City Farms: The new natural safe haven bringing communities together
The pandemic has forced millions of people to be locked up indoors impacting people’s mental health and causing isolation. How do city farms help people overcome these challenges and learn the value of being outdoors with nature?
Standing in what feels like a natural safe haven in the midst of the bustling city of Bath one can’t help but appreciate the break you get from the hustle of the beautiful city. The sounds of the leaves rustling, distant birdsong and the smell of the soil as it soaks up water while still being able to overlook rows and rows of Georgian houses in the city of Bath are what happy dreams are made of.
Studies conducted by organizations such as the WWF-UK and Mental Health Foundation have shown that being outdoors in green spaces have a major impact on one’s mental health even more so during the pandemic. Being one with nature has several positive impacts on one’s mental health and helps people remain calm and keeps the mind at rest.
Rachel, the project coordinator at Bath City Farm, talks about the importance for people to be in the midst of nature and witness seasonal changes. She said, “I mean I’ve heard of theories that say that there is some kind of bacteria in the soil that is apparently meant to be good for your happiness. I don’t know that much about it but I do know that when I do some gardening I feel really good and I think the volunteers who attend the farm feel the same way.”
With the travel and tourism industry taking a massive hit due to the pandemic, people haven’t been able to travel to other parts of the country and take holidays like they used to, therefore having to look for local places to find an escape. City Farms have become popular places of recreation and people find local farms in the cities they live in to go visit. For most city dwellers who don’t have any access to a garden space or nature, these farms provide them with just that. These farms act as the ‘green lungs’ for cities filled with high rise buildings and concrete structures providing a green breather for people. Research has shown that city farms and community green spaces have not only proven to help with mental health but also helps reduce antisocial behaviour and connects people bringing the community together. People who visit these farms often talk about how it has made them happier and they feel wholesome after their visit.
Spread over almost 37 acres, Bath City Farm is one such space that brings the local community together and provides space for people to come together and grow vegetables and flowers whilst also tackling issues such as mental health, isolation or learning disabilities. People who visit the farm have opportunities to interact with farm animals, cook together, help run the cafe, grow different vegetables, fruits and flowers and understand how food is produced from plot to plate.
Ruth, the deputy manager of Bath City Farm, says that many volunteers at the farm speak about how important it is to be in an open green space especially after the pandemic. She said, “the volunteers say that it’s a relief from sitting in a house with four walls by themselves and being at the farm helps them combat isolation as the people who visit have that sense of connection with other volunteers”.
The city farm at Bath Has been around for over 25 years but has seen a lot of new people visit the farm post the pandemic as more people begin to value the outdoors. Ruth points out that they’ve had the maximum sales from the cafe and the shop post pandemic when there was an influx of people who visited the farm.
Community Cafe at the farm. (Photo Credit : Prerana Bandi)
Alessia, a young professional living in Bath, misses home so much more now as she hardly gets to step out. Hailing from a small town in Italy, she really misses the outdoors. She said, “Back at home we have a huge yard and grow a lot of different things. We often go to my nonna’s as she lives on the hills and enjoy the crisp air. It is very different from living here. It is very green and quiet, but I have not been able to go in over a year. I have lived away from home for many years now, but I have not missed it this much”.
For many people like Alessia, being away from the outdoors and nature hasn’t been easy. Her partner who is from London talks about how he used to get away from London as it would often overwhelm him. He said, “I love London, but it can get noisy, even emotionally. It gets too much sometimes. The boys and I used to take trips to the countryside as we could do with some quiet. It becomes hard, you know, to be okay in the hustle. It has definitely impacted my mental wellbeing sometimes; I can feel it.”
Being one with nature calms the mind and helps people take a step back and breathe. Fresh crisp air and being with the sounds of nature help people relax. There are a number of city farms all across the UK that cater to this ideology of appreciating the outdoors and building a community. Both of these aspects have helped numerous people battle their mental health during the pandemic. Be it community outreach programs or community cafes, people have started to see the value of a community post the pandemic. The pandemic has caused a lot of people to feel low and isolated, pushing people to value the outdoors and the idea of community building much more.
Pygmy goats at the farm with the city of Bath as a backdrop. (Photo Credit : Prerana Bandi)
Bath city farm has seen lots of volunteers benefit from being one with the soil in terms of their mental health. Ruth spoke of a volunteer who was diagnosed with schizophrenia around 18 years ago and has tried various drugs and methods over the years to overcome and manage it. The drugs only caused other undesirable side effects which made him gain weight and lose interest in his job and everyday activities. Volunteering at the farm helped him get back on track and feel so much more positive.
Ruth said, “He began volunteering at the farm and he found that the physical activity and being outdoors made such a positive difference to his health both mentally and physically. There are so many volunteers who come here with a lot of challenges in their lives and feel positive at the farm. Being able to come here and just being accepted as a part of a volunteer group working with other people has been really important to the development of many people’s confidence and self-worth”. She added, “It is just so important to come out here and listen to the birds and all the other animals and feel the soil. Volunteers feel so much happier after a day here.”
Play area for children at Bath City Farm. (Photo Credit : Prerana Bandi)
Bath city farm caters to various needs be it people with mental health challenges, learning disabilities or retired people from the community wanting to give some time to the farm. Rachel spoke about the farm bringing the community together, she said, “We have different programmes depending really on needs and people are grouped together bringing in a lot of diversity within the groups. They work on growing plants, vegetables or flowers together or they might be in the kitchen cooking together. So yeah, I think that the farm really does a good job of bringing lots of diverse people together in a really nice community setting.”
For people like Alessia and her partner, locked up for months in big cities, city farms that are located just at the outskirts or sometimes in the city prove to be a saviour. People get to interact with the larger community, be one with nature, interact with farm animals and get their hands dirty volunteering making it a wholesome and fulfilling experience. People come out much calmer and are relaxed after being outdoors. It is also a huge learning experience to understand where their produce comes from and to understand the process of rearing and growing the produce. Apart from making people feel relaxed and igniting a sense of community, city farms give people who have no access to the green a chance to understand where their food comes from helping them appreciate it more.