Ewan Aitken: Cyrenians supporting community gardens as well as homeless

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File picture: supplied
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BY purchasing locally grown produce for its food bags, Cyrenians is supporting community gardens as well as the homeless, says Ewan Aitken

IN 1972 Cyrenians bought a small farm, nine acres at Kirknewton, to create a space for a group of homeless men with complex needs for whom the city was part of why they struggled to move on from their tough reality. They lived in community with staff and worked together on the farm. Through that shared journey, they began to take control of their own lives and grow their own new purpose.

Some 40-plus years later Cyrenians Farm is a successful social enterprise, one of 24 Cyrenians projects supporting people excluded from family, home, work or community. We grow and sell fruit, vegetables and preserves using organic principles while continuing to support a community of homeless young men and women, who live in the farm community and journey together to new beginnings.

Last year we piloted a small veg bag scheme to increase our sales and improve our income. We use bags instead of the more familiar box as we deliver to offices for people who can’t access a veg box scheme (for example if they live in a flat) and they can carry the bags home on the bus or train.

This has gone very well, so well infact, that we don’t have enough food to meet demand for bags. To meet that demand our intention is to buy from other social projects in order to extend our own social aims and support others in theirs. In particular, we want to buy from community gardens and gardeners who feel ready to grow fruit and vegetables for sale. We will buy produce from the community garden partners at the market rate. We are conscious of community gardens’ place as social projects and are not intending to make a group of social enterprises, each community garden has its own identity and we don’t want to influence that, just help each other along a bit. We’d expect that most partners would grow fancier stuff for us that is of high value and can feature in the bags. We’ll promote each garden through social media as and when that garden’s produce is in our bag.

So far we have 12 community gardens involved. We believe it’s probably the first network of its kind in Scotland. It’s a different way of doing economics with a social purpose, using our strengths and our collective reach to support each other, sustain our work and so support those we journey with. It means our customers can support several different charities and have good quality, locally grown food on their plate every week; not just good food but food that does good.

If you’d like one of our veg bags just sign up on our website; www.cyrenians.scot.

Ewan Aitken is chief executive of Edinburgh Cyrenians, an organisation which provides support for people facing homelessness or exclusion