Food Communities is hoping to grow across the Scottish Borders

Community effort...Adam Skelton and the Food Communities team of volunteers have transformed land at the old courthouse in Peebles into a community garden.
Community effort...Adam Skelton and the Food Communities team of volunteers have transformed land at the old courthouse in Peebles into a community garden.

It’s been a busy year for Adam Skelton in which he has witnessed his Food Communities concept flourish.

Launched last August, it has grown steadily since with more than 1000 people now registered on the social enterprise’s Facebook page.

It all started when Adam (46), who lives in Peebles, held a food swap in the town.

He explained: “I got to know quite a few people as a result of that, one of whom owned the old courthouse on the High Street.

“The house had a large garden and the owner asked if we would like to use it as a community garden.”

That was music to Adam’s ears, having worked on other community gardens as part of his course with the Royal Horticulture Society at the Botanics in Edinburgh.

So he launched Food Communities and, with a lot of support and help from locals, got to work on its first major project – transforming the garden into a community space for everyone to enjoy.

“It’s a simple concept which works really well,” explained Adam.

“We don’t pay any rent on the land as it is, in fact, a private garden.

“In return for allowing us to use it as a community garden, the owner gets all the food they want.

“We grew a lot of fruit and vegetables this year, which the owner enjoyed.

“And the community has benefited too, being able to both work in and enjoy the garden. It’s a win-win.”

The project now has two other community gardens in Eddleston and Stobo.

And while it was Adam’s concept, it is certainly not a one-man band operation.

He said: “We’ve not had to buy anything – all the tools and seeds we needed have been donated and we’ve made garden items from old wooden palettes.

“We wanted to show people it doesn’t need to cost the earth to toil the earth and grow produce that’s better than you’d find in a supermarket.

“It’s really cheap and easy to grow your own.

“And the community has been incredible too – it’s amazing how generous, motivated and knowledgable our volunteers are.

“We have a core of around 50 volunteers who lend a hand in the community gardens and offer free advice on our website.”

Adam, who is a Spanish teacher in Peebles, is now hoping to expand Food Communities to towns and villages across the Borders.

He already has contacts in Hawick and Galashiels but is hoping more communities will now get on board.

He said: “The main aim is to inspire collaboration.

“If lots of people get involved we can all enjoy the freshest, tastiest, healthiest, most eco-friendly local food and save lots of money too.

“We have already created three successful community gardens for free, using donated materials, tools, seeds and plants and are growing lots of organic fruit and vegetables.

“But we would love to see Food Communities develop across the Borders.

“It is essentially about communities coming together to produce their own food.

“Free advice and support is available on how to grow your own food via our Facebook group, blog, monthly meet-ups, and community gardens.

“Our monthly meetings offer an opportunity to socialise and chat about how everything is going in the gardens and allotments.

“We usually have an expert guest speaker talking to us about food and environment related topics.

“Group members also regularly swap and share food, tools, materials, resources, seeds, plants, knowledge and skills.

“Food Communities creates a platform to connect as groups of engaged, switched-on producers, growing truly local food which is grown in harmony with our environment.”

Adam has already tapped into a rich seam of passionate, like-minded people in Peebles.

But by shining a spotlight on their work, he is hoping it will inspire others.

“There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the world but Food Communities spotlights the endless amazing things going on every day in our communities,” he said.

“It provides a platform for neighbours, young and old, to work together with a common purpose.”

With that in mind, Adam is also hoping to hear from home owners who may be able to donate land.

He added: “People don’t have enough time to dedicate to their gardens these days.

“We have volunteers who could utilise these gardens, for the benefit of everyone.”

You can contact Adam on 07980 129201 or email info@foodcommunities.org.

Inspiration from his childhood

Adam Skelton moved to Peebles three years ago with his wife Laura and their daughters Nora (8) and Lili (5).

He is now completing his RHS course at the Botanics while teaching Spanish too.

Prior to that, Adam taught English in Spain for ten years where he first cultivated his love of gardening.

But it was, in fact, his parents Carol and Chris who initially inspired him.

He explained: “I grew up in Devon where I was introduced to gardening by my parents, who grew all sorts of fruit and vegetables in the garden.

“I remember really enjoying picking fresh raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, apples, strawberries, gooseberries and rhubarb.

“And I loved eating the crumbles, cakes and pies that mum made with them.

“The food I grew up eating was amazing because it was a priority, served after lots of preparation and usually using fresh, home-grown ingredients.

“As food is essential to our lives, I strongly believe that we should put our heart and soul into preparing it and truly enjoy and appreciate eating it.”

Adam is now inspiring the next generation of Skeltons too – with his girls often lending a hand with projects.

He said: “Nora and Lili have helped out quite a lot, as have pupils from Peebles High School who have been fantastic in lending a hand in the community gardens.

“Some of our best volunteers have, in fact, been 14-year-olds from the school.”

The Skeltons mucked in last weekend as 400 tree saplings were planted in one of the community gardens.

If you would like to find out more about the project or want to sign up, visit www.foodcommunities.org or www.facebook.com/groups/BordersFoodCommunities.