Local Food Economy

Mother Earth Bristol: Connecting with the community through fruit and veg

By Sonja Ayres

Sonja Ayres

In our latest blog post St Pauls resident Sonja Ayres describes how she set up the Mother Earth Bristol veg box scheme during the pandemic. She describes her motivations for living in a more sustainable way and how she was inspired to get the scheme off the ground.

I’ve got two young children which is great, but when they were really young my life was pretty hectic. At the end of last year my childcare demands lessened a bit and I had some headspace. I had a pull towards reconnecting with my community and learning more about how to live more sustainably.

Just before the general election last December there was an Extinction Rebellion election hustings in Easton, where local constituency candidates were asked about green issues and which looked really interesting. I was keen to go to and had planned my whole day around it, arranged childcare for the evening and even put my children to bed early so I could go. I was so happy when I left home with everything calm and I headed off to the meeting across town. Unfortunately, I arrived five minutes late for the meeting, was told it was full and I was too late to go in. I couldn’t believe it, all that organisation and it came to nothing.

I spoke to a few people about what had happened and felt frustrated that, as someone with a young family, it felt hard to get involved. In one conversation I was challenged “you might need to create something yourself that is accessible to you and people like you”. These words stayed with me and I started mulling them over. I was keen to learn more about protecting and living in harmony with my environment and taking some action, but needed to be able to fit this within work demands and childcare commitments.

Over the Christmas holidays, Tara from The Network sent out a message on a local WhatsApp thread asking if anyone was interested in setting up a community project or group and needed support. The timing seemed so perfect that I reached out to her. I put forward ideas and Tara offered her experience in the process of starting a group and how to make it inclusive, and ‘Mother Earth Bristol’ was born!

In early March we put a call out around St Pauls to attend an initial meeting. It went so well; enthusiastic, interesting people came and shared ideas and knowledge on what was needed and what we could do in our local community. We talked about how we could involve our children, get better connected to nature and share knowledge and resources with one another, link in to local community assets and focus on sustainability and protecting the environment.

The meeting felt so positive and I was so pleased to meet new people who were interested in doing similar things. We planned our next two meetings which was so exciting and then lockdown hit which felt very sad and we had to cancel our plans. With the nursery shut, once again all of my focus went back into childcare and my job for the next six months. A few people started asking me what was happening with Mother Earth but I didn’t feel I had capacity to do much about it.

However, the experience of setting up the community meeting had been such a positive one that it fuelled me throughout lockdown. I had seen for the first time how taking a step, challenging myself and doing something new welcomed in fresh energy and hope. I was still really keen to live in a more environmentally sustainable way and used the time during lockdown to take an action every month so that we could lower the negative impact we were having on our environment.

Connecting through food: “The community supports us and we support the community”

With schools reopening once again I had some headspace available. It was becoming more difficult as a household to keep making changes to be more sustainable and I felt I was going to have to put in a lot more effort in moving to the next level and it made sense to collaborate with others to make it easier. It was at that stage that I had the idea of a fruit and veg box scheme which would enable us as a community to cut down on the single-use plastic we used, and to buy produce which has been transported as short a distance as possible to get to us. I knew someone in the area who would have some knowledge and expertise about this. We met one day at a local park and talked through the idea while our children played and agreed we thought it was a good idea and possible to make it happen.

We reached out to Tara at the network once again, to link us up with groups where we might find interested people. We were amazed how many people were immediately interested – within one week we had signed up 24 families!

Next we needed a home. Tara and I reached out to local community venues and the St Pauls Learning Centre kindly agreed to house the project and so the project was born! On October 12th, 24 families from the local area picked up their first low cost, plastic-free fruit and vegetables boxes, the start of many.

Fruit and vegetables

As members of the group, we have received so many other fruits from this project – in addition to those in the box! We’ve been able to connect through recipe sharing, have been eating more healthily and have been using the fruit and veg to vary our usual diet. It’s also been great to involve our children and they’ve been getting excited about the fruit and vegetables, including the especially exciting “Peter Rabbit” carrots with green foliage still attached! It’s been a great way of getting to know new people in the community, connecting through WhatsApp and meeting people when volunteers in the group come together (in a socially distanced and COVID-safe way) to box up and distribute the fruits and vegetables and meet the rest of the collective at pick up time.  We deliberately wanted the boxes of fruit and veg to be low cost so that everyone can get access to fresh, healthy food even where money is tight.

It has been so fun setting up this project, seeing the joy of people in enjoying the produce, building a community and using the power we have when we come together as a collective to make a difference together! We’ve got lots of ideas about how to move the project forward, share what we have done with other communities and get even more people eating healthy, low cost, plastic-free fruit and veg.

The need for a resilient food community has never been greater. The coronavirus pandemic has already led to unforeseen challenges for our city’s food system, and unimagined resourcefulness from communities and organisations across Bristol. Read more about why ‘going green’ is good for your food business and find out about other veg box schemes in Bristol.

Join the conversation

So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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