nationally leading scale and intensity of activities in this field,
as well as the quality of existing relationships and accessibility, the environs of Brighton and Hove was
chosen as the case-study city-region.
Building on this focus, a second stage of fieldwork involved fourteen in-depth interviews with project,
intermediary and city council actors relevant to the case study city-region of Brighton and East Sussex.
Brighton is a city of just over a quarter of a million people. While it has long had a reputation for its
alternativeness, and is currently home to the first Green Party MP in the UK, its politics are by no means
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clear cut. As well as two Conservative MPs elected to the city in 2010 from previously Labour-held
constituencies, the current minority Green party-led city council has in the recent past has seen both
minority Conservative and Labour led councils. There are areas both of relative wealth and pockets of
severe deprivation in the city. While it is also reasonably affluent on average, the several deprived wards
led Brighton to be ranked in 2007 as the 79th most deprived authority in England out of 354 (Brighton and
Hove City Council 2008).
Today Brighton has a burgeoning community gardening scene, with nearly 90 growing projects across the
greater city and more in development. Since 2008 there has also been a National Lottery funded initiative,
called Harvest, which acts as a local infrastructure organisation
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supporting the development of food
growing in the city, particularly in community settings. Harvest is hosted by the Brighton and Hove Food
Partnership (BHFP), a non-profit membership organisation working in collaboration with local
organisations towards developing a sustainable food system in the city.
After initial intermediary interviews it was decided that gardens would be sampled within the categories
of CSA, communal gardens with a community oriented motivation, and gardens/plots oriented to food
production. All participants had been involved with the land for over three years although significant
changes in project structure/raison d’être had occurred in some in the meantime. Participants and leaders
were interviewed from across 7 currently running growing projects three CSAs (although one in particular
was half community garden too) and four community growing initiatives. Participant observation of
between 2 and 20 hours was also spent with each growing project.
The final stage of fieldwork involved a further 15 structured interviews undertaken using Multi-criteria
mapping (MCM). In order to secure the requisite depth and extent of attention, the opportunity was taken
to conduct this in collaboration with the BHFP as part of the evaluation of Harvest. This allowed full
academic independence, as well as higher levels and qualities of engagement than might otherwise have
been the case. Here different models for supporting food growing in the city were appraised with
stakeholders. The MCM method is explained in the section detailing this research output.
There are opportunities and drawbacks to the sampling approach and study design. Focussing on one area
has helped to develop a good understanding of the dynamics and history within it, and the large number
of interviews contributes to robust conclusions. However, a single case study area means that conclusions
are specific to this setting and transferring lessons from Brighton to other places needs to be done with
care. However, there are a growing number of cities with food councils or Partnerships. Interviews with
intermediary organisations working at the national level and in London enabled cross-checking.
4. Key findings
4.1 For what ends do actors in the communal food growing ‘niche’ see food growing as a
means?
The reasons why people participated in or supported growing food together were diverse, but across
stakeholders interviewed the capacity of this activity to achieve a variety of outcomes was itself a valuable
characteristic of this activity,
“What it shows, or what it [food growing] can do, is be something for everyone…It opens up
opportunities for people to engage in it as much or as little as you want. I think that is an important
part of it” F1.
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Local infrastructure organisations work to ensure that local third sector organisations, or grassroots
initiatives, are supported, represented and get the required advice needed in order that they can realise their
aims and improve the circumstances of the individuals and communities they work with or areas they work in.
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To broadly summarise, the benefits mentioned at an individual personal level were: development of
knowledge and skills, wellbeing, being in nature, saving money through supplementing bought food,
education around food, changing relationships to food, and through the mix of people that food growing
often attracts, exposing those involved to diversity. At a collective level, the development of community,
ownership of space, social cohesion and better management of land were brought up in interviews. One
activist respondent with a long history of personal and professional involvement in communal food growing
said,
People get delighted about growing seed, and that only comes through the communal
growing....well you can do it in your gardens or your allotments, but normally you need to talk to
somebody about it. So it is the doing something together that is so powerfulA1.
One community garden, and three CSAs from which participants were interviewed saw themselves as
having a food-oriented mission: the community garden with strong environmental ethics sought to give
unemployed people the chance to access organic healthy, fresh food, and so had a social justice framing;
two of the CSAs had strong environmental framings, seeing themselves as an alternative show-case, or
living experiment, while the third (from which a core member was interviewed) saw the environment,
economy and community as linked,
Partly I think of the economic situation - there is more of a need for people to, if they can grow
food then that will save them on the food bill. Also there is a growing sense of...'things are getting
harder, more expensive, world only has so much to give'. So more of a sense of people trying to
think more environmentally. I think that those two things have been part of this
happening…..Personally how I see it, and I think some others think like this, I definitely see for the
future, we need each other. There is no longer ...the capitalist model of indvidualism is not
sustainable and not workable G1
This variety of beneficial outcomes was also reflected in how respondents appraised different means of
supporting food growing in Brighton and Hove in the MCM exercise.
People working in intermediary organisations displayed different emphases or scope in their system
framings depending on their organisational remit or role. A number of intermediary organisations
interviewed had a wider food based framing and saw communal food growing as part of a larger picture of
transition towards more Sustainable food systems (but importantly not necessarily to the exclusion of
other outcomes, and sometimes specifically including them).
Table 1: Framing of communal food growing by different intermediary organisations interviewed.
Organisation remit
and respondents
Framing
Food systems and
Sustainability
(x5 from three
organisations)
An intermediary organisation who ran a programme supporting CSA, saw this as a
means to ‘develop innovative models around local food and producer-consumer
relationships’.
Food growing framed as part of the local food economy. If produce is sold this had
the potential to be empowering and connecting.
Emotional connections to food and mass participation in growing are a critical way of
changing people’s expectations and relationship with food. You cannot have broader
system change without this personal re-connection or re-evaluation of what food is
and how it is made.
Part of a town or city’s ‘local food system’
Community
(x2 from 1
organisation)
As a way in which community is created, enacted and reproduced.
Community ownership is key, and this is achieved through meeting a variety of needs.
Production food output was seen to be contrary to achieving this by one respondent.
Environmental
Education (x1)
Food was seen as a way for children to engage in landscapes, their environment and
the outdoors. It was also a way to engage with ideas on sustainable living.
12
Funder or fund
administrator (x2
from two
organisations)
Saw communal food growing as about the societal benefits it could bring, in particular
how it can help deal with ‘problems’ facing people now and,
“can local food build resilient communities?'... in my mind that is their role” FI
It was also valued for its ability to engage people across communities in thinking
about climate change mitigation and adaptation,
“so many of these projects5 are doing things like food growing it is a route in to
climate change issues” F2
City Council (x1)
“There are so many benefits aren’t there?” C1. Those mentioned were:
Reducing the negative impacts of the food system by local production and
consumption; positive land use of sometimes derelict or underused land; community
benefits of community cohesion and engagement across different ages, cultures,
backgrounds; education and social inclusion; the health benefits of getting outdoors
and being active. But we don't really have any flourishing CSA or social enterprises
based around food growing. So we need to move in that direciton C1.
The interviews, and as we will see from the MCM exercise, show the multiple framings and outcomes that
communally growing food is valued for. Growing is viewed as a means to both push for alternative food
systems and a way to deal with existing societal problems. So it can be seen as both part of existing ‘ways
of doing’, dealing with the social, economic and environmental ‘externalities’ of current practices, as well
as in opposition to current practices - enacting alternatives and working to change people’s relationship
with food as part of broader change. Importantly, it is also important, for those who actually participate in
it, as something through which they can create and experience community, be outside, have peace of mind
and fun not viewed as supporting or opposing anything.
