Starting a shop and a garden!?!

20 Sept 2012

Recently I’ve been focusing on the shop, trying to get more makers involved and trying to finalise a rent price and date when I can open it. Regarding the makers, a craft fair was held in Wolverhampton last weekend and I managed to get about 12 more who said they would like to sell their works in the shop. That was excellent news and thanks to Little Hippo for organising this event. I now have around 20 makers which is more than plenty to begin with. Otherwise, I’ve had more trouble getting the landlord to give me news as he has been busy converting the upstairs of the shop into a flat. Apparently it’s still on the cards but he had to talk with the architect and I’m still waiting for him to come back to me with a plan. I’m hoping to open in at the start of November to be ready for Christmas, which could really be decisive in terms of establishing it and starting it off with good sales.

I arrived at a name for the shop after thinking of one based on the code for the city, which is WLV. I thought it could fit We LoVe and that Crafts would be the best following word. So that’s what it will be called and below you can see my initial idea for the design of the logo.

If anyone wants to design an alternative logo (for free!), you can send it to me at the usual email address. I can’t pay for it as it’s quite a cost for professional graphic design but if you want to have a go, feel free.

Tomorrow is Make:Shift and my idea of Free Organic Gardens was selected as one of the four best ideas to go into discussion and development. You can read about it here along with the others and with these two plans, I’m hoping that Our Own Future will be able to make a significant impact for the city and that things are really going to start happening.
I also have other things in the pipeline but I will tell you about them once I know more but one involves getting more furniture from another school. I would like the project to be different to the first one, though.

I will update this blog after Make:Shift and let you know how things went.

23 Sept 2012

Organic Community Gardens

The previous two days saw the Make:Shift event in Wolverhampton. It was well attended and there was a great buzz throughout the venue with many people showing support, giving feedback and ideas and I think everyone would say it was a great success. The organising team of FutureGov appeared very content with everything and it was very useful to have speakers from different projects from all over the country from Glasgow and London.
An important aspect that emerged was the involvement of the council and their desire to see lots of citizen-led projects starting up. During my team discussions regarding the gardens, I spoke with four people from different departments of the council who gave advice as to how to get access to an area of land to start the pilot project. We agreed that it would be best to start with one and work out the most effective ways of doing things so that it could be seen as the prototype for successive gardens in the locality.
We also talked about how to find people who would like to join this project, such as those on the waiting list for allotments, those who are already members of horticultural groups, etc. I will contact the council over the next few days to make a start on looking at a suitable plot of land, but they assured me that this would not be any problem.

How will the gardens operate?

As the accepted idea was free organic gardens, these two aspects are ones that should be an integral part of it, considering that these factors were seen as ones that will be the difference. Having the gardens completely organic has pros and cons. The pros are that, of course, the food will be far healthier than food treated with chemicals, there is a lot of scope to investigate the best techniques to ensure successful crop yields and that organic food will be more readily available to people without costing more than standard fruit and veg in shops. The cons are the typical things you would have with growing food, which are pest control, inconsistent weather, and diseases such as blight. Whereas the former and latter can be treated with chemicals, there are also natural pesticides that should be researched and developed to attempt to combat these problems. That in itself is an area for enhanced education in the area of gardening, so it can also be seen as a pro rather than a con. Regarding weather issues such as too little or too much rain, again, it throws open the challenge to find answers for them. We would certainly not be going into this from a brand new perspective at all. There is a wealth of evidence that we can draw from as to how to make the organic gardens as efficient as possible.

What will be done with the produce?

This is another area that I would like to establish as being different from the normal ways of doing things. The normal way would be to sell the food at competitive prices and to leave it at that. But when people can get eveything from big supermarkets, this isn’t likely to work. I stated in the original idea that people should be free to take the food and that volunteers would tend the gardens. To expand on this, time-banking and donations would have positive effects for these reasons: instead of people coming along and simply taking the food (and maybe leaving a monetary donation), we could use it to engage the community a lot more. We could ask people to, instead of paying with money, to pay with their time – spend an hour or two preparing new growing areas, watering the plants, harvesting the food, etc. Or they could donate seeds and tools when they are needed. They could also help with the maintenance of the buildings if needed as well. I believe that opening the gardens to be properly community-led in these ways with bring people together a lot more and they will become more supportive of this venture and want to help out to see it thrive.

What opportunities can come out of this?

This is where it gets even more exciting! We need to think about how we can really involve people and help to develop their knowledge, skills and feeling of personal worth. In the beginning we will need people who already have the knowledge to start the garden but it would be imperative that we offer training to people to learn about all kinds of necessary skills to contribute to successful organic gardens. People who are unemployed, school children or people who just want to find out about it and have a go. We need to be as welcoming as possible to make people feel that their community is working and we can invite schools to visit and learn about what is happening and connect with them so that we can help out with gardens they might have in the school grounds. I have heard about a horticultural group for disabled people in this city, so we should try to link with them and create greater opportunities.
We can also grow plants that are not just fruit and veg. One idea that I would like to see happen is a herbal medicine garden so that we can produce a range of treatments ourselves and even offer an alternative to the pharmaceutical industry. I already know someone who is very enthusiastic about doing this and who knows other people who have the relevant knowledge so I see this as something that can definitely develop. This of course provides another area of skills development and expanding the project in as many ways as we can is both important and rewarding.

So what’s the next step?

We need to make things happen as soon as we can. I intend to hold the first meeting as soon as possible, within a month, to shape the first team of people. First, I would like to have two or three areas of land to show so that we can choose what we think would be best to start with. Then it would be discovering the skills of the people present and being able to give them their roles in the project. We would discuss what needs to be done over the winter period to prepare the garden. This could involve building a greenhouse (we have lots of glass already, don’t forget!), weeding, starting a compost heap, getting tools together and so on.



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