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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Member’s Profile: South East Essex Organic Gardeners

Southeast Essex Organic Gardeners aims to “promote the organic way and a community response and reaction to develop resilience locally and globally.​​​​​​​” Hosting regular meetings, events and outings in partnership with other local organisations, they have done much to build a healthy local network. They describe this as “a web fed by and feeding those concerned with the ecology of our planet and our human impact on it.” 

The SEEOG committee and some volunteers. Image credit: Trust Links 

​​​​​​​Isy Schultz from GM Freeze caught up with SEEOG Secretary Carole Shorney.

Please tell us a bit about South East Essex Organic Gardeners and your history.

We held our inaugural meeting in the old Southend Central Library in 1994 with a guest speaker from the national organic gardening charity Garden Organic (then the Henry Doubleday Research Association). The Lecture Theatre was packed and there were some cross people who were not allowed to stand at the back!

Among the archived posts on our website (kept on track by our webmaster John Tate), you can find the initial correspondence to set us up as one of Garden Organic’s local groups. The two books that prompted us to form SEEOG are still available: “Gardening  without Chemicals” by Jack Temple and “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.

The group emerged in the era of the Agenda 21 Biodiversity Action Plans that brought together like-minded people concerned with environmentalism, ecology and activism, so there was considerable collaboration and networking. We worked with organisations such as the South Essex Natural History Society, permaculture groups, allotments, LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems), Friends of the Earth, Surfers against Sewage, Greenpeace and anti-nuclear campaigns. We also support the work of both the Soil Association and Pesticide Action Network UK.

 

What is the key motivation for South East Essex Organic Gardeners’ activities? In what ways do you feel you are contributing to a more sustainable food system?

Our key motivation is to get everyone growing ‘the organic way’; to spread the organic message: composting organic waste, reducing pollution and protecting and encouraging wildlife. We try to promote a more sustainable food system through our series of bi-monthly talks. Take this year, for example, we’ll have: 

  • Tomato growing: Introduction and discussion
  • School gardening
  • Why organic?
  • The Southend Inventory, by Essex Gardens Trust 
  • Gardening in the Sea: the Essex Seagrass Project
  • Open pollinated seeds, presented by Andre and Spencer from Lauriston Farm
  • Soil – Geology With Worms, a Zoom presentation by Ian Mercer on World Soil Day in December

And what a wonderful opportunity for us to invite your member supporters in SE Essex! Please join us!


How is the issue of genetic modification relevant to your organisation?

The issue of genetic modification is completely irrelevant to our organisation because organic gardeners tend to be cautious! Helen Browning, Soil Association Chief Executive, says on their website: “GM is a huge distraction. It is diverting a massive amount of time, effort and attention from the really crucial issues facing food and farming – like looking after our soils. We have already degraded 25 to 40% of soils worldwide and unless we work very hard to reverse this damage, it will be impossible to feed the growing population healthily. GM is dangerous because it allows us to accelerate in the wrong direction for a short while longer.”

The booklet by GM Watch editor Claire Robinson (produced by the Sheepdrove Trust)  debunks the myths spread by the producers of GM products and the chemicals they rely on.

There are huge worries developing – just have a look on the GM Watch website and there’s the headline:  “GM purple tomato company targets non-GMO seed company over alleged patent infringement”. 

These articles are slipping in as if it’s the norm. “Why Gardeners Need to Stop Worrying about Non-GMO Seeds” was one I spotted recently on a “real gardeners” website. There’s a creeping normalisation of GMOs. If we’re not careful, we’ll be subscribing to this and that, liking and sharing. We’re hooked when those seeds eventually come on the market because it’s all got …. normal.

Do you have any particular success stories, inspirations or reflections you’d like to share?

In May 2023 Garden Organic sent out a questionnaire to their supporters to find out how they choose their seeds – in their survey almost 70% of respondents saved some of their own seed. People obtained seed from a mixture of sources. Gardening catalogues were by far the most popular with more than 85% of participants obtaining seed from this source. It’s encouraging that almost 70% of respondents also saved some of their own seed and a high proportion used up old seed. Only 26% of participants sourced seed from a garden centre, and surprisingly, only a small proportion (16%) sourced their seed from seed swaps. A very small proportion obtained seed from supermarkets.

Our Seed Potato Day – in partnership with local charity, Trust Links – is our main event. This year we sold over 25 varieties of seed potato (some organic), plus onion sets, shallots, pea and bean seeds, potato fertiliser and chicken pellets! Finished off afterwards by The Essex Asian Women’s Association’s much loved potato curry!


What are your organisational aspirations? Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

A steadily growing membership. New committee members taking over from us older ones! Willing volunteers to cover the events we’re invited to. The Essex Schools Food and Farming Day at Writtle would be one of these. It’s crucial when we
remember that Syngenta were there in 2019 handing out toy bees to willing and eager schoolchildren! This is what motivates me!

seeog.org.uk

www.facebook.com/groups/43705483846

You’re welcome to look us up!

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