4.2 Pressures faced by communal food growing & sustaining communal growing
Pressures on communal food growing are numerous and were felt, in this case study area, by both groups
themselves and the intermediary organisations with which they closely worked. Groups growing food
communally vary in their level of formality, size, the area they grow over, why they grow and how they
govern this process internally. But a commonality across the groups interviewed was that it involved a huge
amount of work to manage the land and all the different sorts of people wanting to engage with the space,
and deal with the numerous pressures on their operations. The nexus of managing these challenges was
often found within a handful, or even a single, individual(s). This meant that pressures were often viewed
as shocks and with a ‘fire-fighting’ sort of approach by growing projects. Shocks included drops in energy
levels within a group, departure of valuable volunteers, land availability, vandalism, crop failures, sudden
influxes of high-need individuals to a project
6
, and interruptions to funding as well as sometimes the
adverse consequences of sudden funding flows.
Pressures were also, though, framed as stresses when groups were considering their longer-term viability.
This seemed, albeit across a small sample size of seven growing projects, to be more prevalent in those
groups with more formal governance procedures. These pressures included funding and its management
over longer time periods, as well as more structural issues around land tenure, the cumulative emergence
5
Projects funded through the BIG Lottery’s Communities Living Sustainably initiative.
6
Two individuals interviewed from the same intermediary organisation independently highlighted this issue
with one noting,
One of the difficulties that is happening increasingly is social workers, probation officers are advising
their clients to phone up the city farm or community garden, and become a volunteer. Without the
professional having a direct relationship, and ensuring the individual clients get support, because it is
cheaper So it is worrying. It is worrying in terms of the increased need that is being created. And
what I can only see is short-termism IO1.
13
of tensions and conflict in groups, the balance of power and responsibility within a group and changes in
availability of skills.
In dealing with any particular pressure we find a repertoire of control and response strategies,
interdependently undertaken by groups and intermediary organisations. Strategies by groups tended
towards resilience or robustness-type responses including: drawing on diverse funding pots or strategies
(but importantly trying not to change a project to meet a funding call remit), making volunteering attractive
and developing a sense of community, distributing responsibility among core volunteers and having clear
delineation of responsibilities. While catering for people to make their own meaning through the act of
growing, having a clear sense of identity in a garden was important so as to prevent ‘mission creep’ when
applying for funding. A lack of identity was evident for one stretched CSA project trying to deliver on too
many fronts through contractual relationships (a veg box scheme and possible nursery school workshops),
while also relying on volunteers heavily. This juggling act seemed destructive. So while projects that had
‘economies of scope’ through a level of informality, enabling people to come to it and find their own
meaning in food growing, higher levels of specialisation, if not carefully managed (i.e. having sufficient staff
and capacity) limited this important characteristic of growing spaces.
Because small, informal growing projects are less able strategically to frame pressures as stresses, local
intermediary organisations are correspondingly crucial. Intermediary organisations, by dint of taking a
broader and longer-term perspective were more likely to frame pressures as part of larger trends or
phenomenon and strategically reacted to them. Not only are they better placed to address pressures as
stresses, seek to build capacity in groups to respond to these, and thus develop properties of robustness
in growing across the city-region. But they are also essential in trying to control these pressures, and
(through that) relaxing structural constraints on communal growing involving strategies for durability.
The work that intermediary organisations have done with councils to highlight land shortages and use
planning guidance to increase land available for growing is a good example of this. However, were it not
for the groundswell of activity by groups themselves, the legitimacy of intermediary groups working
towards structural change would be more difficult. The group-intermediary relationship is therefore highly
interdependent, allowing for the full range of properties to be achieved more comprehensively
(particularly resilience, durability and robustness).
Nevertheless, funding is also a stress on intermediary organisations.
“the role we want to pursue in terms of supporting a sustainable food system of which communal
food growing is a part, our capacity to support that through lack of funding is a constant worry”
IO2.
This is being experienced in the context of changing funding patterns for organisations both growing
projects and the intermediaries that support them working in this sector,
“[There is] a change from grant culture, to not necessarily self-sustainability, but greater financial
stability or self-generated income. Moving to contract work, moving probably to having more
individually funded clients, through personal budgets or whatever. So there's huge challenges at
the moment IO3
While acknowledging that this was a trend prior to the financial crisis, he highlighted the role of continuing
austerity on local councils.
In the past it has been...certaintly wouldn't say it has been easy, but it has been possible to argue
that city/community gardens are delivering local authority objectives. And you can cut a cross an
awful lot of LA objectives. But actually, in reality now, those objectives might be there ,but in
terms of financial and other types of support, it comes down to their legal obligations full stop.
They haven't got any money to spend. So there is no point arguing that you can increase wellbeing
of the citizens of this town or city ....great....but there ain't any money or supportIO3
This was supported by a respondent from a large funding organisation who described the changes
happening in her organisation (with emphasis added),
14
So these are very very different approaches for us in terms of the tasking, geographic areas, the
work we are trying to encourage across partnerships, with a real intention to have an impact and
change things, so we don't have to continue to fund them in the same way F2
This move towards more transactional relationships both within intermediary organisations such as
between members and the core organisation and groups, represents a cultural shift that people who
have worked in the ‘charitable sector’ are finding difficult. An intermediary respondent working with CSA
noted,
“one of the things we come up against is the guilt that it is associated with making money, and
overcoming that mind set of 'we are doing something good for the world, and therefore we have
to do it for free', or sacrifice ourselves for the good of this project. And maybe changing thinking a
bit from being a project to being an enterprise” IO4.
Similarly, referring to community gardens, an intermediary actor reflected,
So I suppose the vast majority of small comm grps have in general felt that 'profit' or 'running a
business' is not what we do.’We do voluntary work, we do charitable work' and so it has actually
been an incredible cultural shift that has had to take place, and not everybody has embraced it
yetIO3.
With regard to growing spaces who offer ‘social’ services, there is a concern that through monetising the
client-organisation relationship the growing spaces will potentially exclude those most in need (perhaps
those, for instance, who ‘fall through the net’ or don’t fit into prescribed categories of ‘in need’), bring
power, expectation and the profit motive into these relationships and also more generally set up a
competitive culture between community growing spaces or similar services. One respondent worried that
this would undermine collective working across the sector, or in a city.
However another intermediary organisation which was working to develop growing food for sale saw
commerce as empowering, particularly in light of the ‘lack of future funding for what they were doing’,
“What can be more empowering than actually trading, if you are motivated to change how your
food is produced?” IO5
Going on to say,
“the wider links with other people in the community and how valued they are is the main benefit
of it [selling crops]. And it's a way that they can integrate with private businesses, with restaurants,
caterers, markets. And I think that is the real value in doing it…it is just having a broader pool of
buy in and support within the community” IO5
Albeit this respondent noted that,
“To be totally honest as well, out of all those projects I'd say that only a handfull have potentially
got what it would take to run a project that would be more commercial and that a lot just actually
weren't interested because it wasn't what their project was ultimately aboutIt is not why
everybody does it and that it’s really, for a lot of people, its complete escape from that IO5
There is a particular shortfall in funding for the campaigning work of intermediary organisations a more
expensive endeavour, on the whole, than running a community growing space. It is, though, arguably part
of the ecosystem of organisations and activities that work to make communal growing a more viable
activity in the long-term through tackling the structural constraints on the activity. This is also part of the
interdependent actions, of which community food growing is a part, through which the un-sustainability
of the food system is challenged. A respondent from a funding administrator noted their wariness over
what they saw as a risk of ‘negative campaigning’. The intermediary organisations interviewed managed
this issue by using the groundswell in activity at the grassroots to leverage small campaigning initiatives,
for example on meanwhile leases and better planning support for food growing.
