I joined the Common Ground garden back in March 2011, when I saw a poster calling for people to help with the Spring planting. I had been trying to up my game in matters of self-sufficiency and bushcraft skills, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little about growing vegetables . . . admittedly, the girl who I saw put up the poster was also really cute (I’m no Islington angel). A one-off day of planting turned into a couple of weeks, and before I knew it I was being handed a set of keys to help with watering. Come June, at the closing meeting for that academic year (as we remain at the core a student-run society), I was voted in as the Common Ground society president for the 2011-2012 year. Another fine mess I’d gotten myself into.

Some people might ask, why was a student with just three months experience in the garden picked to run it? The answer, I guess, is because I’m the student who kept turning up every week, and in the end, that’s what a garden really needs. Common Ground doesn’t run on cliqueness, and any new member (like me) that’s gets fully involved can quickly end up playing a major part in what we do. Some longer-established members might know a lot more about gardening than I do (that’s pretty much a certainty), but that knowledge is useless unless it is put into practice.

This is the first year that the garden will run without one of its founding members at the helm, something of a test for Common Ground, finding out if it has the impetus to run on without those who created it – continuation is often harder than creation. Of course, as one of the people in charge this year, it is my responsibility to make sure that people are interested in our work, be they students or non-students. We have all sorts of members at Common Ground, some have just a passing interest in gardening, some try it out and find they don’t like it, some love it but have busy lives. These members have all made a contribution, no matter how small, for which we are very grateful. But all ships need their skeleton crews, and while we always welcome casual members and visitors, we’re also on the lookout for our core working group and our next garden leaders. There is no reason why a first year student at SOAS couldn’t be running the society next year.

Student-run societies sometimes fall into the trap of just becoming talkshops, especially those with a political agenda. You can see this happening when a society’s idea of action starts to become increasingly tenuous, such as by just filling in online petitions or organizing talks that just preach to the converted. Luckily at Common Ground we have a garden to keep us firmly grounded (literally). Some of us get involved in the garden to learn about self-sustainability, some are worried about climate change, some worry about peak oil, some just like eating fresh vegetables, and some might even join just because they saw a hot girl or guy helping out there. Regardless of our motivations, vegetables don’t grow themselves, they certainly don’t give a rat’s ass about our political inclinations, and you definitely can’t grow edible food on Facebook (though I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I am proved wrong). So first and foremost, quoting from Voltaire’s Candide: “We must cultivate our garden.” In the midst of all the elephant talk and debating we still need to pull our finger out and get active.

So get involved, be you a student or not, find out what we do, learn what we know and teach us what you know. See you there.



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