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By Ken Elkes, Growing Together

When you think of the links between sustainable restaurants and local community growing groups, such as city farms and community gardens, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Is it how both have a firm commitment to making a positive impact on the environment? Or maybe how both are interested in making the most of local, seasonal food? Perhaps it’s about healthy eating and increased well-being? Or is it simply that both are also places where people go to meet and share food in a welcoming environment that helps build a community?

Whatever the answer, the parallels between sustainable restaurants and community growing sites, such as city farms and community gardens, are compelling. Community growing has an amazing capacity to bind communities together and make neighbourhoods healthier and friendlier places.

There are around 2,500 of these groups in the UK including city farms, community gardens and orchards. But many operate at a loss and are far too reliant on an ever-dwindling pot of grant funding. That’s where we – and potentially you – come in.

At Growing Together, a Big Lottery funded charity project, our aim is to help small community growing groups to be more savvy and innovative when it comes to their own financial sustainability.  This is why we are launching a campaign calling on businesses, big or small, to take action to support their local growing groups. We think sustainable restaurants will be a perfect match for our campaign because you already are committed to providing your diners with food that has a focus on responsible sourcing, the environment and society. Community growing encompasses all of this and we are calling on SRA members to get involved.

There are several ways you can help. You may be able to source delicious and seasonal produce from groups in your area on a regular or occasional basis. Potentially this could include meat products, preserves and vegetables as well as fruit or drink products from community orchards

Or why not sponsor a project or offer them some regular time to help with their activities? This doesn’t necessarily mean doing the actual digging – you can get creative with them and explore ways of joining forces that work for both of you. For instance, how about hosting a pop-up kitchen at your local community farm to entice people through their doors as well as being a tremendous PR opportunity for your restaurant. Each group has its own needs so it’s best just to approach them and see what they need.

As part of our campaign, we are looking for businesses and restaurants which are already supporting their local community growing groups so we can inspire others, and we’d love to hear your stories about how this is already happening across the UK. Tell us how you are already a Business Hero!

You can find out more about how you can get involved by reading our Business Heroes Toolkit which has been developed to help businesses understand all the different ways they can support their local group and what’s in it for them.

One final ask. We also want to encourage the public to buy regularly from their local community growing group and are asking chefs to donate recipes that will inspire people to buy locally and seasonally. These recipes will be used by the groups themselves and in our campaign marketing and it would be fantastic to have you involved. If you have a recipe to donate, please contact ken@farmgarden.org.uk

You can find out more about our campaign here and details of your local group can be found here.

We hope you will be inspired to join our campaign and discover how cultivating a long term relationship with these growing groups can be a positive experience for everyone involved, including your customers!