15
Connected to the pressure on funding for campaigning work, respondents from two intermediary
organisations interviewed also highlighted as a pressure, the lack of evidence in support of grassroots
activity around alternative food systems. A funding organisation confirmed their willingness to support
campaigning work as long as it was ‘well evidenced’,
We can fund campaigning within that as long as it is clear it is not intending to take government
down [looks jokey]...so it is legitimate, and based on robust evidence and not an individual's own
view. And that balance when you talk about campaigning only organisations, that is something
we'd make a judgement on. About the kinds of activities they do. But it is allowable F2
The activist interviewed reflected,
“Where I think there is an opportunity is actually in the academic community. If you look in other
countries, it is the academics who are lobbying in their ...in the way they do. But there seems to
be more cross over between the academic community and city leaders, and national leaders.
More...I've often thought in the UK we just don't have enough access to what comes out of the
academic community. It just stays somewhere. I don't know where it goes.”A1
She also noted the difficulty of capturing ‘robustly’ the qualitative, experiential nature of many of the
benefits of communally growing food. Access to research and capturing of impact are difficulties echoed
by the community gardening sector in the United States (ACGA 2009). The diffuse nature of the impetus
this activity gives to some campaigning work of intermediary organisations is also difficult to capture,
particularly given that change can often arise from a confluence of factors.
How projects are evaluated is also shifting, with an interviewee from a large funder explaining how they
are wanting greater evidence of ‘impact’ rather than just ‘outcomes’ from what they fund. Impact is
variously defined, but by this funder it relates to both immediate outcomes from projects or funding pots
(such as people engaged, projects initiated, area of land cultivated) as well as longer term effects (for
example, changing eating habits). While acknowledging the latter is harder to capture, and so offering more
impact training to those funded, there is nevertheless a desire for this impact to be shown. The implications
of a greater emphasis on impact for what kind of project is funded is yet to be seen in this context. But a
concern would be that the ability to show some forms of impact will favour types of project or encourage
delineation of specific ‘problems’ to which a growing space offers an answer. For example, shorter-term
issues, relating to defined and localised problems.
Altogether this part of the fieldwork suggests that there are repertoires of action against multiple pressures
on food growing. Intermediary organisations and groups work interdependently to sustain growing in the
face of pressures. Jointly, groups and intermediary organisations enact more holistic properties of
sustaining than would be possible individually. Academics also potentially have a role here in building an
evidence base in support of communal food growing. Through the engagement of intermediary
organisations and academics, there is also the potential for community food growing to be enrolled in
broader pushes for food system Sustainability taking an ‘outsider’ perspective and suggesting
opportunities for more transformative change. Box 1 outlines some key actor characteristics found through
this research that support communal food growing in an area.
However, changes in funding patterns for intermediary organisations and projects presents some
opportunities as well as threats for those in the sector. In particular, it is not clear how this will affect the
potential for wide community engagement, balancing of the needs of people using a growing space given
the presence of contractual relationships, and the potential for broader system change.
16
4.3 Looking to the future: using MCM to unpack the politics of resilience building
in Brighton’s food growing niche
Previous work in this research project has highlighted the diversity in values and framings of food growing.
Growing is very much linked to discourses and visions of food based ‘alternatives’ to the mainstream while
also being a means to non-food related ends like mental wellbeing, skills development and community
building. This variety can be seen across and within projects as well as between different intermediary
organisations. How then to support food growing and enhance its resilience? And does this have
implications for its ability to ‘push boundaries’ given the multiple ends which different stakeholders see it
serving? In order to further investigate these emerging themes in a way that is sensitive to this diversity
and messiness, we used Multicriteria Mapping (MCM) to explore the question of how to support food
growing in Brighton and Hove. This is a hybrid quantitative/qualitative participatory appraisal method that
combines the systematic rigour and transparency of quantitative evaluation, with the accessibility and
flexibility to divergent perspectives of qualitative interpretive approaches (Stirling and Mayer 2001; Stirling,
Lobstein et al. 2007).
An opportunity arose to be involved with the evaluation of the Harvest Programme, a National Lottery
Local Food Fund and match funded (£900,000 altogether) project to support food growing over 4 years in
Brighton and Hove. This enabled various visions of future support programmes to be evaluated, and in the
Box 1: What makes for a resilient local food growing ‘niche’?
This is really about multi-organisational networks, particularly between these three organisation
types:
Local councils
o A stable and supportive planning framework, including around project infrastructure (such
as compost toilets or sheds) as well as access to land.
o Recognition of communal growing and what it can deliver across departments (such as
planning, parks, sustainability, health and education & skills working parties), and ‘walking
the walk’ with….
o Economic or in-kind support
Projects
o Allowing diverse ends through growing at the project level as well as hosting a diverse range
of projects that cater to different aspirations and needs across the city. This creates room for
a range of beliefs & meanings to be attached to the garden.
o Allowing for distributed ‘ownership’ or buy-in of the project by local people so that the loss
of a project coordinator is not problematic.
o Easy access to projects.
o Fun!
o Having a range of funding streams often including service delivery, but not exclusively.
Service delivery for local institutions and through mutually beneficial and respectful
relationships rather than arms-length transactions is important.
o Clear governance processes in more formalised projects
Local intermediary organisation
o Linking and development of collective identity between projects, and wider engagement
with other community actors academics, businesses, council, land owners.
o Attend to local systemic barriers to growing projects; groups can deal with day to day issues
o The ability to distribute small grants can help in setting up and sustaining small local groups.
o Liaison between growing projects and the council
o Celebratory of local action on food
17
process to further unpack the range of meanings, desires and priorities that different stakeholders in the
city had for food growing in a civil society context.
MCM has a very open framework, enabling stakeholders interviewed to add their own visions/models to
evaluate, with their own criteria against which to evaluate them, and to determine the relative merits of
these criteria. It also allows respondents to note their uncertainty around evaluating possible futures. All
of this helps to understand where particular findings are robust across what can be in other respects
radically divergent interests. There is also much greater transparency about how conclusions are
conditional on certain assumptions and framings, leading to a comprehensive, detailed and balanced
picture of the complex diversity of views, interests and interpretations of community food growing, how it
might be valued and how it should and should not best be supported. In this way, the aim is to help enable
and illuminate wider political discourse, rather than substitute it with ostensibly technical analysis.
The following questions were asked using the MCM method:
1. For what ends is food growing across Brighton and Hove valued across a range of different
stakeholders?
2. What models for supporting this activity are valued by stakeholders and why? Where was
there divergence in views and where did consensus lie?
3. Under what conditions was there coalescence around a model for supporting food growing?
4. What implications does this have for considering resilience of food growing as a civil society
activity and its role in Sustainability transitions?
4.3.1 Methods & context
We conducted 14 MCM interviews with 15 stakeholders who had all had some form of engagement with
the Harvest programme over the years. The interviews focussed on ‘options’ or models for ‘taking work in
support of food growing, in Brighton and Hove, forward in the coming three years’. While some people
wore more than one hat (hence the numbers below adding up to more than 15), people from the following
groups were represented: Harvest partners (2); local third sector organisations (2); national third sector
organisations (1); City Council staff (3); the local Health Trust (2); the Food Partnership (1); growing projects
(4); a food growing business (1) and academics involved in the evaluation of the Harvest programme or the
Food For Life programme of which it was a part (2).
The MCM process involves thinking about how the different options (models for supporting food growing
in Brighton and Hove) perform against priorities for what respondents want them to achieve (like
environmental sustainability, or community cohesion for example), or elements of feasibility (like
economic feasibility for example), or principles or processes that you think are important for any support
model to embody (like democracy or partnership). We term these priorities, principles or processes
‘criteria’. Because the Food Partnership were keen to gain feedback across stakeholders on certain criteria,
three of these were ‘fixed’ so that all respondents scored options against these criteria. Interviewees were
then able to develop up to four further criteria during the MCM interview process. Fixed and developed
criteria are discussed in the results section below.
Five previously defined options were scored by all respondents, with the option for interviewees to develop
their own additional options if they felt something was missing from those already given.
Different options are scored (on a scale of the respondent’s choosing) in terms of how different options
for taking Harvest’s work forward perform against the criteria that stakeholders think are important.
