Crops NOT Shops: Growing the Mutual Millennium

Last month I suggested that there was good reason to believe that we were witnessing the birth of the ‘mutual millennium’. Austerity, socio-economic polarisation and the shuffling incompetence of the zombified neoliberal economy had already seen a slow and steady stream of grassroots community innovation as the wages and social securities of the poorest were diverted (stolen) to protect the interests of the wealthy. It is likely that this push towards autonomy would have continued to gain momentum anyway, but then the Covid-19 crisis hit and the process was accelerated in ways we could never have foreseen.

There has been a rapid re-emergence of self-help and mutual aid in our communities, with people coming together to support each other in ways which have put the government and local authorities to shame. One exciting project which has blossomed in these troubling times is Crops NOT Shops, who are helping to transform gardens and wasteland into plots to grow free, fresh, healthy food. It reminds me a lot of the Incredible Edible movement which launched in 2008. I met Pam and Mary of Incredible Edible back in 2010 and they advised that the best way to get started is to ignore the local authorities and just do it. Chay Godfree, founding member of Crops NOT Shops, shares their pioneer spirit:

“I live in Southend on sea Essex,” says Chay, “My life is and has always been about freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom from oppression and freedom from capital control on the self.”

Chay had spent his adult life working with community outreach groups, constantly engaging with grassroots youth initiatives. He says:

“My main focus has always been self-reliance, sustainable resource management and land based research around the Resource-Based Economy network for localisation of resources and ecological regeneration.”

Resource-Based Economy (RBE) is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. This may sound utopian to some, but it is the backbone of the commons system which guaranteed people the right to subsistence food, shelter, resources and energy for millennia before the development of the modern economic system which forces us to rent essential (and non-essential) elements of our lives from outside bodies (companies, landlords, corporations, states, local authorities, etc.). The further removed we are from satisfying our own basic needs, the more precarious our lives become. The end-game of neoliberal economics is to have you rent as much of your lives from them as possible — preferably on the never-never because in their twisted order debt is wealth — and even have you believe that you’re actually better off for it.

But not everybody is fooled by the smoke and mirrors of the dominant economic system. In the ‘neoliberal world order’ true radicals grow radishes.

“I’ve set up wildlife gardens, produced and hosted a 500 capacity Know Your Roots eco festivals/tribal gatherings, worked in schools creating sustainable arts projects and much, much more, but none of it seemed concrete enough to make real system change.” says Chay, “But in 2020 everything changed. Now was the time to really step up and ask the spirit of love how can I personally make a real difference that will have a lasting effect on the next seven generations.

It came in a vision, or a lightbulb moment, on April 12th, 2020. We decided to reach out to the local community and ask if anyone would be interested in us transforming their gardens, front or back, into workable food growing areas for FREE. We didn’t even have a name then and we certainly didn’t expect such a huge community response.

We didn’t have tools, materials or even a van at the tie. I turned up to a friend’s garden on a push-bike with a bag full of donated plants; toms, potatoes and radishes Is all we planted on that day.

But just a few weeks on from that first garden we knew we were onto something real. We were witnessing a revolution which was empowering people to take control of their own lives. Helping them take their first steps to self-reliance and resilience by growing their own food, and their first steps to mutual aid by sharing that food with their friends, neighbours, community and people in crisis. The Crops NOT Shops ‘Dig for Victory’ project was born.”

In less than a year, Crops NOT Shops has gone from strength to strength. They have transformed 27 private gardens, 3 community gardens and 2 homeless/ex-offenders supported housing gardens. They have a team of over 20 active volunteers who work from 7 allotments and a huge greenhouse. They have developed 5 sites for their Free Food Sharers network and other community collaborations. They have a 3000+ strong Facebook supporters group and have developed 2 Crops NOT Shops bases in Ireland. They also now have a van!

What’s more, they do all this for free, as Chay says: “through the love and care of collective community efforts.”

Chay also says that they have: “plans for big works and partnerships with as many like-hearted organisations as we come across.
Our aim is to develop :
Free Food Sharers Network
Free Energy Network
Free medicine
Free Education
Free Sustainable Housing

We plant trees, save seeds, and grow free food to share with the world. We will continue to rise up and empower as many people join the food growing revolution and get back to nature and our truest divinity of love.”

You can get a deeper understanding of Crops NOT Shops’ aims and objectives — and a taste of their dedication and compassion — from Chay’s YouTube ‘Mission Statement’.

As with all good mutual aid projects, it is easy to get involved with Crops NOT Shops. It doesn’t take huge resources, just motivation, time and love. If you are an individual or group who would like to make a real difference in the world, right here, right now, then join the Crops NOT Shops community and just do it.

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Warren Draper


If you’re already part of self-help, mutual aid project which is changing the lives of people for the better (or you know of a project which is doing this work), then get in touch and we’ll feature it in a future Freedom ‘Mutual Millenium’ article.