Crops NOT Shops

Greenjacker meets with Chay Godfrey, founder of Crops NOT Shops about grassroots initiatives and evolving communities.

One positive thing to come out of the Covid-19 global pandemic is that we have seen a rapid re-emergence of self-help and mutual aid in communities around the world. As soon as the scale of the crisis became apparent, people came together to help each other and ensure that the most vulnerable were supported in this time of need. At Bentley Urban Farm we adapted our veg box scheme so that the profits and any surplus produce was used to provide fresh, healthy fruit and veg to food banks and kitchens who provide meals to people who are shielding. We still give a weekly donation to Manna Community Kitchen, so if you’d like some healthy organic veg which helps support others visit Bentley Urban Farm. We are far from alone in what we do, the crisis has seen nw projects emerge and encouraged existing projects to work more closely together.

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.”

Crops Not Shops - a row of plants under a greenhouse canopy

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. We live in an abundant world, but too many people are still denied access to the basics in life thanks to a system which relies on scarcity to make a profit. We can change things and provide for each other if we take the provision of essentials such as food, energy and shelter back into our own hands. With typical tyrant mentality, Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao) declared that political power grew from the barrel of a gun. I don’t know how true that is as I’ve never cared much for political power, but I do know that lasting people power is much more likely to grow from people armed with spades. True radicals grow radishes.

Crops NOT Shops founders and helpers

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, communirty and people in crisis. The Crops NOT Shops ‘Dig for Victory’ project was born.”

Crops NOT Shops helpers smiling and posing for the camera, covered in mud and soil.

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.”

Crops NOT Shops helper holds up some roots, while smiling.

You can get an 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.


Follow Crops NOT Shops or find out more via Facebook or their website here.

Down at Bentley Uban Farm we’re already in talks with Chay about starting a Doncaster Crops NOT Shops. Ultimately we’d like to move away from selling veg to raise money to make donations to growing enough produce to give free, fresh food to anyone who needs it. As an upcycled market garden made from other people’s waste it seems logical to move even further away from the monetary system if we can. People matter more than pennies, so if you’d like to get involved then get in touch here.

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