Rather than asking respondents to give a single score, they can give a range because people may feel
uncertain about how an option performs. But also we are asking people about how they think particular
models will perform now and into the future and contexts can change. By having an ‘optimistic’ score (i.e.
top of the range) and a ‘pessimistic’ score (bottom of the range) you can account for situations changing
for the better or worse. This also enables degrees of uncertainty between different stakeholder
18
groupings to be captured in the interview process, an important part of how complex issues can be
differently approached by groups.
A final stage of the MCM process involved asking those interviewed how important they think the
different criteria are compared to each other that is, while all the criteria might be important to
consider, people will have different priorities and think some criteria are more important than others.
This involves distributing 100 ‘importance points’ between the criteria according to the respondent’s
priorities.
The interviews took between 1.5 and 3 hours, with an average time of 2 hours. A software package is
used to interactively capture the scoring process so that respondents can see how different options
perform against each other under each criteria and altogether. This means that the implications of the
final weighting stage of the process can also be visually captured and explored by respondents.
Interviews were also recorded and transcribed, giving a rich qualitative source of data alongside the
quantitative scoring process.
4.3.2 Options development
A 2x2 matrix was developed by the researcher on the basis of the immersive study already discussed. This
enabled development of an ‘envelope’ of options encompassing a variety of perspectives concerning the
key axes of difference in differentiating strategic approaches to fostering food growing in and around
Brighton and East Sussex. In this regard, two themes were particularly relevant for considering supporting
food growing at a city-scale:
A shift from a charitable basis for supporting growing (with the Local Food Fund, Making Local
Food Work and support from the BIG Lottery Fund) to developing enterprising models for
sustaining growing initiatives (such as through selling food or offering paid for services).
Bottom-up support for groups and the grassroots, versus top-down support. This is about the
flow of resources to these groups (money, capacity building, people and skills), about who
develops and defines visions or ends of activities (what are we doing this for?), about the degree
of coordination around grassroots activities and the degree to which decision making and ‘voice’
is centralised or diffuse. Bottom-up suggests a focus on the defining of means and ends by
grassroots community groups or businesses themselves. This may create quite a lot of
heterogeneity rather than uniformity, but this can be important. Top-down suggests a more
centralised determination of what is important (policy direction, vision, where money should go,
how support should be given and why) and a devolution then through implementation (such as
through tenders for service provision).
This yielded the four different ‘options’ shown below, with Harvest’s existing model also shown on the
diagram.
Figure 3: Proposed different options developed for the MCM exercise
Top-down
Bottom-up
Enterprise
Charity
Coordinated
markets
Local
entrepreneurialism
Top-down giving
Grassroots
benevolence
Harvest’s
model
19
In discussion with staff at the Food Partnership five options were developed overall. These were based on
‘top-down giving’, ‘grassroots benevolence’, a combined enterprise model called ‘markets’ which had
both top-down and bottom-up characteristics, a replication of the Harvest programme, and a ‘do
nothing’ option which saw the Food Partnership pulling out of supporting food growing in the city
altogether. Five rather than six options was considered optimal because of the time MCM interviews
take (between 1.5-3 hours), and because it was felt that strongly differentiating between two enterprise
models in such a way that interviewees could easily grasp might prove problematic.
These are the options that we asked everyone interviewed to appraise, with each one giving some detail
on activities, strategy work and funding:
HARVEST II: THIS OPTION REPLICATES THE EXISTING HARVEST PROGRAMME
The programme supports community gardens in a range of ways: through networking and training and
acting as a central point of contact for land and volunteers, and helping to manage and recruit the latter.
It supports new gardens to start, particularly on different land types, and runs one or two demonstration
spaces in the city to showcase and inspire. Food Partnership (FP) sources, manages & coordinates
funding, communications and administration. The FP works with the council and other institutions as
an interface with gardens, as well as working to influence local policy and practice regarding food
growing. Major grant funders would be approached as would smaller funders for match funding.
TOP-DOWN GIVING: THIS OPTION HAS THE PARTNERSHIP REDUCING ITS PROJECT SUPPORT ROLE
CONSIDERABLY, WITH MOST WORK BEING AT A LOCAL STRATEGIC LEVEL ONLY
Basic networking and support for community gardens by the Food Partnership e.g. online forum and
occasional meetings with email updates. Greater emphasis on referring local growing spaces to national
intermediary organisations/charities (growing, education, health etc) for information and advice. The
FP would encourage national organisations/charities to run workshops locally, where possible. Less
work by the FP on coordination and acting as a central point of contact than currently. No practical
gardens or activities on growing run by the FP. Funding would be sought through Esmee Fairbairn
Foundation for local policy and strategy work to support food growing and local food, with small grants
needed for the basic networking model.
GRASSROOTS BENEVOLENCE: THIS OPTION HAS THE FOOD PARTNERSHIP REDUCING ITS PROJECT
SUPPORT ROLE SLIGHTLY, AND AIMS TO STRENGTHEN EXISTING FOOD PROJECTS AND IMPROVE THEIR
ACCESSIBILITY TO NEW PEOPLE.
Demonstration gardens run by the FP in key locations to inspire & showcase. FP focuses outreach to
make community gardens & growing more accessible to (A) particular groups in society (such as people
with learning disabilities, older prople, the unemployed); (B) areas facing deprivation where less food
activity currently takes place. FP works to develop ‘hub gardens’ to act as a source of training, mentoring
& volunteer channelling to less formal gardens locally. These gardens become a ‘voice’ for gardens
generally & feedback to the FP with needs/concerns etc. The FP is a central point of contact for land and
volunteer enquiries and it coordinates and manages communications and administration. Continuation
of work on policy and practice at a strategic level, but with less resource and time than currently.
Funding approach a major grant funder and seek to secure match funding from local business sponsors
(or other grant providers if not possible). An annual allotment and garden festival fund-raises support
for hub-gardens & raises awareness of work gardens do in the city.
MARKETS: THIS OPTION IS ABOUT EXPLORING OPPORTUNITIES FOR BEING MORE ENTERPRISING AND
EARNING INCOME BOTH FOR THE FOOD PARTNERSHIP AND THE PROJECTS IT SUPPORTS.
The FP seeks to help build entrepreneurial capacity in gardens in two ways: (A) by enabling growing
projects/local farms to take advantage of opportunities to provide services ecotherapy, skills
development, training, corporate challenge days to local authorities, GP commissioning bodies,
businesses, schools, Housing Associations; and (B) by the sale of food at a range of scales depending on
the growing space to both local cafes/ day centres on a more ad-hoc basis, through to coordinating a
20
network of producers to sell their food to local markets (e.g. Open Market) /caterers /businesses. FP
will support network/interested parties to secure funding for processing facilities. The FP would charge
for capacity building albeit at low levels.
The FP works strategically to improve the market, e.g. working with GP commissioners, the council and
caterers, encouraging growing spaces to be seen as potential goods and service providers. As growing
and cooking are now on the national curriculum, the FP seeks to coordinate service provision by food
projects which earns incomes for both parties. Grant/ social enterprise funding kick starts the project,
but the Partnership aims to earn income by charging for its coordination & facilitation function over and
above fees charged by projects (eg to schools, council, caterers, etc). Funding sought for strategic work
from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Partnership aims to cross-subsidise basic support functions for
smaller gardens (online forum, basic networking) to other growing spaces, but focus is on service/food
provision.
PULL BACK: THIS OPTION REPRESENTS THE FOOD PARTNERSHIP PULLING OUT FROM ALL GROWING
PROMOTION WORK IN THE CITY.
With the current Big Lottery funding coming to an end the Partnership would cease all work on areas
involved in supporting food growing in the city. However, any activities undertaken separately e.g. by
gardens themselves, or by current partner organisations, would continue in line with their own
funding/remit/aims/visions. Please develop your own scenario as to what this would look like. In
particular: what activities would continue in the city? What activities would be lost?
