Growing food for mind, body and soil

Picture: St Marys Secret Garden

Published: 10 Apr 2019

Francesca Nicol and Sarah Williams dig deeper into one of the most powerful benefits that food growing can have and how you can get connected.

Loneliness in London

We know many Londoners are struggling to connect; isolation and loneliness are troubling undercurrents in our bustling city. A TimeOut survey of 20,000 readers across 18 global cities ranked London as the place most likely for residents to report that ‘it can feel lonely here sometimes’, citing the challenges of meeting people and creating a sense of community.

The Mental Health Foundation noted in its landmark report, The Lonely Society, that loneliness affects mental health, contributing to depression, with potential for lasting effects on our physical health such as immune systems, stress hormones and heart function. Effective remedies, they suggest, will seek to heal the mind, the body and our social connections.

Nature’s antidepressant

There’s a beautiful old adage that says ‘gardening adds years to your life and life to your years’. This is certainly the experience of many people involved with Capital Growth’s network of food-growing gardens. Growers and researchers alike have long noticed the health benefits of growing food, both from taking part in physical activities in nature, and building social connections.

‘come in, leave your problem at the gates’

The successes of London’s food growing projects suggest this could be just the therapy that lonely Londoners need. Siobhan MacMahon, from St Marys Secret Garden explained: “Spending time surrounded by nature brings huge benefits, and coming together with the shared goal of growing and maintaining plants helps people feel connected. One recently bereaved volunteer told us that having somewhere to come and be with other people had changed his life”.

Food growing on prescription

“Loneliness can affect us all” says Chris Speirs from Capital Growth “and we’ve heard many stories of the power of food growing, for people of all ages and believe London could be a happier place if more people knew about the benefits of food growing!” The Capital Growth network, and its sister campaign Growing Health, have been calling for food growing to be more widely available ‘on prescription’ through new ‘social prescribing’ models. This would mean that health professionals could signpost patients to food-growing activities and could be particularly suited to those suffering from depression or anxiety, providing a complement, or even an alternative, to medication and talking therapies. 

Hackney Herbal, a social enterprise connecting people, plants, and place, has been running groups through local health services for people with mild anxiety and depression. Feedback shows this is empowering people to change things on a personal level and in the wider environment.  Poppy, who attended the course, reflected, “These days, there’s a lot of talk of...terrible things happening in the environment but now I feel like I have more power to make change, however small. I feel like I’m doing good.”

And it’s growing…

As the scientific evidence grows, so do the number of gardens and gardeners. In 2018 Capital Growth welcomed the 3,000th member to its network, and collectively these gardens provide opportunities for well over 100,000 people to take part every year. Their message is simple: come in, leave your problem at the gates and we guarantee you’ll feel better just for being there.

First step? Dig in…
Check out the benefits for yourself at the Big Dig Day on Saturday 27 April, which is happening at multiple gardens across London and around the UK. Everyone is welcome.