A Riot on my Doorstep…..

Or was it more of a kerfuffle ?

Or was it an insight to the state of the UK right now. 

I live in the New Forest, not a rich part, but a safe place, with little trouble.  There is an assumption that there is little poverty in this part of the world, and compared to many places there isn’t. But that is changing, and fast. 

Through my non-profit I run  – New Forest Aquaponics CIC – we work alongside a charity and a community group to help to save food waste from supermarkets.  All of us aim to help those who need some extra food to help them through the week (first and foremost), and then to make sure none of the food gets wasted.  

I have a big blue box on my drive. It is an old freezer box that was taken out of a cruise liner at some point.  It works like a giant cool box and works really well as a place for local people to come and help themselves. A little bit like a community fridge, but on my drive. 

What we have found is that over time more and more people are joining the WhatsApp group we use to notify everyone when foods are added to the box. This is great, but is very sad as so many of the people who join it are doing so not to save food waste from the bin, but because they really need some help to make it through to the next payday. 

Last week we had a fairly new volunteer go and pick up the food; she then brought it to our box and in an attempt to give us a night off, didn’t let us know the box was now full.  All of this is my fault for not making sure she knew to let us know the box was full. 

It had some really lovely foods that day, mince and beef burgers, as well as the normal breads and pastries, plus a few vegetables and fruit.  Pictures were taken and shared on WhatsApp, as well as with another food group not too far away. 

We get very very little meat in the collections: it is always regarded as a real treat. I normally freeze any meat, so it can go to those who really need it, either by me (as I see people at the box), or via one of the other groups we work with running  pop up’s, or given out in  a food parcel. 

But because the meat had been put in the box and around 250 people saw the pictures, it became a bit of a race to the box!  And of course it got a little heated, voices raised and accusations of greed flew about.  Not what you would expect on a quiet New Forest road. It took less than 30 minutes for the whole box to empty, disappointing many people. 

All this week I have been answering questions on what happened, and listening to regular users of the box.  

I would like to give my take on why this all happened.   

I do not believe that we are naturally greedy, but I do believe we always are looking for some form of security. Food security is important for us all, and we have a drive to make sure those we love are fed.  For so many the current financial crisis in the UK is hitting really hard. With fuel, electricity and food prices rising, and wages staying the same, fear of how to manage is  taking hold.  Let’s face it, if your budget stays the same, how do you pay all the bills now they have gone up?

About 5 years ago my family hit a point of no money, and to be honest, nothing has improved much financially since then.  But what has changed is our ability to cope with no money, and to learn that however hard it is, we do live in a rich nation, and even with a system that is totally broken, it is 100% better than most countries around the world.  

Through my work in plastic transition, I regularly talk to people from all over the world, including Uganda. They tell me tales of fights over food, and locals who have starved to death. Fighting over food should never, ever happen here in the UK. 

When we are in a state of fear, caused by not knowing how we are going to provide for our loved ones, it can bring out what looks like greed. It is almost impossible to put others first when your mind is plagued with worry over how to cope. I do not blame anyone for trying their best to provide for their family, I have been in that situation, and at times still find myself there. 

Thinking of others has been lost in the stress of modern life; strong communities are too rare these days. But I do believe we can turn this around, by remembering to think of others, and help create an abundance of community. 

My little part in this is The Waterside Food Project, and helping make sure everyone can access at least something to help them get through each day.  What is your part in creating community abundance?

And to the people who use my box – no one needs to be hungry – we will keep doing what we are doing for as long as we can. Please always think of others and only take what you will use, and never fear asking for help if you are in real need.  

I love you all and the joy it brings me to hear your stories of how you are helping others who can’t get to the box. Every time you do this you are creating community abundance.

A full box – it is not this full very often.

Soup Dragons

Soup Dragons, sounds interesting – tell me more!

That was my reaction when I heard one of our local parish councils would be starting to run these local community events.  Sounded right up my street and it was!

The very first event was planned for 24th Feb 2022 and I was lucky enough to be chosen to pitch on behalf of The Waterside Food Project. 

This is what we do – https://thewatercressqueen.wordpress.com/2022/02/28/the-waterside-food-project/

The idea is that everyone buys a ticket, gets to listen to 4 pitches and then eat soup. The pitches can be a start up local business, or a community group. Whilst soup is being eaten everyone talks about the pitches and then the votes are cast. £5 from each ticket sale goes towards the prize money and the winning pitch gets the money to help them move forward with their ideas or work. 

As it was the first event we only had 3 of us pitch. Christine Bennett who runs the Healthy Haven garden at the Waterside medical practice. They are creating a beautiful place for people to come and meet outside in the garden. As with any new project they have a long list of things they need help with, if you are able to help them at all contact Christine through the facebook group, they would love to hear from you!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2698592857082670

The room then heard from Ivor, a local resident who writes funny books and paints pictures to sell.  He was hoping to be able to put the prize money into sorting out his garden which has gotten out of hand and is full of brambles. 

