Here at Explore Kent we try as much as possible to get out there and connect with the natural spaces our county has to offer.
So last week the Explore Kent Team visited Communigrow, an educational allotment charity based in the East Malling/Ditton area. They provide field sessions for schools, groups and individuals, growing a wide range of vegetables and herbs sustainably and without pesticides. This expands habitats for conservation and environmental study. Their fresh produce is distributed through a veg box scheme and sold to local farm shops, markets and cafes/pubs. Since the founding of the charity in 2014, Communigrow has grown substantially and their aim is to ‘Reconnect people with where their food comes from and how to enjoy local, healthy, sustainable, affordable food.’
The Explore Kent Team in the Communigrow Polytunnel (from left): Léa, Rebecca, Nathan, Tom, Chris, and Vicky.
Below: Salad Leaves, and inside the Polytunnel with Maria.
We had perfect weather; uninterrupted sunshine. On arrival, Maria, Volunteer Co-Ordinator, gave us a warm welcome on arrival and a tour of the site. She explained what Communigrow are about, including interesting facts about different areas of the garden. The huge Colombian tomatoes in their polytunnel certainly impressed us!
She also showed us their new sensory garden, with its mesmerising display of different flowers and herbs, all their own unique look, feel, and aroma. All flowers and plants are available to touch, smell and taste, they especially encourage kids to do this to experience horticulture for themselves. I was fascinated by the purple flowering artichokes and had to admit to myself that although I had eaten them before, I had never seen one in the flowering stage! The bees were loving them, as you can see in the picture.
Below: Beefy Toms, Amazing Flowering Artichokes, Sensory Garden and the Communigrow Mighty Mega Pumpkin!
Then Sue, Community Gardener, and Paul, Trustee and Volunteer, were on hand to get us working! They always appreciate a hand maintaining the site, so the plan for us that day was weeding an area of the field to make it ready for sowing. After showing us where the wheelbarrows and tools were, we got to work in Boys vs Girls teams! We focused on the large tall weeds – luckily these gave up quite easily and it was immensely satisfying de-rooting them out of the ground. I also helped clear stones. The sun stayed hot throughout and it was tough work – not that we were complaining!
The benefits of gardening on our mental and physical health are enormous, and now common knowledge. It has been proven that working outside and contact with plants has a significant boost to our fitness and mood. In our modern life, we are spending too much time indoors, too little time active, and are completely disconnected from the process of how our food makes it from earth to plate.
This is the raison d’être of Communigrow – giving local people the chance to improve their fitness and strength, spend more time outside, and get some good healthy veg into their diet. As well as this, Communigrow has holistic aims – they believe if we grow collectively, this strengthens the bond in our communities, giving everyone a role and part to play in our society.
Communigrow is now taking GP referrals for mental health, after evidence showing prescribed gardening can be much more effective than medication. Four schools also currently visit weekly, including students with learning difficulties, who benefit hugely from being on the site – improving their self esteem and confidence as well as communication skills.
Below: Frog Pond, Sunflowers
The first session seemed to fly by and then it was time to break off for lunch. We all enjoyed our packed lunches sitting under the shade of a canopy and Sue kindly brought us tea to enjoy with our cakes. Our lunch also marked a sad occasion – the departure of one of our Team! We bid farewell to Tom King, our Apprentice who is leaving EK to study Marketing at Uni. To show our appreciation, we gifted him with a Student Cookbook and Gift Card. Best of luck Tom!
After lunch, we reconvened with a further session on the fields, continuing with the de-weeding work. We tried an exciting new tool, a weed spinner, but concluded it wasn’t as efficient as the humble pitchfork! After a good session feeling immersed into 18th century farm labouring, we ended our session at 2pm. After unloading our pulled weeds and putting away our equipment, we said goodbye to Communigrow, some of us with some excellent carrots to try.
Below: Young Aubergine, Flora, Kale
We hope this charity continues to go from strength to strength, enriching people’s lives through growing and nurturing.
If you would like to visit, or volunteer some of your time, you can contact Communigrow by email at email@example.com, or phone Maria on 07806 708 386. For other further information, visit the website.
For those not in the East Malling area, a similar project is Ecology Island in Dartford, who also aim to improve wellbeing through outdoor activity and projects.
If you know of other similar projects yourself, or would like to promote your charity, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next month is also Organic September, the UK’s biggest month-long campaign designed to encourage more people to try organic as well as educate about organic food & farming practices. Have a look at their site for an excellent guide to growing your own!