Roots to Work: The urban farmer

We meet Joris Gunawardena, director of Sutton Community Farm, London’s most productive community food-growing space.

Thursday 8 June 2017

You used to work as a chef. What inspired your move into food growing?
I’ve always loved food. In restaurants the beauty created is so ephemeral. By working in small scale agriculture I get to combine my passion for great food with a range of interesting social issues from physical and mental health to global warming and food security.

Tell us about a memorable ‘lightbulb moment’
We had a family visiting as part of a cook club. After eating a tomato straight from the plant, the mum said: “I eat tomatoes and cucumbers almost every day, but I had forgotten what they actually taste like. Everything I usually buy tastes the same. I can remember this from my childhood.”  For me it just shows you how far away from our food we’ve become.

People can buy a share in the farm. How well has this initiative worked?
It’s great. People can see the great benefits of a place like the farm. Taking ownership has been really rewarding. It exists for the community, and is now driven by the community. We have another share offer that closes at the end of May so come take part.

What do you think has caused a growing number of people to become involved in food growing?
There’s a lot of mistrust in how larger companies been adopting the language of local. The image portrayed by them is often a far cry from the reality on the ground. Where once localism was the preoccupation of the elite and the radicals, now many more regular people are sharing the narrative of local and trying to find out how the idea actually makes sense for them.

What is next on the horizon at the farm?
We’ve been very successful over the last few years and now we really need to address some of the fundamentals. We’re still running everything from a large garden shed. So then next step for us is to build a barn.

Sutton Community Farm is a London Food Link supporter. Portrait by Miles Willis for The Jellied Eel

Find good food jobs and volunteering opportunities through Roots to Work, run by London Food Link’s Capital Growth team

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The original version of this article first appeared in The Jellied Eel magazine, an element of London Food Link's work as the voice for good food in the capital.

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