Growth in more ways than one: my experience of Avon Wildlife Trust’s Grow Leader placement

(c) Nick Turner

If you visited Avon Wildlife Trust’s six-acre site, Feed Bristol, and stayed for just an hour, you may interpret it as a huge urban food growing site. You wouldn’t be completely wrong. I did the six-month Grow Leader placement which runs there and food growing is a central aspect of it. I learned so much on how to grow food whilst enhancing soils and creating space for wildlife, and gained first-hand experience in the planning stage up to harvest. But the food growing is just one part of it.

The Grow Leader placement further opened my eyes to the way our food is generally grown. Farmers are under huge pressure to provide cheap produce and a lot of it. In the short-term, the quickest way to do this is to use chemical pesticides which kill almost everything in their tracks and artificial fertilisers that run into our streams and rivers, depleting aquatic life. Habitats are destroyed to make way for agriculture which is one of the main reasons wildlife species are becoming extinct. During the placement, we were directly responsible for the environment where our food came from, so if we didn’t care for the habitats or soil, we would notice wildlife disappearing and have poor quality food. This has given me a greater sense of accountability for how my food is grown. Once you complete the placement, you get a free place on a related three-month course where you learn in greater depth about agriculture, conservation and land management. Not everyone - myself included - can always buy or grow organic food, but at least now I better understand where my food comes from and I can make wiser choices.

Doing the Grow Leader placement helped me to develop my leadership and verbal communication skills. Previously, I was uncomfortable speaking in front of more than about three people which made it hard for me to express my opinions in group discussions, let alone lead groups. The placement allowed me to build my confidence in this area – gradually and in a supportive environment where everyone is learning rather than being assessed. I did this through leading volunteer groups and running site tours (both of which are optional and can be done in pairs!). People would mostly look at what I was showing them rather than me myself, reducing the pressure that comes with speaking in front of groups, letting me ease myself in gently.

More difficult to quantify than vegetable outputs, the Grow Leader placement aided my mental wellbeing. Being amongst nature was a key factor, something I sometimes forget the importance of.  Doing so offers tranquillity from busy urban, work or home settings where we can be overloaded with stimuli, responsibility and often negativity. On the placement, you focus on the daily tasks, offering relief from overthinking. When it is time to address any anxieties, you can do so with a clearer head. The sense of achievement I got each day in one way or another and the sense of community helped me with low mood. I would recommend the placement to anyone with social anxiety - you can chat if you want to, but without the intensity of regular social situations as you are working on tasks at the same time. The tasks themselves are a great conversation starter too. If you’d rather not talk or prefer a solo job, that is fine – there are all kinds of jobs to be done! The amazing wildflower nursery is usually a peaceful place.

The food growing is a fantastic aspect of Feed Bristol but all that it unlocks is even better. It has a ripple effect that lasts much longer than the seven hour volunteer day - nourishing people with education, skills, confidence and good food which in turn benefit the individual, community and environment from the ground up. To find out more about the Grow Leader placement and course, please visit our website.

Feed Bristol site in summer

(c) Nick Turner