Healthy food, healthy communities

Commons Rising organised a Health Creation & Food Commons event on Saturday 29th July 2017 in Islington, London. The morning session comprised presentations from a variety of people involved in projects to promote healthy food, eating and living.

The event was hosted at the Claremont Project, a former United Reform Church, which provides community support to the over 50s and is built around a psychotherapist practice. Isolation in old age is detrimental but common in modern society. The Claremont Project goes beyond traditional “day-centre” activities to focus on creativity in arts, music and dance. The underlying premise is that our F5 neurons are activated by participation in creative activity, regenerating and stimulating health. Evidence suggests mirror neurons are stimulated in observers of others involved in creative activity. The Claremont Project shares similar attributes to Critical Thinking in being non-hierarchical and is fostered on the principles of Ubuntu.

Anna Betz, Andy Paice and Tim Flitcroft, co-founders of Commons Rising, organised the conference to promote and share information to co-create an ecosystem around natural food, the commons and health. Most of us acquire our food through impersonal transactions and yet food and health are dependent on our relationships with each other and nature. We need to be “fully present” and listen to each other and be open to new ideas or information. These relationships demand “wholeness” in the sense of our whole being working openly in collaboration with others to co-create new distributed networks for healthy food and community engagement – this resonates with Frederic Laloux’s findings: wholeness is one of the three principles common to successful self-managing organisations.

Self-organising was a theme continued by Tim who works at the Claremont Project and was a member of the Occupy London Economics Working Group. He referred to the free software movement as an exemplar of the power of self-organisation.

Dan, from the Bromley-by-Bow Centre (BBBC), described how they’ve built up a valuable community resource over the last 30 years. They took over a United Reform Church to create a community run General Practice Health Centre built on ideas espoused by Michael Marmot ( See Fair Society, Healthy Lives). It is run within and by the community and has expanded to manage the adjacent 3 acre park and provide a host of educational and other activities for the local community. Food (growing, preparing, eating) is now a major activity at the Centre while educational activities are for all ages including apprenticeships. Dan described the “asset base” of the local community as all the talents, skills and attributes of the local community. Sharing these freely and openly creates new relationships and co-creative energy demonstrated in their TimeBank Gardening project and their thriving local culture. Ownership of resources is an issue: BBBC is founded on honest principles for political economy but it has to negotiate the flawed political economy in which most commons are "owned". However, the more projects like BBBC emerge, the weaker the current corrupt and corrupting system becomes. (click here for presentation slides)

Jamie Harvie from the Institute for a Sustainable Future described the waste involved in industrial farming (equivalent to $9billion pa. in the US) and their farm project in Fresno, California, managed on sustainable principles, are supplying a growing number of communities and businesses in the region. By taking an holistic approach to growing food, everyone can eat enough healthy food to sustain life and health. Jamie too is operating within the current flawed political economy and they’ve created a legal structure (involving a trust which holds a for benefit corporation which acts as a hub for various initiatives) to implement the project. (click here for presentation slides)

Helena referred to the Hebden Bridge meeting to create a Peoples Food Policy to combat the destructive influence of industrial agriculture and supermarkets – which resonates with Critical Thinking’s analysis of the political economy. She echoed the need to disintermediate hierarchical, institutional control of food by reconnecting with those who provide our food and affording them the status and recognition they deserve. Peasant is a derogatory term in English but people who work the land are revered in other cultures (eg. campesino in Spain/Latin America). We need to reconnect with the land and rekindle our relationships around food. (See: Starting with Food). Access to land is clearly the major obstacle and a function of the current political economy. Helena spoke of the diversity of produce from small scale farmers producing real food and the importance of soil, echoing the work of Perrine et Charles Herve-Gruyer (Miraculous Abundance). She highlighted alternatives (to supermarkets) such as the growth of Farmers Markets, Community Supported Agriculture and co-operatives. Healthy cultivation, preparation and eating are built on knowledge and a growing number of initiatives are taking root to spread knowledge and understanding of the importance of growing and eating healthy food (eg. Landworkers Alliance, projects in Brazil and Paraguay and the Slow Food movement).

Helen Cooke spoke of the medicinal properties of food and the opportunities to use diet and natural remedies under Socialised Health Prescriptions; she went on to describe the ideas and implementation of “Kitchen on Prescription”. Located in Bristol, Helen is involved in running motivational healthy cooking courses based on natural food, dispelling the myth that healthy eating is expensive - shared learning to explore the dangers of our industrialised foods with high concentrations of (addictive) sugars and additives, while natural goodness is often extracted; and co-creation of alternative menus which can reduce the incidence of disease such as diabetes. They draw on the ideas and work of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, is professor of science and environmental journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. (click here for presentation slides)

Alex, medical herbalist, helps people learn how their bodies work and the function of plants in health, providing self-care guides and sharing knowledge through self-organised learning. She mentioned the “dream pillow” (assumed to be a herbal cocktail infusion to aid peaceful sleep) and the importance of beans and pulses. Living Medicine runs workshops and teaches volunteers, with projects in West Ham Park, White City and Rosendale Allotments. She also is looking to use Socialised Health Prescriptions to promote alternatives to costly conventional healthcare and drugs (more expensive and often of dubious merit both in terms of efficacy and toxicity). Alex has put together the concept for a Living Medicine World Garden and is looking for help to turn it into a reality.

Tim rounded off the morning session with land and how we can move towards reasserting our access to the commons. He cited the example of Organic Lee, a community project to effect food transformation, and the Community Land Trust Network which is helping to facilitate access to the commons. 70% of UK land is owned by 0.6% of the population and furthermore, 30-40% of the land is unregistered (strange, when you consider how much our lives are documented and recorded – cui bono?). Tim described our relationship with land as stewardship – as is often pointed out in Daily Pickings: ownership of something you didn’t create or acquire legitimately is theft – that there is a “legal” framework which obscures the theft doesn’t negate the crime. Land is God or nature given and its value is created communally; neither God, nor nature transferred title to the Crown or anyone else.

The morning was highly educational and wider discussion and music planned for the afternoon. It is initiatives like these groups and this event which form the foundations for a new political economy; together we can co-create a new reality for everyone.


0 #1 Clive Menzies 2017-08-03 16:37
Tim responded with clarification, not all of which is reflected in the edited article.

Thank you for your detailed description of the morning's events. I especially like the way you have linked the topics to other related thinkers and ideas. To this end I have made some clarifications especially around Claremont Project.

The Claremont Project shares similar attributes to the Commons and Critical Thinking in being non-hierarchica l and is fostered on the principles of Ubuntu, a South African concept although in Claremont's case it is arrived at through a quite different European philosophical route including Husserl, Scheler, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Tillich, Buber, Lévinas, and Theunissen

Wikipaedia has a good article on Ubuntu

Anna Betz, Andy Paice and Tim Flitcroft co-founders of Commons Rising, organised the conference to promote and share information to co-create an ecosystem or Commons connecting land, food and health.

In my section at the end it would be good to mention also Shared Assets ( group dedicated to changing current land use both systemically and by making the best of the existing situation by negotiation and establishing agreements between landowners who can no longer afford to manage the asset eg councils, and local community groups. This represents a new departure in land use. Shared Assets assert all land ownership/use has to answer the question is it for the Common Good.

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