Liam King, a postgraduate student at Writtle University College (WUC), is helping the people of Southend-On-Sea to grow their own fresh fruit and vegetables.
He and fellow members of the 'Crops Not Shops' initiative launched a Facebook Group at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Liam and his colleagues were aware that some people within their area were facing financial uncertainly and needed to produce fresh, healthy produce within a tight budget.
Liam explains: "Many people were under a lot of pressure to provide for their families. Their main concern was ability to provide for themselves in the event of a significant loss of income and unstable economy. We responded very quickly and set up an online platform within days of the lockdown beginning. The purpose was to offer support and guidance on how people can be essentially be more self-sufficient with a focus on growing their own food.
"We provide remote real time guidance for families to transform their gardens for food production. Since the lockdown began, we have maintained at least one family per week. We now have directly reached to 16 families and are taking over a glasshouse to set up a hub, where we can produce plants for the project and eventually train volunteers. As lockdown measures relax, there may be the opportunity to share produce and plants, which would be a fantastic long-term outcome of the initiative."
The Facebook group now has over 900 members and features daily posts from local growers. Crops Not Shops continues with its core objectives of transforming gardens into areas for food production and inspiring greater self-sufficiency. The group has also started a JustGiving page to fund its Guerilla Allotment Garden Movement.
Crops Not Shops is one of many community enterprises supported by Liam. He previously oversaw a sustainable land management programme at Morbec Farm and a Heritage Lottery Fund project at Mendip Wildlife Garden. Both positions involved reaching out to local young people and encouraging an interest in land-based initatives.
These interests are reflected in Liam's PhD, which investigates the ecosystem function properties of soils in food production systems. He says: "'Grow your own' is a valid response to new environmental sustainability issues and meets many sustainable development goals as well as enhancing localized eco-system services."