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Must Try Harder! (Earth in Common’s Report on Leith Links Community Council Hustings)


Candidates were questioned by Earth in Common via Leith Links Community Councillor Michael Trail. Lorna Slater, Co-Leader of the Greens and candidate for Edinburgh North and Leith, said that she suspects we (Earth-in-Commoners) are radicals. Coming from the Greens, we take that to be a badge of honour…

We asked:

1. What do candidates think of the ability of the food system to have cross-cutting solutions for local communities?

2. Why subsidies for sheep, and not farming subsidies for fruit and vegetables?

Significant contributions to solving the biodiversity crisis (and other problems) are being advanced in cities

The Greens: missing a trick

In response, Ms Slater spoke about agricultural and food policy which can help tackle climate change and the nature emergency, and mentioned the move to focus resources into rural areas. However, this should not be at the expense of what has been achieved in cities…

We point out that the Greens’ very own brainchild, the Climate Challenge Fund, has not yet been renewed, casting many city projects adrift. This fund has made farming in cities possible across all of Scotland, and the withdrawal of this support would be a major mistake.

We passionately share Lorna’s view that agricultural reform can make a huge positive impact on nature and climate, but when she spoke it sounded as though it was something happening entirely outside of the city – a rural matter – yet it is important to remember that a significant contribution to solving the biodiversity crisis (and other problems) is advancing in cities.

If you require evidence, look no further than our very own survey, which found that:

'an urban community growing area can be a rich haven of agrobiodiversity, supporting agroecological production as well as [offering] other benefits to growers, to the community and to overall biodiversity'

Hodgkin T. (2020), Review of Croft Diversity

This is a phenomenal report that we could not be prouder of!

Leith Croft is a rich haven of agrodiversity

The Food and Farming Bill from the Greens is dearly welcomed. It’s nearly as radical as ours would be. Of course we agree that we need to put more money into rural farms to tackle the nature emergency and halt the decline in natural world. However, we’d expect you to be calling for quadrupling the pot of money available, rather than what appears to be a good old-fashioned robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul or, in this case, robbing-city-to-support-rural.

Furthermore, city work in this area is inextricably linked to rural food producers. It is not some detached matter. While we are creating city jobs growing food, we are also aligning ourselves with ethical rural producers in the wider region, providing them with an important retail outlet outside of the supermarket monopoly. We cannot grow everything we wish to provide to the local residents ourselves, so we buy in others’ produce. We are not competing with them, but helping them grow the market for sustainable and healthy food.

Working together on the land is a great way to build relationships and strengthen communities

Patchwork farms across cities are vital, not simply to feed the nation but also to raise city morale, to forge community, to quench the boredom and tackle the isolation that contribute to a sense of lack of purpose, depression and addiction. Yes, if you join the dots, you can see that people in the city are bored to tears by the meaningless consumption foisted upon them in our consumerist neoliberal society. We provide jobs with meaning and purpose, which in turn generate community pride.

In short, community-based urban agriculture offers cross-cutting solutions to both environmental and social problems, and its power has been overlooked long enough. Pandemic recovery has got to be green, both in the city and in rural Scotland.

Labour: refreshing!

Labour’s candidate. Katrina Faccenda, spoke eloquently on the subject. She has obviously been paying attention and was well versed. How refreshing it is to hear a politician that understands these issues!

Scots (and everyone) should have a right to healthy and nutritious food

Katrina spoke about the need for more community land being offered up for food-growing. This is fantastic and desperately needed, particularly in Edinburgh, which has been slower to respond to community need than Glasgow. She spoke about the Right to Food – a Bill going through Parliament with the intention of having the right to (appropriate) food enshrined in Scots Law. It is insane, though – isn’t it? – that 21st-century Scotland, a supposedly developed country, is still a society that all but prevents many from accessing the one thing we all need (after air and water) to keep us alive. It’s like a sick joke (pun intended) when you think about it for long enough: food is a giver of life and many doctors would agree that healthy food is the best medicine. What does it say about our civilisation that many are denied it?

Whilst the Highland and Lowland clearances (and the ‘enclosures’ south of the border) are long gone, they were no joke. History books tell their shocking stories: of the ruthless and brutal past when people were cleared from the land they had lived on for generations (because the land’s ‘owners’ – a concept we challenge, being the radicals we are – could make more money from sheep) and denied the right to grow and share their own food. This essentially created the landless and impoverished city dwellers many of us still are – initially a handy labour force for unscrupulous factory owners to exploit. These barriers to food were created out of greed, for economic plunder: those who control the land control the profits.

This leads to the closely related topic of the impact of speculation on the value of land, also a huge issue, and one which contributes in no small degree to the ridiculous cost of housing and the fact that there is therefore ever-downward pressure on the price of food, much of which is produced ‘cheaply’ because the massive impacts of production methods on the biosphere are discounted (‘externalities’, in economic jargon). For an excellent and very succinct introduction to these issues (a ‘one-pager’), see Colin Tudge’s ‘Fenced In’, published in the January/February 2021 issue of Resurgence & Ecologist, our favourite reading!

Land and food growing for communities!