4.3.3 Findings
Three factors (or ‘core criteria) were identified in advance by the research team and evaluated by all
respondents: ‘economic feasibility’; ‘narrowing inequalities’ and ‘suitability for the Food Partnership’.
However, these indicative criteria were not applied in a restrictive way, since both details of
interpretation and scope for additional criteria were open to respondents. Forty-one further ‘additional’
criteria were developed by interviewees and, where similar, were grouped into meta-themes (or ‘issues’)
by the author. These illustrate the range of factors of importance to respondents and are shown in table
2 below
7
. Perspective groups (types of stakeholder) are broadly represented in each meta-theme and
individual respondents were often represented in a range of themes, showing that food growing and
what it can achieve is broadly conceived of across the stakeholders interviewed.
Table 2: Additional criteria developed by respondents in the MCM exercise grouped into meta-themes or issue
groups.
Issue Group & explanation
Number of respondents with criteria in
this group & their perspective group
Food
How the options support food production and consumption in the shorter
term as well as the broader systemic development of a local food economy
9 (CS intermediary x 3, council x 2, project
coordinator x 1, academic x 2)
Community level benefits
Benefits of engaging in growing accruing at the community level including
connection to the community, a sense of belonging and capacity.
6 (academic x 1, council x 1, civil society
intermediary x 3, local statutory org x 1)
7
Here we focus on the issue groups that had three or more criteria included in them. Another issue group was
the potential for models to help generate incomes and therefore livelihoods. Individual criteria that did not fit
into any collective themes included: the degree to which creating a sustainable city (using the One Planet
Living Framework) is supported through this set of activities; the degree to which this set of activities supports
the modernisation of the council; the extent to which these activities promote mental and physical wellbeing
both at the individual and community levels (not included in community level benefits because these
respondents developed a criteria on community outcomes separately); the likely effectiveness of what this
option sets out to achieve.
21
Project level sustainability
How the options support the long-term sustainability of projects
themselves, beyond the immediate funding period.
6 (project coord x 2, council x 1, civil
society intermediary x 1, enterprise x 2)
Process-based criteria8
How the options perform against process-based rather than ends based
criteria.
5 (1 x academic/evaluator, 1 x
intermediary, 3 x project coordinator)
Personal change
The potential for different options to bring about changes at the personal
level and in relation to food itself, food growing and the natural world.
3 (academic x 1, project coordinator/
BHFP partner x 1, enterprise x 1)
Environmental sustainability
The relative environmental impact of the different options.
3 (project coordinator/ BHFP partner x 1,
CS intermediary x 2)
There are aspirations that food growing in Brighton and Hove delivers benefits on a range of fronts, with
outcomes operating at individual, community, city-wide and systems levels. So, as was found through
interviews with project and intermediary actors, rather than being about solely food or food growing, it is
instead an activity through which people aim to achieve a range of things both as individuals and across
groups of people. Thus, supporting this activity, and making it resilient, requires sensitivity to multiple
needs and the quality of diversity itself.
4.3.4 Food, community and project-sustainability outcomes
Setting aside the fixed criteria, we focus now on the three most common themes around which
stakeholders wanted to evaluate a food growing support programme: for two sets of ends - food itself
and for community-level benefits, and the means of project level sustainability. Through these potentially
contrasting desires we explore the politics of sustaining a civil society based activity.
The largest single issue group contained criteria relating to the promotion of food production and
consumption, and more broadly, food systems. However, the food related outcomes by which
respondents wished to assess the models differed slightly. For example, one respondent saw strategic
alliances as the key method through which more sustainable food systems could be achieved, while
another saw this as relating to the ability of the options evaluated to link issues across the food system.
Three respondents emphasised the long-term sustainability of food systems in the city, while a fourth
interpreted this a little more narrowly as relating to the development of a local food economy in
particular. Three respondents focussed more narrowly again on food production and consumption
volumes, rather than food systems per se.
Respondents who had developed food-related criteria tended to weight these with relatively more
importance than the other criteria too, meaning that they definitively saw this as the most important
influencing factor when evaluating how to support food growing in the city. It is interesting to note this
emphasis on food given that results from the earlier phase of fieldwork in which growing project
coordinators and members interviewed found that for many people using growing spaces, food is not a
primary motivation.
8
This included criteria called: ‘alternative bodies’ – the degree to which these options could be delivered by
other organisations; ‘city-wide and targeting balance’, referring to whether options allowed the Food
Partnership to work across the city while also targeting those most in need; ‘Coordination’ which reflected
how well the options were able to coordinate activities around food growing in the city; ‘effectiveness’, the
likely effectiveness of any option; ‘process and partnership’ which referred to the degree to which individuals
and organisations feel that there is an ownership and engagement in the activities outlined in the options; and
‘value for money’ which sought to determine an option’s value for money compared to the other ways the
money could be spent.
22
Figure 4: Weightings of the different issue groups by MCM respondents
Six respondents developed criteria that had community-level benefits as a strong component. This led to
options being evaluated against criteria of community involvement, engagement and capacity building.
The relative importance bestowed on community-level benefits, as shown by the weightings process, was
slightly lower than for food-based criteria.
Five respondents
9
also developed criteria relating to project level sustainability defined around how well
support programmes enabled projects to work beyond the end of the funding period and how support
programmes developed personal capacities to this end.
Despite the quite different nature of these three outcomes from a food growing support programme,
respondents nevertheless ranked the means by which they could be achieved with some similarity (see
Figure 5). In particular Top-Down Giving and Pull Back options were relatively unpopular. This response,
seen across the interviewees and across criteria more broadly, suggests that locally-based, capacity
building support for food growing in Brighton, as opposed to nationally based support (the default
position of pull back), is seen as necessary in order to realise the outcomes they valued irrespective of
whether that was about food, community, sustaining projects or all the other factors of interest. When
evaluating the options against local food consumption, one respondent said,
“Being supported by a national body might deliver much slower growth. From experience, there
are a lot of different barriers to be addressed - legal, land ownership, water access, access to the
land, seeking funding, consultation. They are easier to deal with at a local level. I don’t see benefit
of support of a national body. I don't think it would be as effective” C1.
A respondent from the Food Partnership noted that,
Community projects don't speak the same language that policy makers speak” IO6
While a project coordinator said,
“Most people who are interested in community food growing are not those who are interested in
talking to the council” G2
However, Top Down Giving did score relatively better when respondents were thinking about project
level sustainability, with much greater levels of overlap in scores between all the options, bar pull back.
This was a reflection of the importance respondents laid on local policy work, but also how different
9
A sixth intermediary organisation respondent also developed a criteria to evaluate how support options
helped food growing to continue in the city beyond the end of any funded programme. As criteria need to go
into exclusive issue-groups, and this was clearly linked to a particular end, this was put into the ‘food’ group
and not the ‘sustainable projects’ group.
23
options held different benefits in terms of what was seen as important for sustaining growing projects.
One respondent scoring Top Down Giving against his criteria ‘longer term sustainability’ summed this up
well,
“I think this is more sustainable because it is different…if you do your policy work well you change
what the council does and that is bulk of what you are going to be doing to achieve this. But it is
still dependent on external grants which is always going to be a problem around this theme of
food. And, selling it just on their staff and their operation in Brightelm, is not as attractive as doing
it in partnership” G3.
Respondents were aware that a new programme of support had to be ‘different’ to Harvest because
funders are unwilling to repeat fund. Instead initiatives need to be ‘innovative’ or take a different angle.
Top down giving did tackle the policy angle which has longer-term legacy in supporting growing, but it
didn’t look to help diversify funding streams (as markets does) and it also did not work in partnership
with growing projects (as Harvest, GBen and Markets does). Funders like to see programmes delivered
through partnerships, as was shown in the semi-structured interviews undertaken with funders.
