The farm that grows salad and life chances

Illustration: Eleni Kalorkoti

“I’ve seen every sun rise for the last six years. The way I see it, we’re spiritual beings on a human journey. Part of that spirit relies on reconnecting with our roots.”

Steve Glover is a man on a mission, and he’s determined to help people who might otherwise find themselves on the fringes of society struggling to find their purpose.

Walking around Severn Project’s five acre (20,000 sq m) farm near Bristol, UK, Steve explains how he and his team of volunteers, apprentices and employees have transformed this once-disused plot of land, and have created a community.

Everyone who comes here has escaped a challenging background that had previously cut them adrift from conventional society, whether as a result of a learning disability, drug or alcohol dependency, crime or even where retirement had left them feeling socially redundant.

On the farm, they discover a more fulfilling alternative – growing and harvesting food in a supportive environment that allows them to redefine themselves. To date, the project has helped over 400 people.

zqxvfqgvm1pyxb7kpypy-min“Sustainability is the opposite of dependency,” says Steve, a former builder who after recovering from his own drug problems, undertook an addiction counselling course that inspired him to find a more lasting approach to social integration than the short-term solutions he realised were failing many people.

“We live in an age of nature deprivation,” he adds. “There’s a direct correlation between the rise in mental health issues and the fact that the majority of the population subsists on processed foods while living and working in concrete environments. Being outside is good for the soul, the way we support people is therapy: we empower and invigorate people”.

Having started out on a plot of land in 2010 with just £2,500 and a rudimentary understanding of horticulture gleaned from a couple of books, Steve and his team have transformed the project into a philanthropic business where the people are just as important as the produce.

During the summer, they harvest and sell 400kg of mixed leaf salad and herbs to over 250 companies across the South West. In the winter months, they import and sell produce from partner organisations in Spain and Italy.

spjh26zdqcfuwczv7amb-min“Our primary purpose has always been to do good, to treat people as assets to the community,” explains Steve. “A lot of people come to us having been de-habilitated, from programmes that give them three months of treatment but no other support. They’re malnourished in physical, psychological and emotional terms. When you’ve got a role in life, work that pays, somewhere to go and something to do, it’s a lot easier to negotiate the minefields of life’s traumas because you have a purpose.”

For Dave, who works on the farm during day release from prison, where he’s nearing the end of a five year sentence, the Severn Project has been a lifeline: “I used to be an alcoholic and I’ve got bad eyesight so I couldn’t really work. Coming here has given me the opportunity to get involved in something useful. It’s completely changed my outlook and maybe even changed my future, I can now see me coming out and doing something different with my life”.

Steve has big ambitions to turn the remainder of the Whitchurch site into a residential farming community, and to expand into farming livestock. “A lot of society’s problems are rooted in greed, anger and stupidity,” he says, seeing it as cause for hope rather than despair.

“How do you counter that? With compassion, wisdom and care. Our business is a physical demonstration of those principles”.


Illustration: Eleni Kalorkoti

Via. Red Bull Amaphiko

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