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Posts Tagged ‘guerilla gardening’

spades not ships

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Lord Woolton launched the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign to reduce Britain’s dependence on imports. The operation was a huge success and in the space of six years this dependence was halved, with allotments providing 10% of the nation’s food by 1945 (The Times, March 29, 2009).

Nowadays we are seeing a resurgence of ‘grow your own’ gardening, and it is no surprise to see schemes popping up that are named after Woolton’s war effort. The circumstances today, though, are clearly very different. In 1939 the motive for participation was clear and urgent, and the social pressure huge. In contrast, today our motives are diverse and less tangible. Reducing personal environmental impact and saving money in these (yawn) recessionary times surely feature, but mostly, this time around, it is a backlash. In particular, it is interesting that 1939’s was a top-down, above-the-line, authority-lead campaign, whereas today’s movement often asks us to put two green fingers up to the system: this is guerrilla gardening, after all.

Growing your own is not about conforming any more, it is about finding respite from our time-starved, energy-sapping society. It is about slowing down. It is the opposite of 24 hour Tesco’s. It is about relationships; with other people and with the food we eat. As one resident of my borough, Southwark, explains here at the 13 minute mark, it is an “antidote to urban living”.

The thing is though, that in practice we are a bit addicted to our modern existence. We often find ourselves tied to routines, stuck in a rut as we rush back and forth. It is going to take more than posters to make most of us step back and hoe, so the campaigns of today must work harder. They have to make it easy for us.

And gosh, do they try. They act at once nationally, regionally and locally, enlisting and negotiating with a host of private companies and public bodies, all in order to facilitate our ‘escape.’ Celebrity chefs are at the forefront, of course: we need poster boys, if not posters. Yet perhaps the biggest development, and most hope, lies in the way these campaigns actively foster connections between us. From the way Oliver Rowe stocks his Michelin-starred kitchen with produce from a local high school, to the way Channel Four partners land-owners and aspiring veg growers. Perhaps these connections are what will make the whole thing last, perhaps they are what should be celebrated.

The poster at the top is by Abram Games, a graphic artist famous for his motto: ‘maximum meaning, minimum means.’

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