I’ve started a food exchange for 6,000 people

I love nature, cooking, eating and being outdoors. I was raised in south London but moved to the Isle of Wight to bring up my sons, and I relish spending time in my garden here, growing what I can.

Watching people stockpile goods before lockdown made me worry about what we’d all do if food wasn’t available from supermarkets and local shops. A return to ‘growing your own’ seemed like an imperative and so the idea for Green Island Veg Economy (GIVE) was born.

It’s a simple concept: if you have excess seeds, seedlings or crops, then give them away to others. That’s it.

No money is exchanged and members don’t have to donate anything in return if they have nothing to give back.

Members set up their own GIVE stations around the island where people drop off and pick up produce. It works on an honour system so the stations don’t have to be managed, and many people discover them by accident.

Currently, there are at least 80 stations set up and I’m developing a proper map.

Since launching in April, over 6,000 people on the Isle of Wight and beyond have joined GIVE, which has been overwhelming, but I think it reflects the current need for connection and a return to a more authentic way of life. We are used to capitalist society, not one based on reciprocity and community.

I feel it is really important to move away from the concept of monetary value at a time when so many people are short on cash.

Beyond a potential lack of available food, the Isle of Wight’s economy has been hit especially hard because a large proportion of our businesses are based on hospitality and tourism.

The feedback from GIVE members has been incredibly positive. People have said that they have gained a sense of focus, feel more connected to the outside world and others, particularly during lockdown.

Jez, an active member, told me that it has connected him with his neighbours, and nurtures the best aspects of humanity, like generosity and kindness. He is hoping to continue with GIVE after the pandemic is over.

It’s also had a beneficial impact on mental health. Another member, Anne, has been isolating alone for two months while her partner is on the mainland and was beginning to really struggle. The group, she says, has lifted her spirits beyond measure.

I’ve also heard about one lady who recently lost her husband to Covid-19, and it’s devastated her. She visits her local GIVE stand regularly to pass the time of day and see what produce had been put out.

Hearing about these experiences has brought me to tears many times.

It’s been incredibly moving to hear what a positive impact the initiative has had, particularly when people are facing such uncertainty, and I’m thrilled that many have been inspired to grow their own food for the first time.

The Isle of Wight has been a great place to start GIVE. It’s created a thriving community of fruit and vegetable growers which adds to our recent UNESCO Biosphere status, and it provides residents with a sense of security.

I think schemes like it could work anywhere, but on islands the community is self contained, so honesty is fostered and connections form at a faster pace.

Running it has almost become a full time job and I don’t intend to stop when I return to my ‘real’ job at a restaurant, although I may have to bring in a few more members to help with the admin.

I don’t see myself as a hero. A friend of mine said recently that I’m ‘only interested in the UV, not the limelight’.

In my old life I ran pop-up art exhibitions and galleries so I’m used to making things happen quickly, but GIVE wouldn’t work without all the thousands of people already involved. They are the heroes – I simply had an idea.

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