Updates from the Community Food Growers’ Network

CFGN has been going through a process of decomposition and renewal over the last few years, sometimes likened to a hibernating bear or a whole river ecosystem…. this blog attempts to make sense of this process and provide updates for those who have been wondering what has become of this beloved and radical London network.

Artwork by CFGN members, arranged by Emma Bell

Back in 2018/9 CFGN’s funding came to an end, and the network tried to envision a new, member-led organisational structure that would not rely on paid staff. A small group of members took over the coordination, and took stock of all the organising work, campaigning and connections CFGN built over the years (have a flick through our blog archives and Plot issues to read the history of the network). They invited Zahra Dalilah (past coordinator) to help us reimagine what we were about through collectively re-writing our manifesto. This took us into the winter of 2019, and resulted in a new more democratic organisational structure which Zahra developed for us after listening to our hopes and dreams for the network. 

In early 2020 the pandemic hit and this had a big impact on the network. Some people moved out of London, whilst others got much busier growing and delivering food in their localities, caring for loved ones, and organising on a national and international level around food justice. As a London-based network of food growers and community kitchens, CFGN’s organising culture was centred around in-person gatherings at member projects, eating, working and discussing together. The various lockdowns in 2020-2021 meant that this was something we could no longer do, so our efforts had to move online. We continued to meet and grapple with the new organisational structure that had been proposed, discussing how to bring it into being and keep the network going with reduced funding. We held one online gathering in May 2020 (see our previous blog post) where we heard about the myriad of ways members had been adapting their roles and projects to meet increased need for local food supplies made visible by the pandemic. Members were gaining new insights into the food system, local community organising and mutual aid. They were also burnt out and overworked with little time to reflect or engage with organising beyond what felt urgent and immediate. The energy of the network dissipated in this time, as people ran out of capacity. 

During this shift it felt like something got lost, or ‘the baton’ that gets passed between people and groups and which keeps a network alive over time, got dropped, and it became hard to know who could pick it up again, and how. There is much to learn from this moment of quiet disconnect and exhaustion, and much to grieve. 

At some point in our hibernation Natalia (Previous CFGN coordinator and Land Workers Alliance), suggested that we organise another gathering to try and breathe some life back into the network. With funding from the LWA we organised a collaborative gathering with Ubele, Black Rootz and LWA at Wolves Lane in September 2021. Around 30 people attended. We discussed the Rootz Into Food Growing report, and how we, as a predominantly white led sector, could respond to its findings that racism, discrimination and unfair pay are rife. We talked about unions, resource sharing strategies, anti-oppresion training, the need for more collaboration and deep change. We also met Ed and April from LWA South East regional group and started to chat about how we could support each other’s efforts.

In December 2021 we co-organised a winter event with LWA South East as part of their AGM, building on the conversations from September and forming a huge organising team with lots of energy and enthusiasm. We talked about trade unions and resource sharing and in the evening had music from Xylaroo and a Microbe Disco Ft Aisha Mirza. We reflected upon how joining up our efforts could help to strengthen the food and land justice movement in the region, making links and sharing resources between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ projects and spaces. 

Out of this gathering a group of us started organising to set up a trade union for workers across land trades to improve accountability and keep the conversation alive in response to the Rootz into Food Growing Report. SALT (Solidarity Across Land Trades) was born and has been building up its membership amongst workers in organic, agroecological and conventional land trades over the last 2 years. If you are looking for a union to support you in this sector, do consider joining SALT who are now formally a national branch of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) – or contact the coordinating team: salt_union@proton.me

Urban-rural connection was the theme of our next collaborative gathering, which took place at Ed’s Veg in Liphook in September 2022. About 40 people came from all over the region on trains, buses, shared rides and bikes, camping out and singing by the fire into the night. At the gathering we decided to formally join the efforts of CFGN and LWA SE enabling us to organise more consistently across the whole region. We are still working out how to bring this into being, so if you’d like to get involved with food and land justice organising across the South East get in touch with us: info.cfgn@gmail.com or LWA SE: southeastlandworkersalliance@gmail.com

You can read a full report from the day, by co-facilitator Ali Taherzadeh (Resisting, Learning, Growing) here