Growing a berry network in Dundee
We’ve been co-designing a community berry growing scheme with people and organisations in Dundee, here’s what we’ve learnt so far
Did you know that 50% of the world’s raspberry varieties and 90% blackcurrant varieties are bred in Dundee? Even though this is the case, many local people do not get a chance to eat berries and enjoy this tasty and nutritious source of food. Approximately 30% of children in Dundee live in poverty and last year 9520 three-day emergency food supplies were given to local people in crisis in the city (Trussell Trust, 2017).
With this in mind, we are excited to be working with James Hutton Limited and James Hutton Institute on the TayBerry Seedling project to see if people living in Dundee are interested in growing and eating more local berries.
The original idea for TayBerry came from a group of researchers at James Hutton who wanted to use the organisation’s berry knowledge to grow more berries in the city and help people access a good source of nutrients. James Hutton spoke to other local organisations who also thought it was a good idea. Before seeking funding, the group wanted to make sure local people were onboard too. And this is where Snook joined the party.
We are testing and developing the idea of a community berry growing scheme by speaking to potential service users, and involving them in designing how this could work. We have spoken to a range of people and organisations to find out if they are interested in growing and eating berries, how they would like to be involved and, most importantly, which berries do people want to eat?
Here are twelve things we’ve learnt about berries and community growing schemes so far:
1. We need to grow tasty things
People told us they like berries because they taste good. Raspberries and strawberries were the most popular berries by miles for their sweet taste and juicy texture. Blueberries were often the least favourite due to its slightly bitter taste and higher price. These findings turned TayBerry’s original plan on its head. This was because the original focus was on raspberries and blueberries for their nutritional value.
2. Dundee, City of (Soft) Fruit
There is a lot of love and nostalgia in Dundee for berries, stemming from the region’s history of soft fruit growing and their berry growing industry. Many people we spoke to had stories about using Dundee’s ‘berry buses’ as children to get out to the farms and help pick fruit in the berry season. Whilst automation and competitive labour means the people of Dundee no longer help with the berry harvest, there is a great opportunity to pull on the city’s nostalgia and create a new role for berries in the area. One of our research participants suggested we rename the city ‘Dundee, City of Fruit’, we like it!
3. Berries and people don’t like commitments
Whilst many people expressed interest in growing and eating berries, we heard from existing growing initiatives that in reality it is hard to get people to make regular commitments. Luckily for us, berries are commitment phobes and do not need year-round maintenance. They need occasional maintenance and picking in the berry season, around which we could create occasional events and activities for people to get involved.
4. Groups in the city need to connect
We spoke to a range of groups in the city, each with different berry-related interests, including community garden groups looking for help with maintenance and harvesting; support groups looking for outdoor activities for their visitors; new growers looking for advice; experienced growers with plenty of advice; growers looking for materials or crops; and others with too many materials and crops. Many groups had needs that overlapped, but no way of easily finding each other.
5. People need space to meet
The most valuable outcomes of our co-design workshop were not the activities we did, but the connections made between groups, like when a new community garden group, looking for advice on what to grow, met a more experienced group who were happy to share tips and experience. Creating the space and opportunity for people to meet, online or offline, is valuable for building a berry community and connecting people who would not otherwise meet.
6. Picking is a problem
A surprising learning was that when people grow fruit and veg, it often goes to waste because it’s not picked. We heard several stories about this from different groups. Reasons for not picking included people in community gardens not wanting to take more than their fair share or being uncertain whether they were allowed. We also heard that people were concerned about eating food grown in the city in case it is dirty. It was suggested that many people are more comfortable buying perfect, clean supermarket fruit, although ironically, this will often have been sprayed with more chemicals than organic, locally grown produce. This presents a big challenge, but also an opportunity to use TayBerry to reshape the connection we have with food and our understanding of where it comes from.
“It’s hard to get people to harvest the stuff – it doesn’t make sense to us but people don’t seem to do it.” Community Gardener
7. It’s not all about the activity
From speaking to organisations who support and run activities for people with low confidence, social anxieties, and mental and physical health issues, we learnt that educational activities are about more than the practical skill they focus on. We learnt that we should provide opportunities for people to develop their confidence through teamwork, socialising, getting to places on time, and seeing that they can achieve things. It shouldn’t matter if the task doesn’t get completed perfectly – or even at all.
“Offer skills beyond the practical, to help people realise they are capable of achieving things.” Project coordinator
8. First crops need to be easy
New growers we spoke to often lacked confidence and would easily give up when their first crops failed. This means we need to choose first berries that are easy to grow and likely to succeed. Again, this reshaped our ideas of which berries to grow, blueberries are tricky but strawberries and raspberries are pretty easy to grow and low maintenance.
“You need easy crops for the first grow so people can witness progress and feel they’ve achieved something, to get them hooked.” Allotment holder
9. Don’t try to be experts
We learnt that to interest a range of people it is more important to be open and welcoming to all than to try to be experts. We heard that new growers can be put off joining groups due to lack of confidence, and that informal teaching styles work best for making people feel accepted. Several experienced growers told us they aren’t always certain what they are doing, many adopt the ‘stick it in and see’ motto for growing. This made us rethink our original approach, where we tried to use James Hutton’s reputation as experts to interest people in the project without thinking about the people it may put off too.
“Be open and friendly, to help with low confidence. Teach informally, so people are easily accepted. Campbell Gardens are great because they are relaxed about not being experts.” Project Coordinator
10. Berries and beyond
We have a feeling this project is bigger than berries. Berry growing connects to other topics such as health, employment, social isolation, food production and climate change. Whilst it is important to focus on the granular details of how the project works, we must also think about the bigger picture and the impacts TayBerry could have on other parts of a wider system. We need to collaborate with people and organisations at this level and work towards a shared vision in order to make the changes needed for TayBerry to happen.
11. Try it and see
At Snook, we think quickly testing ideas with users is a great way to learn if something works and how it could be improved (as long as those original ideas are based on good user research!). As mentioned earlier, experienced growers have a similar motto too, ‘try it and see’ was the answer often given when we asked about what grows best where. We are keen to embed this approach in TayBerry through a design principle, to remove the knowledge and confidence barriers to berries and encourage everyone to have a go.
12. Making things real can be scary
Over the next month we will be ‘trying and seeing’ ourselves, as we build and test 3-5 ideas from our research and co-design workshop. One of our TayBerry team reflected the speed at which the project is developing and we are building a community feels scary, as it could impact people’s lives, either positively or negatively. At last year’s Transformations in Practice conference, fear was highlighted as a key barrier for transformation to a more sustainable and equitable future. Whilst taking action is scary, it helps us learn things we would never have thought of, it creates new opportunities and helps show there are alternative ways of doing things. And we think that’s a risk worth taking.
The fruitful future
Over the next month we will be prototyping key parts of TayBerry service and testing them with users in the real world. We are excited, optimistic, and look forward to sharing our learnings with you.