When people ask me: 'What do you do at the Skip Garden?' I hesitate to answer. The simple and direct answer always seems to merely scrape the surface of what we are attempting to do at the Skip Garden. On a practical level, we are constantly finding new ways to open up the Skip Garden and welcome those who may not have access to similar spaces in the concrete jungle we call home.
As Community and Education Chef, my projects range from cooking up a storm on Friday nights with young people from the King Cross area after their football practise, offering supported learning students the opportunity to complete a three-month work experience at our cafe, witnessing the first time four-year olds rub sage between their tiny fingers to unleash the herb's grand aroma, and exploring new flavours and dishes with refugees from across the world as part of our Speak Street collaboration. The variety of experiences I have on a daily basis are indicative of a commitment to ensure the garden and the kitchen are here to serve the community.
These encounters, among many others, are opportunities for a beautiful exchange. While we offer a chance to connect with the natural world, explore what a more sustainable diet might look like, develop cooking skills, and learn new recipes, we are involved in something deeper too.
I turn up to work not as an expert, not as a facilitator, not as a Community and Education Chef; but as a whole human. It is in that capacity that I play a role in creating and nurturing a community. We share, we grow, and we learn - we all come together at the Skip Garden, at different points on our journey, and on very different journeys, with a wealth of knowledge and experience - no matter what age, nationality, or level of education’. We each experience life from our very unique perspective - and in a world increasingly polarised - the sharing of our stories is radical, and the need to practise deep listening is urgent.
Underlying my work with different groups in Camden and Islington, is an aim beyond exploring healthy eating, sustainability and our relationship to food. Using the magical platform of food, whether it growing food or cooking food, we collectively explore how we can connect beyond divisions perpetuated by societal and institutional structures - how we can build a community despite the existence of difference. As bell hooks reminds us in her book Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, quoting Judith Simmer-Brown: while diversity is a fact of modern life, pluralism is “a commitment to communicate with and relate to the larger world - with a very different neighbour or a distant community”. A genuine community is created where stories, experiences and skills can be shared and heard. Ticking boxes on a diversity and inclusion checklist does not create community.
When we open up a space that invites and holds different stories and perspectives, we also provide an opportunity for all of us in the room to practise the art of deep listening and radical openness. As a ‘facilitator’, I am just as involved in that process as the ‘participants’. Through the reflective practises and dialogue work that we weave into our practical sessions, we can experience holding different possibilities and perspectives at the same time, and allow ourselves to learn from the person next to us. We remember that there’s more that connects us than divides us, despite what the outside world might lead us to believe. We recognise that we are all ‘teachers’ and we are all ‘students’ on this journey.
I am truly blessed to be constantly learning at the Skip Garden…
… from my colleagues, from those who come to harvest rainbow chard or peel and chop twenty onions with me, from those who share their family recipes with me, from the toddlers whose excitement about the edible flowers in the garden remind me to be grateful for the oasis I am fortunate enough to call my ‘workplace’ ...