However, returning to food growing and community level benefits specifically, there was divergence in
how the two models of local support were scored (Figure 5 below). Those respondents valuing food
growing for its community level benefits scored markets significantly
10
lower than the Grassroots
Benevolence and Harvest II models and with similar levels of certainty. While two of the six respondents
saw markets as having potential, but being risky, two others saw markets as taking focus away from
community outcomes and towards supply chains and entrepreneurial capacity; in other words the two
were not seen by them as compatible. For those that saw risk in markets it was in the form of projects
not realising their aims by seeking to monetise their activities, or because charging for services could
exclude some people. However, one respondent noted that were a markets model pursued a certain
framing of community level outcomes could be realised under particular conditions,
if your outcome is that more people buy locally, either through farmers markets or actually at a
larger scale through catering and schools, buying through local providers might lead to wider
community cohesion at the city or Sussex-wide scale” IO7
When food and food systems was the outcome against which models were being scored, markets did
comparatively better, this was on account of it being seen as more food supply chain and economy
focussed by two respondents. Another two saw it as a model that is able to make links first between
different agendas in the food system such as the food economy and skills, second by linking to different
institutions such as schools and GPs, and thirdly between producers and consumers. In fact linking was
generally seen as critical in helping to develop food systems, including at the growing project level and
between projects and the council.
If people are going to buy from Tesco’s, we need to create alternatives so they buy from us. Not
necessarily compete 100% financially on that, but create that product…This is about increasing
access from unusual routes - e.g. via the GP and depression/stress, where you wouldn't have
thought about going to a garden. Different opportunities are explored like schools thinking about
integrating growing, cooking & curriculum…Mutually beneficial and supportive connections are
enabled…housing officers and job centres opening this up to people. So much more connected.
The Offshoots of that - beyond food to creating value-added products and services that come from
that” G2
Interestingly this respondent saw service based links, with GPs and schools, as as important as links
focussed around food as an outcome. She clearly saw all these actors having an important part to play in
developing Sustainable food systems and not in tension with each other.
10
Significance is not used here in a statistical sense, but denotes the lack of overlap in mean scores (orange
bars) between the markets option and the Harvest II and Grassroots Benevolence models.
24
A: Overall options rankings
B: Options ranked for community level benefits
C: Options ranked for food systems
D: Project level sustainability rankings
Figure 5: MCM options ranked altogether (A) and then against three further issues (B-D)
However, the markets option was scored with much greater uncertainty generally, including with regards
its ability to contribute to the development of a local food system. In other words, individual respondents
tended to give relatively higher ranges when scoring markets they were not as certain as to how this
approach would perform compared with other approaches. The differences between respondent’s scores
(ambiguity) for markets was also slightly higher than for other options, showing variation across
respondents in how well a market-based model was judged to achieve the outcome in question.
25
Figure 6: Ratio uncertainty of all options by all respondents
A number of factors contributed to uncertainty including the view that markets themselves are volatile
and require business acumen to negotiate which not all grassroots groups have (or desire). There was
also concern about the overall business model of this approach (i.e. whether cross-subsidisation could
work or that there would be sufficient demand, at the necessary prices, for services offered by gardens).
The Food Partnership’s knowledge of being able to deliver on a market based approach to supporting
food growing was also questioned. It is also likely that variation in how markets was scored was related
to the different experiences that respondents have with regards procuring services or selling food and
services. It represents perhaps the largest move away from more traditional funding models with which
respondents would be more familiar.
Altogether we cannot explain the difference between community and food outcomes as being driven by
the different perspective groups interviewed. In fact, three respondents (intermediary x 2,
academic/evaluator x 1) chose both food and community outcomes for criteria, confirming the view that
there is a strong desire to see food growing achieve multiple, and sometimes contrasting outcomes.
However, we did find greater support for markets compared to Harvest II in particular by project
coordinators and intermediary organisation respondents, perhaps a result of the sensitivity of these
groups to the changing nature of civil society funding. Council members on the other hand ranked
markets relatively lower than Harvest and GBen, citing potential exclusion for those most in need,
questioning whether the Food Partnership had the ‘hard-nosed commercialism’ needed to see this
through successfully particularly at a time of economic recession, and highlighting the difficulty of making
growing projects commercially viable.
4.3.5 Ideal model
Respondents were asked whether there was an ‘ideal’ model that could be developed from amongst the
options presented. In general people felt that much of the grassroots benevolence model, with the
strategic strength of Harvest’s work with the council and on policy, and parts of the markets model (i.e.
diversifying income streams), would make an ‘ideal’ model for supporting food growing as an activity and
policy issue in the city. This had the following characteristics that respondents favoured: there was more
emphasis on targeting of harder to reach groups, capacity building at the grassroots and greater
integration of food growing with the economy; it diversifies income streams which is more resilient over
the longer term; it maintains the multi-level approach of the Food Partnership’s support for food
growing, enabling for strategic engagement and representation and linking of the grassroots and the
council. This embeds change for the longer-term and maintains a key element of the Food Partnership’s
work around engagement.
4.3.6 Implications for Grassroots Civil Society and Transitions
This exercise appraised a number of different support programmes for food growing in Brighton and
Hove, opening up the process to the values of the appraisers. These values were diverse, as shown by the
breadth of the 41 appraisal criteria, emphasising the critical characteristic of diversity associated with
food growing (and perhaps much of grassroots civil society).
26
However, when looking at the means of sustaining irrespective of the ends (for example, evaluating
models against their potential to support project level sustainability), options were scored differently
compared with when you have a desired output from the activity themselves scored differently
depending on the ends. Community-level benefits were seen to be reduced through models that had the
potential to see positive food-system outcomes. If you want to see a particular outcome then, some
means of sustaining and ways this is conducted (i.e. policy work to support communities or to support a
local food economy) are more favoured than others. The results of this MCM exercise emphasise the
political nature of sustaining different stakeholders have different desires for what this activity achieves
and this is reflected in how they want to see it supported.
This suggests that within and across growing projects, and for the Food Partnership, multiple outcomes
have to be balanced, particularly around food, community and social justice goals. But despite the broad
range of outcomes stakeholder’s desired, there was still general consensus on key elements in any model
to take growing forward in Brighton and Hove that sought to meet multiple goals rather than focussing
narrowly. First, local organisations are highly valued. In particular their linking work (across elements of
food system) and the creation of a collective identity, attention to both structure and agency based
elements of supporting the grassroots, local knowledge and particularities. Second, a dual approach of
strategic engagement of stakeholders and particularly the council, coupled with grassroots capacity
building was desired. Third, multiple income streams was seen as important to explore, but a wholesale
move towards market-dynamics as described in our markets option risked negative outcomes on some
fronts.
5. Discussion of the SLRG resilience in civil society project
This research has sought to understand how communal forms of food growing persist, and what the
implications of the processes of sustaining them are for how communal growing can challenge
unSustainable elements of existing food systems. The project began with the assumption that resilience
the quality needed for persistence is not value-free. It is, in fact, deeply political: resilience of what,
for what ends and how? All have implications for how an activity reproduces itself over time. In other
words, being resilient cannot be unpacked from particular developmental pathways. It is a means
through which the direction of travel is enacted. This may appear different to much existing thinking on
resilience, simply in terms of withstanding ‘shocks and stresses’ and maintaining ‘structure and function’
(Berkes, Colding et al. 2003). Instead we contend that grassroots civil society activities have different
functions for different participants in the system, and the subtleties of structure through which activity is
enabled can either support these diverse functions or curtail them in particular ways. Considering longer
term dynamics, irreversibly changing circumstances, adaptation and evolutionary change as well as
diverse perspectives on what these entail - requires a more nuanced view.
