Growing Our Future in Okehampton is part of Devon Open Studios (Sept 5 to Sept 20)

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Devon Open Studios opens on Saturday, September 5 and runs to Sunday, September 20. In the first of our series on the artists taking part we visit Growing our Future, a community garden project in Okehampton. This was first published in our Arts+Culture magazine.

Since March 2008 a group of artists have come together as catalysts of change, to work with the local community, the secondary school, primary schools, local universities and local professionals under the name Growing Our Future. Ffion Farnell reports

Growing Our Future is a Community Garden project located at Okehampton College, Devon, but is stretching its roots out into local community sites also, bringing people together with a common goal Growing Our Future demonstrates the sharing of values, skills and perhaps most importantly, time, crossing generation, class, culture and gender.

The heart of the project is focused on developing healthy and sustainable communities that will exist long into the future. By actively being part of the project, students and community members will gain first-hand experience of working with the land, working with their community, understanding the climate, rearing animals and growing food. The garden acts as a positive and empowering place to facilitate communal discussion, forward thinking and positive action in relation to the current environmental, social and economic situations that we are faced with.
These experiences aim to motivate and engage people in a process of self-development and an awareness of what is possible, highlighting the solutions we hold in the palm of our hands, in the mud we tread on.

And replace the doom and gloom apocalyptic visions the media often portray with joyous celebrations of the passing of seasons, of friendships made, remedies formulated, and a re-connection to the rhythms of life, and the awe inspiring patterns of  nature.
By utilizing the diverse language of growing food within a creative context those involved with the project will expand their understanding of the processes related to food and energy, while inviting positive solutions to such topics as peak oil, climate change, food security, economic instability and social health.

The garden also actively contributes to a bio-diverse environment, creating habitats and resources for life.

Sustainable techniques are being used in the garden, including Permaculture, Agro Forestry, Community Supported Agriculture and Organic Gardening, and it will host native organic edible plants and fruit trees. There will also be a selection of plants with medicinal properties, natural fertilizers and edible wild species.

These processes will promote ideas of living directly from the land – from spade to fork.

At present those involved with Growing Our Future are working towards garden/curriculum integration, with the creation of a research booklet that is being put into practice from the summer term. The garden is linked with 11 local primary schools, as well as local businesses and trades people. We have regular celebratory community events as well as diverse workshops and talks.

It is hoped that by the end of the first year on site, growing our future will have provided a concise blue print of how to successfully integrate theses concepts and solutions into our communities, a blueprint that can be utilized by groups all over the UK and further a field in an attempt to co-operatively resolve some of the problems our society is facing.

The second year of the project will see an eco build happening on the site, where community workshops and rainy-day lessons can be held.
There have already been numerous workshops held for both school pupils and the local community since September when the growing our future team moved onto site.

What does this have to do with the art world, surely a garden has more relevance in Gardeners’ World. The answer lies within the guise of ‘socially engaged arts practice’, creative participatory projects bringing opportunities of collective materialization of ideas and the belief that by utilizing the tools of the artist, we can work within any medium to bring theory into practice, concept into reality.

When discussing the ‘tools of the artist’ we are, perhaps, referring mainly to that of the ‘creative process’, taking these experiences out of the studio and into the hands of the community. By experimenting with and experiencing various forms of creative materialisation the artists has learned a powerful method and by facilitating collective grass-root opportunities to bring these qualities into the public realm, the artist can offer an incredibly beneficial perceptual and experiential tool for society as a whole.

Society has de-saturated our means of creativity, basic creation processes our ancestors would have experienced have been replaced with consumption. Clothes, food and other goods that we once would have made ourselves are now industrially produced. It could be said that art has been taken out of our communities and placed in the toolbox of the capitalist money lord.

To delve further we see these creative processes offering us many psychological and societal gifts: the chance to work with and through a material (making good judgements about qualitative relationships) to find various solutions, perspectives and experiences. It offers us an engagement and understanding of the energy needed to produce items, it offers us an outlet for expression, often allowing us to say what cannot be said through the limits of language, and put very simply shows us how to make something out of nothing, an over-all experience which is believed to be soothing and empowering to the human psyche, creation of course being linked to the fundamental aspects of what it is to be human.

Perhaps one of the main objectives of the socially-engaged artist is to do just this, to re-integrate these processes into our societies, and utilise these consequential experiences for enhancing social skills and relationships; believing a culture thrives when it has means to expression.
To fully investigate these ideas Growing our future has an artist residency scheme, inviting professional artists who are exploring some of the most innovative responses to climate change and the way we use our finite resources, to work in, around and with the people of Okehampton.
Artists are being asked to respond to Okehampton as site involving the growing/distribution/preparation or eating of food within their residency. Each residency has a different focus but common to all must be the inclusion of a focus on creative community-based solutions to climate change. Artists must include an element of socially engaged participatory practice in their proposal that allows local people to work with them.

The aim of this part of the project is to inspire local people with ideas that they can use in their own lives and within the garden. Artists and practitioners will bring new and traditional skills, ideas and passion to Okehampton. As well as creating accessible ways in to these ideas for people from all walks of life.

Other more practical workshops will explore setting up useable systems that can be continued by the community into the future, for example building a wind turbine from scrap, building cob ovens, making raised beds or community composting etc.
We are keen to hear off anyone who has an interest in these ideas, from any discipline. I hope that this article has offered an insight into our hopes for positive social change and our reasons for believing that by working together we can make for a brighter tomorrow for ourselves, and for our loved ones not yet born.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.”
(Baba Dioum, Senegalese Conservationist)

Ffion Farnell, Arts participation worker and Growing our future project manager

For more information contact Ffion Farnell and Beth Hamer at growingourfuture@gmail.com





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