Grow Free: Sharing Food - Growing Community



Grow Free: Sharing Food - Growing Community

Earthwise Harmony chats to Andrew Barker, the founder of Grow Free, an amazing group based around the principles of sharing free, healthy food, skills and creating community.  Andrew is a truly fascinating person and we need more like him in this world!!

To start off, here's a video of Andrew when he was invited to talk about Grow Free at TEDxAdelaide.

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Free food for all: give what you can, take what you need | Andrew Barker

In your own words, what is Grow Free?  What is the concept... what do you do?

Grow Free is an ever-growing group of people dedicated to making our food organic, locally grown and free. The idea behind this is the community growing food to share with the community. We go about this in quite a few different ways.  One of the main avenues of Grow Free is our sharing carts. This is a cart which is usually out the front of a shop or house, where folks can drop off any surplus produce they've grown, or preserves, eggs, baked goods, etc.  We also give away free heirloom veggie/herb/flower seedlings, run workshops, have working bees to help others create their gardens and cook at a meals program in Victor Harbor.

Grow Free is also all about building community. We live in such an isolated, impersonal world now, and are trying to remedy that through the medium of food.

How did the idea for Grow Free come about?

The idea can't really be traced back to a single event or thing; it's really a culmination of many different experiences.
One reason it came about is because we are not eating real food anymore. We eat a very poor replica of food, and the fact that eating organic and being sustainable are fringe endeavours, this says a lot about the direction we're headed in. Sickness and medication is so normalised in our society, and this is because we eat nutritionally-deficient, toxic things, and we need to come back to the foods that the body has evolved along-side with for tens of thousands of years.

It has also come about because organic food is expensive, and unless you are fairly well off, you'll most likely be eating foods laced with pesticides and inorganic ingredients. We believe that every single person, in this day and age, with the technology and knowhow we have, should easily have access to good, healthy food as a bare minimum. The fact that in this "advanced" civilisation, people still starve to death in both first and third world countries, shows that we are doing things VERY wrong. We need to take money out of the equation, so that everyone has easy access to the bare necessity of survival.

This idea also came about because we can see that our world is not set in stone. Society is malleable. We can shape it however we like; we have the power to do that. We are not passive bystanders, we are creators and participants, and we choose a world of abundance, and one of biodiversity.

Give us a bit of an idea of the timeline leading from its inception to where you are now?  How did the initial idea grow to what it is now?

It began around four years ago, when I moved to Middleton on the Fleurieu, and started growing veggie seedlings to give away to people. More people started coming - not for the seedlings - but to help with the idea and to expand on it. We participated in a veggie swap in Victor Harbor for a couple of years, and also started cooking at "Cafe Crozier", a meals program at the salvation army.

Our first sharing cart started up around the beginning of 2015, and up until around 7 or 8 months ago, we only had three carts, which were all in the Goolwa - Victor area. We now have around 30 carts in SA, and three in Melbourne.  

UPDATE:  As of 21/09/2019 there are now around 185+ Grow Free carts worldwide, mostly in Australia!!  It's really taking off!
(There is a cart map and list availalable on the Grow Free Facebook page - listed below - for those who would like to find there nearest cart.  It's all free... take what you can use and give spare produce etc when you are able to.  It doesn't require a direct swap, as people naturally have produce ripening at different times, so it all works out in the end!)

How many people do you have involved with Grow Free - actively?   - following/supporting?

It's a bit unclear as to how many are active. There is around 3,500 members on our Facebook page (SA and Vic). Membership is growing exponentially as of late. Back in the first year when it started, it might have taken a couple of months for ten people to join.  Now, there's at least 20 people joining every day!  I couldn't really give you a good estimate on how many people are following or supporting, enough to say that i've lost count!

UPDATE: As of 21/09/2019 there are now 18,000 in the main Facebook group, plus thousands in several area-related groups... a huge growth!

How could people become actively involved in Grow Free and what kind of things could they be involved with doing?

At the moment we're really organising everything from the Facebook page. But are working on a website, which will make it more accessible for those who aren't on Facebook.
It's really up to the individual on how they'd like to contribute. Whether it's growing and sharing food, helping source or paint sharing carts, promotion, keeping the carts tidy, writing for the upcoming website, sharing recipes, etc.

What projects/events are being planned for the next few months?

We've just been invited into Glenbarr, an amazing 1800's homestead in Strathalbyn, to use as a sort of hub for Grow Free. We'll be creating a community garden, holding workshops for anything gardening to preserving, doing large shared meals, and trying to get as many people interested in gardening as possible!

We'll watch the carts grow in number, and hopefully see their numbers grow and spread across the country.  We'll always have things like backyard working bees happening, free seedling giveaways, and many more things.

I hear the Grow Free concept is spreading further afield.  What locations are you aware of who are starting their own Grow Free?

It sure is. It's spreading across from the Fleurieu to Adelaide, interstate to Melbourne too, where three carts have started there so far.

UPDATE:  Grow Free is in NSW, Qld, WA, ACT, Tas now too now!  And it has even spread to NZ and USA!!

What is your vision for the long term future for Grow Free?

Just see where it goes really. We're just playing this by ear, seeing what works and what doesn't. It's going toward a really good place already; with many people who've never gardened before, are. Many people who would haven't otherwise have met, know each other now. Lots of people are looking for a more healthy way of living, and it just seems the time is right for this to happen.

If you are happy to share, what are some of your personal philosophies/values that influenced your decision to start Grow Free and become more involved in the ‘sustainable community’?

My personal values? Hmmm, one might be, that I don't feel this idea of survival of the fittest type mentality - the one that sees everyone trying to reach the top of some ladder - is working for our growth and evolution as a species. I feel that altruism is the way forward. Selflessness. Raising people up, and thriving as a species. We really do have the technology and knowhow to live an abundant, peaceful life.

I suppose another is a bit of step back and having a look at the food we eat, and what we have been eating for thousands of years, and seeing that we've change things drastically in a matter of a couple generations. This ain't normal!

And... I guess, the feeling that we have the power to create the world we want to live in. We can be a victim all we want, and protest about this or that, but why not just go ahead and work to create the society we can imagine? I don't see the point in waiting around for someone else to start.

Contact details if anyone wants to know more or get involved?

The Facebook page is probably the best at the moment.

Grow Free website: http://www.growfree.org.au/

Cart List: http://www.growfree.org.au/cart-list/

Cart Map: http://www.growfree.org.au/cart-map/

If you'd like to hear Andrew talk more about Grow Free, here's a radio interview with lots of interesting information.

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