In line with other research on communal growing (Lawson 2005; Draper and Freedman 2010; Guitart,
Pickering et al. 2012), we found that people and organisations involved in growing food communally do
indeed have a wide range of ends to which they see this activity as a means. Respondents in the MCM
exercise also evaluated potential support programmes with these ends in mind, coming up with 41
different criteria. These could be understood as both ‘conforming’ to status-quo ways of ‘doing life’ as
well as more radically critical ways of ‘challenging’ these. The very high level of interpretive and practice-
based flexibility associated with communal food growing, and its ‘below-the-radar’ informal/semi-formal
culture means that there is the potential for this activity to be co-opted down pathways that neither
challenge status-quo food systems, nor act as building blocks for alternatives. While at the same time,
solely understanding this activity as being about ‘food’ or ‘the environment’ would exclude the very
broad range of reasons why people do it (and the broad range of types of people who do it). In turn this
would lead to much lower participation rates. Consequently food would be occluded as a ‘way in’ for
people to engage with wider Sustainability issues our relationship to nature, our diets, waste, how we
produce and consume food and broader environmental issues which has been documented to arise
27
through growing
11
(SPAN Partnership 2008; Draper and Freedman 2010; Guitart, Pickering et al. 2012)
and was self-reported by respondents in this study.
This suggests the need to support communal growing activities in and of themselves, as well as enabling
their role in promoting particular visions of Sustainability. Having documented specific strategies arising
in relation to the qualities of stability, durability, robustness and resilience (see also White and Stirling
2013) we can point to a small number of strategies that offer the prospect of simultaneously promoting a
range of divergent dynamic properties. Four of these ‘multivalent’ strategies are shown in Figure 7. We
outline each of these below and briefly discuss some of the implications for evaluating civil society
projects.
FIGURE 7: multivalent strategies enabling both sustaining and transforming qualities of communal food
growing
Diversity came through from the fieldwork as a key property to be encouraged and enhanced in line
with much research on resilience in other settings(Jones, Qiu et al. ; Gunderson 2003; Ostrom 2005; Folke
2006; Walker and Salt 2006). First there is the diversity in understandings and motivations of communal
growing. This applies equally at the levels of projects, Brighton city as a whole and with respect to social
and political aims more generally. Here the maintenance of a large overall population of volunteers,
including many disparate circumstances and perspectives, is important in keeping a particular growing
space productive and vibrant. By allowing people to come and grow for their own reasons, a specific
project can remain more open to a wider public than would otherwise be the case. And at the level of the
city, Brighton and Hove has over 80 different growing initiatives in the city. Some of these have a strong
community theme, allowing different people to grow in a space according to their own ends. But others
are funded to help achieve particular outcomes, like social inclusion, mental wellbeing or skills
development. Still other projects have a specifically environmental focus. But even those that don’t use
strict organic production practices, did nonetheless promote other Sustainable practices like
environmentally sensitive growing techniques, composting, healthier eating and the broadening of
cooking skills. As Lawson notes, “it takes many people to nurture a garden and many types of garden to
nurture individuals and community” (Lawson 2005, p.4).
11
While there a number of qualitative studies on the impacts of community food growing, quantitative studies
are small in number and generally not rigorous. Systematic and quantitative research has been widely
recognised as needed ACGA (2009). "A Case for a Community Greening Research Agenda." Community
Greening Review 13: American Community Gardening Association.
See also: http://www.ecehh.org/research-projects/community-gardening-review/
28
So, fostering these kinds of diversity within and across projects has helped sustain a strong volunteer
base for growing in the city towards a wide range of outcomes. Viewed equally at personal, project and
system levels, some of these initiatives have more positive implications than others for any given vision
of Sustainability. But sustaining the diversity itself, is a means to support the varied dimensions of and
perspectives on Sustainability. In this regard, it is interesting that in writing of the importance of
wisdom in the sustaining of cultural virtues essential to Sustainability, Hulme characterises this as being
about the maintaining of ‘balance’ in “how to weigh competing interests and strategies across the
temporal, the narcissistic and the geographical dimensions of living (Hulme 2014, p.7). This resonates
well with how a strategy of promoting diversity within and across projects, enables activities that are
both sustaining and transforming in the senses discussed at the beginning of this report. Fostering
diversity is a multivalent strategy that can equally promote dynamics on the back (sustaining) and front
(disrupting) faces of the array of dynamics summarised in Figure 7.
Also in this vein, the diversifying of funding streams away from 100% charitable support was also seen as
important for sustaining particular projects. This offers a potential route towards developing alternative
food systems. However, this needs to be approached in a balanced way. Some projects are quite simply
not suited to developing monetised exchange relations whether around food or any other service
delivery that can be done through growing spaces. Moving towards greater contractual relationships can
also change relationships in both positive and negative ways long-term mutually productive and evenly
negotiated relationships can be very positive for projects who want secure income and a valued place in
the community. However, competitive relations can also develop at the cost of trust when different
projects compete to offer the same services as was highlighted by a research respondent, and has been
noted in other research on civil society (Rees, Mullins et al. 2012). In other projects, too much emphasis
on delivering contractual obligations can exclude other ends that are important for maintaining volunteer
numbers, change project missions, or stress project coordinators and dent a fun atmosphere again a
concern expressed by other civil society actors (Alcock and Kendall 2010; MacMillan 2010)
Locally-run intermediary organisations have been critical to the sustaining and growth of communal food
growing in Brighton and Hove. The range and number of projects in the city is strongly linked to the
support received through the Harvest programme run from the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership
(BHFP). The programme has enabled the development of a ‘local ecology’ of projects and intermediary
organisations. Not only has this supported diversity. It has also meant that multiple aims can be achieved
across the network, in a way that reduces conflicts, competition and diminishing returns. Furthermore, by
connecting projects, participants and coordinators have developed a greater sense of ‘being part of
something bigger’, which can help to alleviate feelings of isolation within projects and help participants
feel they are making a difference. The BHFP sustains projects by helping to manage stresses and tackling
structural barriers to growing. But it is also able to link communal growing with a wider push towards
more Sustainable food systems in the city addressing broader goals around health, wellbeing and
environment. This is managed in part through the flexible structure and multiple remits of BHFP. And
here again we see a key property in the ability to take both ‘insider’ roles in sustaining existing practices,
whilst also acting as an ‘outsider’ in pushing for transformation. The MCM interviews confirmed the
importance to participants of having a local supporting organisation that works over extended periods
both at the grassroots level and with a more general advocacy role. Interestingly, this dual role was
supported irrespective of the sometimes divergent ends to which food growing was seen as a means.
Another ‘multivalent’ quality arising in most interviews with project participants was the propensity of
projects to engender ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyment’. This was expressed in many different ways, including related
but more serious sentiments like the fostering of a sense of wellbeing or the experience of a growing
space as a ‘sanctuary’. Either way, these qualities are not so much ‘outcomes’ of communal growing (as a
set of instrumental practices), as they are collectively shared and relational ‘virtues’ that are intrinsic to
particular ways of being in these activities. They are multivalent, because they contribute to processes of
sustaining communal growing in it various forms, as well as collective efforts to transform the social and
political environments in which these are undertaken.
29
The challenge of how to foster fun in collective action was not a topic of this research. It cannot be
prescriptively directed; you just know it when you see it. But it is clear from this research that ‘having fun
is what brings people back to a place and a group, so it is evidently central to the sustaining of communal
growing. Fun is also a relational quality that is good in and of itself (when achieved without harm to
others). In being so, it extends beyond the scope of consequentialist understandings that pervade so
much evaluative practice in this field. Again, there is a strong resonance with the emphasis placed by
Hulme on the importance of non-consequentialist virtues in the achieving of Sustainability (Hulme, 2014).
So there may arise here important cautionary implications for the consequentialist approaches to funding
and evaluation and that dominate funding and infrastructure or support of so much third sector activity.
