GROWing Roots — with time, talking and tactile experiences

by Edith Salminen, Gro’up, Malmö, Sweden

For the month of September, GROW Observatory is highlighting the stories of GROWers — people with whom we have interacted and who inspire us, and who grow food, but also are interested in data, citizen science, policy, tech and more.

I decided to start growing two years ago, when I realised that if I wanted to practice my work as a gastronome in the right way, I also needed to get hands-on experience on growing food. I had an outsider’s perspective, but that was not enough. I wanted to experience growing, to observe and understand nature, smell the soil, touch the land, connect with the seed in order to understand the whole cycle.

Growing helps you reactivate your senses and instills within you an attitude that gradually changes your life. I was impatient at first. Worrying about the amount of time needed and how slow things were moving. After a while, however, I realised that I could not control time; nature was calling the shots and I had to follow her rhythm.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

When my partner farmer and I first decided to grow food, we hesitated because we felt the older, established farmers would question our true intentions. Growing is something of a trend, the new and cool ‘hipster’ thing to do. “Let’s see how long you will last,” some said, mildly chiding us city folk with our soft, unweathered hands. For them, we represented a generation perhaps lacking the strength and endurance required to be real farmers.

As new city folk starting to grow in the countryside, we decided it was extremely important to create bonds and build trust between us and the older generations who have been farming long before us in the area. We felt it was not about aesthetics or techniques, but, rather, longevity: it was more about convincing older farmers that we were still going to be here next year, and the year after that. The whole first season was dedicated to establishing trust and breaking down misleading ideas about city people coming to the countryside.

I think it is very important to involve older generations in whatever it is that we’re doing with our plot of land. I do this by asking for their advice, even if I think I have a reasonable idea of what the answer might be. It creates a bond between us, a sense of community which is immensely valuable. If I have a problem and I spot an older farmer walking by, I immediately ask him for help and advice. Suddenly, we are four people standing around a problem and I realise that there’s so much more than just a simple answer to my question. This is priceless!

In my opinion, GROW offers a great opportunity to highlight the need for this inter-generational connection, to promote knowledge sharing, and help break any physical or mental walls between rural and urban people. I’m aware of this being an ambitious goal and creating such bonds don’t happen overnight. As far as I am concerned, the main point is how to combine the slow-paced, manual lifestyle of growers with the digital and hyper-connected world we live in today. If GROW is successful in doing this, then it would be something revolutionary!

In order for an online information hub to work successfully though, real encounters and stronger mental and physical relations between urban and rural people need to be established.

We are people, and people feel connections when they experience real things — until something moves in their hearts. People react to things that move them emotionally. We need to start feeling the countryside, it needs to move us from within. And vice versa, the countryside needs to start feeling the city, too. We need to create relationships built not on necessity, but on emotions and empathy. Only then, will these two seemly opposite parts start interacting and interconnecting in a deep and meaningful way.

Finnish born but international at heart, Edith Salminen is an eclectic food professional: a food culture specialist, a holistic gastronome and a small-scale amateur farmer. Where there’s a food issue of any kind, Edith is there to observe it, analyse it, process it and hopefully to solve it. Today Edith is co-founder and manager of Gro’up — Malmö’s first community food space where food is used as a social tool and a vehicle to drive change.