We recently paid a visit to The Skip Garden, a movable urban food growing garden in the middle of the Kings Cross development site. We talked to Director, Nicole Van Den Eljnde about the extraordinary vision and values that underpin this Utopian oasis, nestled amongst the rise of glass and steel buildings.
Q & A
What was the original inspiration behind Skip Garden?
The Charity behind The Skip Garden is Global Generation, set up 12 years ago. The original idea was to give young people a wider perspective of the world and a sense that we are all connected and part of the same planet. We initially took young people to our campsite in Wiltshire. Now The Skip Garden brings that experience to the middle of the city.
In what ways can people come and get involved?
We love having people in the garden and have many different ways that you can get involved. We are open Tuesday to Saturday. We offer internships, or you can volunteer, visit the garden, eat at the cafe, or hire out the space for your own party. We also have lots of events – we run twilight sessions every other Wednesday where everyone helps us with the Skip Garden and we all have a sit down meal together.
You need to be able to move when a development plot is sold. How has this impacted the creative practice of the project?
I think being creative and adaptable have been key. For us each move has brought more opportunities to make new connections. You are able to keep the good things and re-invent. We are however a small charity and it costs a lot of money to move everything and create a new site, but it does allow people to give in other ways than just with money by offering their own skills and time.
In what ways has the community surprised you with their response to the project?
We run a programme called lunch and learning, where we bring together young children from local primary schools with construction workers. You wonder what they are going to have in common? Are they going to be able to work together? But I’m constantly being surprised when, given the opportunity to work with people who aren’t the same as us, there can be so much common ground.
We would like to share with you three ways ‘Utopians’ approached food in Thomas More’s fictional society. What do you imagine the impact would be if any of these were true?
1. Food is Free
Huge! On a social equality level I think there is a huge problem at the moment with food. There has been a revival of organic food and small producers, which is great, but this is very much for people who can afford it. At the same time, obesity levels are rising and junk food or ready meals are often more affordable. The divide between rich and poor is getting a lot bigger because of food.
2. Everyone experiences growing food
I am still shocked when people don’t know that a plant is grown or a vegetable you pick up in the supermarket comes from a field. This complete loss of connection to what we eat is a loss of connection to life on the planet. By reconnecting, choices become more deliberate, and I think we enjoy food more.
3. Food is served for the community to share together.
I think eating together is important and also minimises food waste. Our staff always eat together. The chefs create something new with the leftovers from the cafe for the staff to eat the next day, like a stew or a quiche. You can be so creative with food waste and that’s also what we teach young people in our workshops.
And finally, we are crowd-sourcing a practical guide to Utopia which will be published in early 2017. Can you describe an idea that would take us towards your Utopia?
Moving away from an idea of a perfect world, there is something about living and being within our imperfect world and what you can do with that. I think you can get caught up with wanting something better and always being unsatisfied. So for me Utopia is about the here and the now and what choices we make individually and collectively.
Submit your Utopian idea here