Andrew Barker and Grow Free: Growing Community and Food

Words by
Georgina Reid
| September 29, 2017

Andrew Barker is a humble man. He calls himself a ‘veggie gardener from Strathalbyn’ but I reckon he’s a visionary. He’s one of the brilliant minds behind Grow Free – a fast growing community of gardeners and sharers transforming the streets of Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne.

Grow Free rolls a little like this: produce carts are placed on streets and locals fill them with excess produce. People are free to take as much or as little as they need. The carts are plotted on a map, and updates are shared via the Grow Free Facebook group.

There’s a bigger picture vision involved, of course. Read on to find out, and to learn more about this very impressive man and the community he’s helped create.

Andrew Barker. Image supplied by Andrew.
Andrew Barker. Image supplied by Andrew.

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and your life with plants? I’m a veggie gardener from Strathalbyn. My life with plants? It kinda began when I read in a book somewhere that some dude had showed that plants could respond to his thoughts. And so, I tested this out for myself, and found out that yeah, plants can sense what we’re thinking and feeling. That kinda changes things, hey?

When did you start Grow Free? Are there others involved? Initially Grow Free began in late 2013 as just giving away seedlings with the hope of finding like-minded people. And yep – there’s nearly 13,000 others. So far.

Why? Grow Free started because conditions were ripe I guess. Enough people were disillusioned with their food, with the state of things, with the overall health of the place, and also felt the need to connect.

From what I understand, it seems Grow Free is very much about empowerment – encouraging people to see they have the power to create change through their behaviour and the systems within which they live. Is this right? Could you please share your thoughts around this (and correct me if I’m wrong!)? That sounds about right!

There’s quite a few sneaky motives behind all this free food agenda. One is opening up the idea that society is completely malleable – nothing is set in stone – we can create the sort of human society we want.”

Another is that when you find and give away your passion for free (for me, it’s growing seedlings), everyone wins.

Also, I see it as living closer to the truth. We’re all the one species, we all have red blood and white bones, we’re all in this together, and we need to work together to safeguard the future for others. Deep down we’re all compassionate people; we just wanna live in harmony. Lets do it!

How has growing and sharing food enhanced/contributed to your life, personally? It just has, in a million and one ways.

Scrolling through the FB Grow Free group is such a joyful experience! How does it feel to see the seeds you’ve sown with the Grow Free idea grow into such wonderful connections and community? It feels wonderful. As much as I’m not a fan of staring at my phone, I LOVE seeing the pictures and stories come up. I can see that people really feel a part of something good, and big, and growing.

Can you please tell us about the carts – how do they work? Are there any rules? The carts are a medium where people can share with the community. The motto is “take what you need, give what you can.” No valuing, no bartering, no trade, just giving and taking. It’s a way of giving to anyone and everyone.

Everyone is included, no restrictions or demographic. Healthy food should be available to everybody. We only have guidelines for the carts, not rules per se.”

How many Grow Free Carts are there on the streets right now? There are around 140 sharing carts, I think.

I understand they’re in Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and even Florida? Anywhere else? Yep, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and soon in the US. Not there yet, but in talks with them though. A few other places as well, but nothing as yet.

Our content theme this month is Thrift. On a very practical level, do you have a few thrifty garden tips to share for people wanting to grow their own food? Yep!

– Mulch and compost as much as you can, as this saves on water.

– Grow herbs and flowers amongst your veggies – they will attract all sorts of insect life who’ll then be your natural pest control.

– Learn how to save seeds, and take your gardening NEXT LEVEL!

What are you growing right now? I’m growing lots. Probably too much to list, but fruit trees, veggies, herbs, medicinal herbs, yeah, lots. For the first time ever, I’m growing a mulberry tree, asparagus, raspberries and rhubarb.

How can people get involved in Grow Free? Come and check out the Facebook page or email us at [email protected]. Or, send a carrier pigeon with treats.

What are your dreams for Grow Free? My dreams are to just see where it goes. No goals, just an intent, and enjoying where it’s going.

If you were a plant, what would you be? I’d be Kale. Because kale is god, and I believe it’s going to dominate the world one day.

To find your local Grow Free cart, visit the Grow Free Website and Facebook!

Image by Susannah Edwards. Sourced with permission from Grow Free Facebook Group.
Image by Susannah Edwards. Sourced with permission from Grow Free Facebook Group.
A Grow Free cart in Plympton, SA. Image by Kass Wood. Sourced with permission from Grow Free Facebook group.
A Grow Free cart in Plympton, SA. Image by Kass Wood. Sourced with permission from Grow Free Facebook group.
growfree_theplanthunter_post2
A very abundant Grow Free cart! Image supplied by Andrew Barker.
A very abundant Grow Free cart! Image supplied by Andrew Barker.
Image by Susannah Edwards. Sourced with permission from Grow Free Facebook Group.
Image by Susannah Edwards. Sourced with permission from Grow Free Facebook Group.

LIKE WHAT YOU'RE READING? SIGN UP FOR MORE