On 26th September, the town of Middlesbrough, North East England, will host its annual town meal.
At the event, people will feast on food that they've grown at home, in kitchen gardens and on formal or informal plots of ground across the town.
The Middlesbrough Meal initiative started in early 2007, supported by Middlesbrough Council, the U.K. Design Council, real estate developer BioRegional Quintain, Groundwork North East and local public agencies.
Towards the end of 2006, service designer and former NESTA Creative Pioneer Nina Belk, artist and educator Debra Solomon of Culiblog and me put a call out to local people, asking them if they wanted to grow food and to choose their preferred location.
Over the next year, over a thousand people in the town, clustered in local groups or connected by social networks, grew food in public places.
They brought their early harvest to cookery classes called 'kitchen playgrounds', inspired by meal-assembly centers in the United States.
The final harvest delivered the base ingredients for a town meal, curated by artist Bob and Roberta Smith, attended by an estimated 8000 people - and reported by the Observer newspaper to be part of a wider move for harvesting food as art.
You'll find more on the project throughout this blog (and I should give it a rest, I know):
- on its relevance to freeing-up of inter-human communications
- on the value of master-planning productive urban landscapes in cities
- or the clue it offers to making additional money from the development of urban land
Now this is all terribly fascinating - or not (please keep reading) - but the real legacy is now starting to come through from a process that was consciously designed to trigger mass participation, sow the seeds of a more localised food supply chain and strengthen social ties - in retrospect very connected to Michel Bauwens and his ideas on Peer-2-Peer Collaboration.
- 14 new allotments have been created in local schools
- a training allotment has been set up in a deprived part of town
- three new food co-operatives have been set up in three districts of the town
- a social enterprise restaurant for 13-19 year olds is being set up to help careers in catering
- urban farming was at the core of a successful bid to the U.K. Government for what is now an £8m ($13.5m) fund aimed at helping the town become a healthier place
This is not to brag. But to make some simple points about public participation in the transformation of the physical fabric and the quality of life of our towns and cities.
Mass participation at the most local level can generate real, additional value.
Sometimes what matters is orchestration of human activity, not just its production.
And sometimes it helps people to have a script - in order to write their own.
Images courtesy of Tubbyphunk.