The point here is not that ‘fun’ should be an explicit evaluative criterion – it is a relational quality
experienced in a process, rather than an outcome that can be measured. But the importance of such
collective and relational virtues should not be forgotten equally in trying to undertake a particular
project or in contemplating a diverse array of projects. This is particularly salient given concerns about
the engaging of small scale civil society activities in government policy delivery (HM Government 2010;
McCabe 2010), “people usually choose to participate in community activities when they find them
optional, small scale, convivial and life-enhancing, but many of the Government’s plans for supporting
civil society are conditional, formalised, complicated and hard graft” (Coote 2010).
Finally, academics are also a potential means through which communal food growing can be sustained as
well as promoting Sustainability. Evidence for the outcomes of food growing is critical in gaining funding
for projects and can also be helpful in substantiating a project’s feeling of impact. While projects can (and
should to a degree) monitor their own impacts, this can be time-consuming and bureaucratic, or narrowly
focussed on outcomes arising in relation to specific funding. Academics have a role to play in helping
document direct and wider project or network impacts. Crucially we need to support the wider remit of
what counts as impact beyond the project and into city-wide or system impacts, including through
engaging on debate and practice around ‘social value’ (Arvidson and Kara 2013). The flexible position of
academics means that they can also support both ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ perspectives: supporting
sustaining and advocating for change.
We finish with a brief discussion of evaluation in light of these multivalent strategies. This is of pertinence
because evaluations are “political in that they are always set in contexts where we find ‘the promotion of
different values and political stances’(Greene, 1994:531) and the choice of evaluation approach carry [sic]
political or normative implications” (Arvidson and Kara 2013, p.5). Arvidson et al go on to argue that
evaluations are therefore productive of values, rather than just appraising particular values-in-action
through civil society activities. Our concern here is in light of the importance of diversity we have found in
the resilience of communal growing as an activity, as highlighted by interviews and the MCM exercise. As
Lawson, a researcher who has extensively documented community growing in America, comments, “the
upside of [diversity] is that it allows programs to draw on many interests and resources. The down
side is that the high ideals associated with gardening rarely can be documented or verified. The
tendency to layer multiple agendas on gardens makes achievable objectives difficult to ascertain,
much less prove to a sceptical land developer or policy maker”(Lawson 2005, p.11). Trends towards
transactional, service-delivery based forms of income generation coupled with a need to show impacts in
evaluation may lead to an unhelpful degree of specialisation and competition.
Specialisation and competition may risk what Edwards highlights as a ‘complex and fragile ecosystem’,
where “civil society gains strength when grassroots groups, non-profit intermediaries and membership
associations are linked together in ways that promote collective goals, cross-society coalitions, mutual
accountability and shared reflection” (Edwards 2004, p.32). In this way, overly narrow and instrumental
forms of evaluation may threaten the more open ended, plural, diverse and systemic activities of civil
society. These were highlighted by the multiple aims and potential benefits raised in the MCM exercise,
spanning personal, community, city-wide and system-level outcomes as well as more intrinsic virtues
such as ‘having fun’ discussed above. This is a much broader canvas than typically frames any
organisational evaluation. As one respondent noted,
30
“The citywide approach is very important... If anything I would say that's the crunch. [It’s]
difficult to fund, because it’s not seen as, you know, what is the product of that? ”
In the case of the Brighton Harvest Programme, funded as a city-wide initiative by the Big Lottery and
match funders, this has been accounted for in its evaluation. But where projects are considered on a
more individual basis, or a place or a ‘sector’ has projects funded by multiple funders, this critical
heterogeneity and dynamism may too easily be missed.
6. Implications for policy
Communal food growing is a great ‘way in’ for people to engage more actively around issues of food,
health, waste, community and environment. Communal food growing practices can yield multiple
positive outcomes in all these respects, as well as others arising from the diversity and scope of
meanings attached to growing activities. For instance, community benefits can arise through volunteer
involvement and mixing between people as positive qualities in themselves. Broadly conceived, there
is also intrinsic value in enabling people to exercise their own agency in shaping communal activity for
their own ends. Central Government, local government and funders such as the Big Lottery should resist
concentration, standardisation and specialisation and continue to support food growing in ways that
are open to these diverse meanings, virtues and outcomes.
Support of food growing by local authorities needs to be practical (planning guidance for example) and
material (for example enabling demonstration gardens in parks) as well as vocal. Cross-departmental
appreciation for the multiple virtues and outcomes that food growing can achieve is important so that
civil society organisations do not need to expend precious energies in continually having existentially to
‘make the case’.
Statutory organisations and other third sector service providers must not treat community gardens as
places to leave high dependence individuals without support workers. A locally negotiated (and perhaps
paid for), relationship should be encouraged.
This research found that service provision by growing spaces can be an important income diversification
strategy and lead to more community engagement, as long as this is locally initiated (i.e. by the growing
space or a statutory organisation like a school), and mutually agreed, reciprocally beneficial and evenly
funded. This echoes other research findings that voluntary organisation-led partnerships based on trust
rather than externally mandated partnerships were more effective (Rees, Mullins et al. 2012).
Intermediary organisations working at a local scale but with a broad remit, can play a crucial role in
sustaining communal growing. Yet in an increasingly marketised third sector, there may be pressures
for specialisation to achieve economies of scale and associated cost savings. So, government and
funding organisations (and the national policies under which these work), need to be supportive of
intermediary organisations that play multiple roles. Rather than pushing exclusively for specialisation
(for example in service delivery), intermediary organisations in this present study engaged in a variety
of ways linking support of a diversity of projects with policy and wider grassroots work. The challenge
here is whether funders, local and central government can effectively appreciate and value the crucial
economies of scope, without reducing these to monetary measures alone?
A further crucial quality to foster in intermediary organisations is the capacity meaningfully to challenge
the status quo. Under present funding practises, there is a danger that organisations charged with
managing the externalities of the current unSustainable system are able to sustain themselves only at
the cost of aligning with these very systems at the deeper levels of their business models. If policy
making aiming at transforming existing unSustainable systems is to benefit from creative and critical
thinking and debate, as well as concrete experimentation with challenging alternative systems, then
funding and support practices need to recognise these wider benefits more explicitly.
31
A similar lesson applies to evaluation. The heterogeneity, interconnectedness and social ambiguity of
many initiatives, mean that positive outcomes from even the smallest of individual projects may extend
well beyond the remits of any single supporting programme. And some of the most important benefits
are not associated with tangible outcomes or ‘impacts’, but rather take the form of crucial ongoing
relational ‘virtues’. Indeed, this intractable (often invisible) diversity can itself be a crucially positive
‘community glue’. So evaluation is best undertaken in a more interactive way, enabling the highlighting
of participants’ own diverse priorities and understandings and appraising interlinked sets of initiatives
at a collective ‘eco ecosystem’ level, rather than narrowly on a project-by-project basis.
32
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Linking environmental sustainability with poverty reduction and social justice, and making science and technology work for the poor, have become central practical, political and moral challenges of our times. These must be met in a world of rapid, interconnected change in environments, societies and economies, and globalised, fragmented governance arrangements. Yet despite growing international attention and investment, policy attempts often fail. Why is this, and what can be done about it? How might we understand and address emergent threats from epidemic disease, or the challenges of water scarcity in dryland India? In the context of climate change, how might seed systems help African farmers meet their needs, and how might appropriate energy strategies be developed? This book lays out a new 'pathways approach' to address sustainability challenges such as these in today's dynamic world. Through an appreciation of dynamics, complexity, uncertainty, differing narratives and the values-based aims of sustainability, the pathways approach allows us to see how some approaches are dominant, even though they do not produce the desired results, and how to create successful alternative 'pathways' of responding to the challenges we face. As well as offering new ways of thinking about sustainability, the book also suggests a series of practical ways forward - in tools and methods, forms of political engagement, and styles of knowledge-making and communication. Throughout the book, the practicalities of the pathways approach are illustrated using four case studies: water in dryland India, agricultural seeds in Africa, responses to epidemic disease and energy systems/climate change. Published in association with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). © M. Leach, I. Scoones and A. Stirling, 2010. All rights reserved.