In 2009, 12 years ago, a tiny seed was sown. That seed was Down to Earth. Now, Down to Earth has grown to become a well know, well respected not-for-profit local community organisation. It has helped many people come together and benefit from a love of the outdoors, food, nature and engagement with the land. This was all from the vision of one woman, Amanda Godber, the Down to Earth Director and founder. We thought we’d find out what drove Amanda to start Down to Earth and what drives her to keep going.
Amanda, you started DtE in 2009. What drove you to start it up? What drives you to keep it going?
Heart break, some funds to do something, an abiding passion in healthy organic food grown locally. Originally I wanted to set up a market garden, but I couldn’t find any land at the time. I was put in touch with someone who supported social enterprises and they suggested we start a co-operative to grow veg in peoples gardens for them – a veg box scheme without the box! We’ve changed over the years but growing food is still central to a lot of what we do.
What was your background before taking on the Down to Earth challenge?
I’ve done lots of things over the years but I loved being a fitness instructor and running training the trainers courses in health related exercise for many years. I also worked as a project manager for New Deal and in adult education writing training courses and teaching assessors and moderators about standardisation, levels and assessment methods etc.
I haven’t ever been particularly career minded, but have always followed my heart and it’s often worked out.
I got into gardening when my children needed me around, but were always out and about with friends. My Mum was a small scale commercial tomato grower and both my Grandads grew their own fruit and veg – it was quite normal until the arrival of modern shopping habits! I think I got a bit of green fingeredness off them all.
What’s the hardest part about setting up or keeping an organisation like this going?
Keeping going when things don’t work out or you just keep getting shut doors all the time.
Cash flow is another thing – sometimes things are paid late and for a small organisation like ours, that can be critical. Septemberitis is where I’m just worn out in the early part of the autumn – it’s difficult not getting a holiday all year and it shows in September, I can get very crabby and want to run away!
Working in the winter can be fun, but after a while the wind, rain and cold prove very challenging when you have to be out in it. I love wet walks but that’s different.
What has been the best or most rewarding part of the last 12 years working on DtE?
That’s got to be working with our wonderful gardeners and project co-ordinators, just lovely people who go above and beyond with our clients, some of whom are very vulnerable. The clients themselves are an absolute delight too and I keep saying I love my job!
The development of our gardening on prescription schemes, allotment projects, community seed bank I think as well. Seeds should be at the heart of all food growing – locally grown seed will have adapted to the local environment. We have our Thrupp parsnip which I started about 10 years ago just to see what the flower was like – the insects adore them!
What would you like to see Down to Earth achieve for the future?
Seed banks in each area, more communities working together to grow and share food. Food should be at the heart of a community – grow and eat together, talk and laugh.
It would be good if we could support other groups in other areas to develop similar projects and schemes.
If you could have one wish for Down to Earth, what would it be?
That it continues after I’ve left! Often people who set up things like Down to Earth take on too much, are driven and work for next to nothing financially to see things succeed. It’s a lot to ask of others but an organisation like ours needs a certain amount of that.
Down to Earth’s mission is to encourage reconnection to the land and to increase access to healthy, fresh and nutritious food. What are the main things that people can do to make sure this becomes a reality for Down to Earth and for themselves personally?
Just try growing one thing in your garden – potatoes in a compost bag for example or a courgette plant. Learn about it and it’s needs but then enjoy the result.
Join a community growing scheme, allotment scheme or community supported agriculture farm. Get a veg box.
Go out for a walk without your head phones and listen to nature, it’s really noisy!
Get used to having dirty muddy hands!
And finally, do you have a message for everyone reading this?
Don’t think about money as a priority. Think about making your heart and mind feel good, much more important!
You heard it here first. Wise words indeed. What a wonderful world it would be…….. many thanks to Amanda for sharing some personal insights on what keeps her going and what it took to make Down to Earth the success it is today. We all hope you get a holiday soon!