A community project in the heart of London is gaining a reputation for its ground-breaking work. And it’s altering the way we view food production, sustainability, youth engagement, and even hip-hop.
From little shoots…
The May Project Gardens (MPG) began in 2007 as a local way of addressing issues surrounding accessibility, economic disempowerment, and poverty. It has a simple overall mission statement:
A team of grassroots activists working to educate and empower urban communities to live sustainably.
But from its main ideals, many projects have formed and grown. And The Canary spoke to the co-founder of MPG, Ian Solomon-Kawall, to find out more.
Solomon-Kawall said that the idea for MPG came from countless experiences in his own life:
My experiences of inequality, injustice, marginalisation, and demonisation provided me with the tools to give a space for May Project Gardens to exist. Like living in a society where there is so much abundance but we still have scarcity; where 1% have more wealth than 99%. My personal experiences of racism, like being called a n*gger or more institutional racism [or] working in environments where I am more qualified or skilled than my colleagues but overlooked for promotion or pay rise. I’ve also experienced working in the music industry and becoming disillusioned by the articulation of so many of the world’s problems [by music], but not taking any responsibility to try and address these issues.
But Solomon-Kawall says it was his role as a carer for his mum, who lived with mental illness, that had the profoundest effect. “Seeing someone you love being totally abused by a health system”, he said, “and the experience of being powerless to help” really shaped him. That’s what drives Solomon-Kawall. And he says that:
I knew that there had to be a different society. But this was only possible by creating an alternative, as without finances you’re not considered to be successful.
MPG has numerous offshoot projects. There’s the “Grow, Cook, Eat” initiative. It works with communities experiencing poor diets and food poverty to help them make healthy living affordable and accessible. It does this through food growing and cooking sessions. MPG holds sessions in a community, showing them how to utilise food waste collectively, encouraging them to eat together to stop social isolation, and also offering training and support in both growing and cooking their own food.
Solomon-Kawall says that he doesn’t consider himself to have ‘founded’ MPG; rather:
I simply created an environment which was based on human values that are more important than economic ones. On a micro-level they include trust, listening, support and guidance, and now have become crystallised into the values of MPG. So my goal would be to create more spaces that would allow people to experience an alternative society based on these values.
Hip Hop and food: a perfect match?
Another of MPG’s initiatives is “Hip Hop Garden“. It uses music as its base to provide an alternative education model. And it’s centred around modules including diet and nutrition, food growing, permaculture, the green enterprise, and event management:
Solomon-Kawall has some strong views on what music can do to help transform society. He says that the true value of music is “helping communities”:
As much I respect the profound skill of artists to create amazing music, unless it challenges the inequality in society it simply reinforces it. The appropriation of black music is one such example. Artists don’t think twice about adopting a Jamaican accent, “saying we are all one”. But take no responsibility to address the economic inequalities from where they draw their inspiration from. Artists in my opinion should come up with solutions to the problems they articulate. And if they fail, [they should] work/support and invest in organisations such as MPG that provide these solutions.
MPG has very clear solutions to many of the problems facing society. It aims to:
- Encourage sustainable food growing, limiting food waste, and supporting food banks.
- Educate people on healthy eating and lowering obesity.
- Enable youth engagement, provide skills, training and opportunities, and deal with issues regarding inner city unemployment and poverty.
- Utilise green spaces, reduce reliance on corporations, and reclaim the city for the community.
- Use art and creative expression, particularly music, to engage marginalised communities with these issues.
A clear vision
Solomon-Kawall says that his vision is clear:
MPG reconnects people with nature to make personal, social and economic transformations. Nature is the preventive medicine to many of our capitalist addictions. But people only take medicine when they are sick. It’s about balance. People are waking up to what’s wrong in society, but this does not equate to self transformation or societal transformation.
The MPG initiative is one of the most radical in London. From humble and raw beginnings a truly inspirational project has grown, connecting people from all backgrounds to share in knowledge and inspiration for that most basic of life’s necessities: food. But from this, great things could well follow. And if Solomon-Kawall is anything to go by, great things surely will.
– Find out more about the MPG.
– Read more from The Canary’s Discovery section.
Featured image via the MPG