Reconnecting with nature to boost well-being

Preventing loneliness and isolation
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“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings,” once said the celebrated Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. Sutton Community Farm have this as an underlying principle to what they do on their 7 acre land near Wallington, South London.

The farm started in 2010 “because people wanted to see more fresh, local food in our community,” says business manager Alice Brown. “The project grew slowly as we developed our skills, gathered equipment, raised funds and understood the land and our place in the community.” 

As they built up a successful veg box delivery service with investment from Power to Change, the benefits of cultivating fresh local produce became self-evident through people’s diet, health and wellbeing, as well as developing a deeper knowledge of where food comes from. Not to mention the significant environmental benefits of local food production.

Perhaps one of the less considered upsides of such a project is the personal impact. Despite being heavily populated, loneliness is a major factory in modern city living. A 2013 survey by ComRes found that 52% of Londoners feel lonely. By building a community on a shared outdoor space, the farm operates as a place not only to obtain skills, work experience and food knowledge but also a key hub for socialising. 

“Twice a year we do volunteer feedback,” says Brown. “One of the top reasons people always say that they come to volunteer is to meet new people and make friends. The first time we did the survey we were quite surprised to see how strongly that came through.”

It’s clear from the volunteer feedback that this has been the case for many. “It really helped towards lifting my low mood,” says Hetty, a regular volunteer. “A combination of the active outdoor work, being around nature, fresh air, new people and feeling needed as part of a team has been a really important way of managing and improving my depression. I always go home feeling deeply satisfied, energised and seem to sleep better that night, setting me in better stead for the remainder of my week – it’s massively helped improve my self-esteem too.”

The environment created at the farm has resulted in a two-way relationship with the community. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the volunteers,” says Brown. “But it’s also important to talk about what the farm does for them – it’s a really nice holistic relationship we have.”

Such is the appeal and success of the farm that since opening it has welcomed over 3,000 volunteers and during lockdown there was more interest than ever. “We had to change the way we worked and we had a huge spike in demand,” says Brown. “Our veg box orders doubled but we had so many people happy to help and work longer shifts. We had so many offers of help that we ended up with a waiting list for volunteers. There is a real genuine sense of community around the farm. It’s lovely to work somewhere that people really care about – it goes beyond the business. It’s so rewarding to work with people that you genuinely care about.”

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