The Severn Project was founded in April 2010. Beginning with a disused plot of land, no growing skills, and a small pot of money, the Severn Project is now a successful and thriving urban farm. Growing salads and herbs, adhering to organic principles, avoiding pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilisers, they supply around 250 customers throughout the South West. They support people recovering from drug and alcohol misuse, people with poor mental health, and those with offending backgrounds, in going back to work, providing long-term structure and support. Founder Steve Glover spoke to Locavore about his hopes, and fears, for the future.
How did the Severn Project begin?
I was working in Spain developing properties when the property crash happened. Like many other people I was over extended, financially, and I lost everything. I was sick of the building trade and wanted to change my career, so I left Spain in 2007 with literally a bag of clothes, a worn out Rover estate car, and some books. I moved into a friend’s spare room, enrolled in the University of Bath, and got a degree in addictions counselling. I then went to work in residential treatment, but it became clear to me that long-term solutions to addiction problems mean social integration through work, among other avenues. My aim is to create jobs in the industry of food, with all this in mind. The bigger we get the more people we can employ in ancillary and core roles.
We are very grateful to the people of Bristol, and if it wasn’t for them so enthusiastically championing the role of local food producers we wouldn’t have been able to produce what we have, in terms of social outcomes, as well as all the herbs and salads.
You started out with little experience in growing. How did you learn to grow?
I used Google. Now I have an agronomist on the team.
Do you think that urban farming models such as yours can impact the current, and future, way that food is produced in the UK?
It impacts, currently, only as a tool to set an example. We sell around 50 tonnes of produce per year, which is enough “food” to feed around 70 people per year. There are over 300,000 people in Bristol – the maths are a little worrying given that this is the situation.
You support people who face significant barriers to the workplace by providing training, education, and employment opportunities. Tell us more.
Every person has a role. Sometimes these are bad roles – substance misuser, criminal. To become part of society, one needs a role that others can identify positively with – teacher, cleaner, shop worker, farmer, builder. In order to get to that position from the position of anti-social, of outside of the norms of society, one needs training. Not only in what you do at work but also in how to be at work. We believe that, as a sustainable organisation, we can teach people about sustainability on every level – financial, physical, social. And, of course, self-sustainability is the opposite of dependence.
For me it is difficult to understand how current treatments, from an organisation that is fundamentally dependent on substance misuse, can effectively treat people suffering from substance misuse, and teach them to become sustainable. If their methods actually worked, there would be a reduction of substance misusers year on year. So if their business model really worked they would be putting themselves out of business. What we have, unfortunately, is the commodification of the client group, and the massaging of figures, in order to make themselves look good so they can continue getting funding for an industry in which it is acceptable to have an 80% failure rate.
What do you hope for the future of the Severn Project?
We have just received our Hemp License which will enable us to move forward with something that has been very close to my heart for a number of years. In the distant past I imported hemp material from Hungary, made it into jeans in London, and sold it through my hemp shops in Galway and Brighton. We also want to move into more nutritionally complex products – juices and powders in particular.
We have suffered particularly this year with the weather. The extreme heat of the spring, the dryness of the late spring and early summer, and the dank, damp late summer into early autumn have all really stretched a number of growers in the UK. I am concerned that this pattern of weather is going to become worse, and so we are looking for ways to combat this in terms of water storage, and dry areas – we already have polytunnels for this, of course, 2.4 acres of them. Also we want to be growing for powders and juices, because powders and juices can be stored for a long time, where fresh produce simply cannot.
There is a massive rise in veganism and, to be frank, the vegan lifestyle could be what saves us from the extreme weather systems that we are experiencing currently. The polluting physical and psychic effects of the mainstream animal slaughter industry have far reaching consequences.
Finally, why do you do what you do?
Karmic rebalancing. Setting an example. Proving that the current model is wrong.
For more on the Severn Project click here.