And then it was my turn, I am used to public speaking, but this felt really important as I was not doing one of my normal talks, but pitching for the benefit of our community.  

Here is my pitch 

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Hi I am Lucie Mann, known online as The Watercress Queen. 

I run along with my family, New Forest Aquaponics CIC  – a regenerative culture hub challenging the way we impact our biosphere.

I can waffle on about many of our projects for hours, but I only have 4 minutes, and I want to talk about one of the most important parts of our work. 

I was told this presentation should be fun, well I am sorry I don’t think I can find anything funny about food poverty and food waste in the UK.

The Waterside Food project aims to tackle both of these in the local area.  Many people who live on the waterside do not see how much food poverty and inequality we have in the area. Just because it is not seen does not mean it is not there. 

And things are going to get worse. covid , rising cost of living, cost of fuel have all impacted on people’s pockets. Many have to choose between heating and eating. 

The heating is not quite so easy to sort out, but the food we can help with!

What are we doing so far?

At the beginning of 2021 fate brought a small group of local people together, through surplus food collections, and it became an obvious thing to work together to help as many people as possible.   In our core group we have 3 different groups working together, with the waterside food project being one of them.  

One helps a charity and their service users by using unsold flowers to provide learning opportunities and unsold drinks and snacks to raise funds.

The other group works tirelessly and with a dedication second to none  to provide pop up food distribution  across the waterside, connecting with people on a very personal level. Picking up where people may need  financial help, or someone to talk to at a time of need. 

Between us all we identify the best use of the foods, so groups who cook for the homeless, or  other groups who provide food are always offered things they can turn into meals. 

The waterside food project  are at the beginning of setting up community fridges. 

A community fridge is a free and accessible place where the community can access food.  The first one is outside my house, it is a simple box on legs with tins and bread for people to help themselves.  Within a week a friend had set one up in totton, and the really amazing thing is, people are now checking the boxes to see what is there, but also adding food to it to share the food around.  We would like to get more of these up and down the waterside. 

On a slightly larger scale, the next stage will be to get an actual fridge and a freezer in at least one location on the waterside. This will allow foods that need to be chilled or frozen  to be available to prevent waste. At the moment these types of foods are the only ones that we can’t always get out to people. And although we compost them, we really want people fed. 

Food we cannot hand out or simply have far more than we can hand out is  used to feed animals – did you know cows like bread? 

And if it is not suitable for animals then we compost it. over the two weeks of Christmas I composted 100kgs of processed food waste, about 10% of the food collected. This spring the compost  will be used to grow food for the community. 

Where does all this food come from?  All supermarkets have unsold foods, and at the end of the day as a team we take it in turns to go and collect from many of the supermarkets between here and southampton.  If you know of a store that would like to offer us food do get in touch!

Now you may be wondering if we win tonight, what would we spend the money on? 

Well between us we cover a minimum of 168 miles a week , which is around £75 per week providing this service to the local community. 

  Being able to provide fuel cards will make sure we can keep going in these times of rising fuel costs

Next on the list would be Improving and creating more community fridge boxes in the area. 

Our future plans we would like to have access to a kitchen where we can cook and process excess produce – thinking of the 400kgs of carrots and the same of potatoes and brussel sprouts at christmas……….and let’s not mention the 120 fresh turkeys ( thankfully all turkeys were eaten!)  

And how wonderful if we could find a place to teach cooking, to complement teaching growing food, and community composting. 

The very big picture for New Forest Aquaponics is to create a community owned farm which would be able to house all of these elements, you will see information on the tables about this, but until then can you help us? 

I hope you enjoy your evening, I might just have to recommend the watercress soup !

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I am really pleased to say we won! The pot came out at  £185 which will be used to support the fuel costs. We will do this by purchasing fuel cards to share with the group we work with. 

With the rising costs at the fuel pumps this won’t last long so if you would like to help us we would be very grateful.  

And to make sure that the soup dragons effect goes further than just one night, Christine and some of the volunteers are coming to visit New Forest Aquaponics CIC to see our work. We both felt it would be great to see how we can support each other on an ongoing basis. 

Having met Ivor previously I had already seen his garden, and it really does need a sort out. So we are going to put together a team to do a garden makeover Ground Force style for him.  Ivor is very excited about this. If you would like to join us we will be fixing a date and sharing as an event on Facebook very soon. 

A huge thank you to Helen Hythe and Hythe and Dibden parish council for putting on the event, just what the community needs!

The next soup dragon event is 26th March, it will be wonderful to see who pitches next, I hope to see you there!