The industrial revolution may have seen some of us claw our way out of desperate poverty and gain some distance from the slums of the past, but all is not well. Food is life-giving and land is vital to food production. Cutting people off from the very thing that underpins life and health is not OK! (*Stamps foot vigorously.* If stating this makes us ‘radicals’, more radical than the Greens, I’ll certainly take this label!)

The above could also be stated more positively: radical food system reform is potentially one of the most effective ways to create a more socially just society.

Returning to what Labour’s representative said, Katrina mentioned the inefficiency of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the bizarre nature of speaking about farming whilst at a hustings for the very built-up Edinburgh Northern and Leith, suggesting that this topic would be found more common in a hustings surrounded by big food-producing rural farms. In many ways, that was a major confirmation of the success of our work, it is testament to the fact that we are indeed bringing rural food-producing lifestyles into the city – mission at least partly achieved – and questioning the CAP is more relevant to us than you might think…

…Let us remind you all of the initial question that was posed to candidates: ‘Why do we continue to subsidise sheep farming and provide zero subsidy for fruit and vegetables growers?’ The very question we are asking ourselves down on Leith Community Croft right now, hot on the lips of our team, is: ‘Can we make a living out of growing veg?’

We all know the answer to this question: ‘NO! Fruit and vegetables still need to be subsidised.’ Would farm subsidies for city-growing be bizarre or too radical?

…Back to the notion of cross-cutting solutions, which, disappointingly, none of the candidates mentioned. We produced about 600 kg of pesticide- and herbicide-free produce from our small market garden last year (and we estimate our 120-odd ‘Crofters’ grew several times as much, to share with their families and friends), but is the quantity of food produced the only important criterion? Absolutely not. We saw approximately a hundred volunteers getting involved in various aspects of the market garden (and our related emergency feeding scheme in the early days of lockdown). Their effort was tremendous: turning up at 6 a.m. to harvest for the Market on the Croft on Sunday – man, did we feel we had arrived! The sense of pride in our team was phenomenal to witness – the feeling that somehow we were making a difference, that we were warriors for social justice!

Cross-cutting solutions: growing food and making it accessible, providing volunteer opportunities, climate education

The community was and is empowered, connected, alive… The biodiverse Croft is for many a beating heart in Leith, and everyone who goes there knows it, loves it, cherishes it. The market garden there is rich in education, steeped in old skills and crafts, knowledge that has been lost for most city slickers. Food is more than nourishment for our bodies. It can bring community together; it is destroying isolation and loneliness for so many. It also provides a magical environment where children can have fun, learn and thrive.

So, when people talk about ‘subsidies’, should realise:

  1. Much of the food we eat is already subsidised, by us not charging agro-industrial producers for the considerable damage they do to the biosphere, to which we all belong.

  2. ‘Subsidising’ urban agriculture is absolutely fair payment for the prevention and effective treatment of health, societal and environmental ills, ills which can cost far more to deal with down the line, and many of which cannot be entirely remedied once the damage has been done

In other words, to effectively tackle our problems, and even save money, we should jettison the ‘silo approach’ enshrined in much governance: separate budgets for the judicial system, the healthcare system, the education system, parks and recreation, etc. Have a look at Greenspace Scotland’s work on Social Return on Investment (SROI) to understand this better.

The SNP: kudos… at least for mentioning the elephant!

Ben Macpherson… Someone might want to tell him we’ve rebranded and are no longer called Crops in Pots, though I suspect this change will take a while to sink into the minds of many, so it was a forgivable error. Those who don’t know about this already, it might be worth having a peek at our new website to familiarise yourself on our work: Earth in Common is our new name. You can read more on why we changed our name here.

Ben mentioned our ‘remarkable project’. That is, though, all he had to say on the matter. I suspect he is a very busy man, but we think it would be worth his while paying attention, as there are so many really good things happening in his constituency of which he can be proud… such as the amazingly brilliant news that we were recently accepted to present our work in Leith (setting up a model urban croft for wider replication) to a conference in Brussels this summer (well, actually it will be online). Gaining recognition for our work in Brussels emboldens us.

By contrast, down in Leith it can sometimes feel like pulling teeth to get any of our elected representatives to properly notice our work. We find this amusing, mostly. However, while locally our work is relatively poorly acknowledged, at the national level we do have significant recognition. There’s no more concrete evidence of this than the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund award recently bestowed on our project for renovating our pavilion and turning it into the multifunctional core of a thriving urban croft.

I may have been a bit hard on Ben regarding his knowledge of us, but huge kudos to him for mentioning the elephant in the room with regards to the food system, that being Brexit and its ever-increasing disastrousness with regard to trade, food security and even leaving the very flawed CAP. But again, like most of the other candidates, he talked as though these issues are far removed from our city life. Well, the last time I checked, Leithers do eat food, the food system isn’t some peripheral issue. It is something that people living in the city must suffer: food banks are on the increase, food poverty levels are soaring after the onset of the pandemic.

I hear you’re a radical now, Earth in Common. Should we all be radicals now?

The underlying drivers of projects like ours are inequality and injustice. They are a cry for help, and the need for them underlines all that is wrong in society. Why are our fellow Leithers needing to visit food banks? May our project always stand against such injustice, and may our elected officials begin to understand its importance, and join us, as unashamed and outspoken radicals.


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