City farmer and founder of non-profit Edible London, Soner Karagozlu started in his parents’ garden and went on build urban farms in unlikely locations across London.
Soner Karagozlu is the man behind Edible London
It didn’t require a lot of thought for Soner Karagozlu, a 36-year-old farmer from Palmers Green, North London to start his non-profit Edible London back in 2017. He was just doing what he’d been doing his whole life, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. In fact, he doesn’t even take any credit for its founding at all. “It was created by the need of people, animals, and the planet,” he told My London.
who’s Soner? what is Edible London?
But Soner, or “Sunny” as he is referred to by everyone who has come to know and love him, is being way too humble.
Through his leadership and hard work, his organisation has delivered around a million meals worth of fresh ingredients from various urban farms around Haringey throughout the pandemic, and now, exhausted but still standing, he says Edible London is on the verge of a huge growth spurt.
But who is Soner, and what exactly is Edible London?
“Farming has always been in my family,” Soner says. “When my dad originally came to this country, in the Windrush times, he’d have his slippers on his feet and he’d walk around selling fruit and veg out of his wooden cart.
“Edible London was simply a reaction to something I chose to do. It all happened organically. I had just had enough of commercial life – commercial farming, commercial businesses. Always use, use, consume, consume. So I turned to the land. I started growing fruit in my parents’ garden, and made the whole garden edible.
"When I ran out of space and things to do, I went out for a walk and came across the Wolves Lane Horticultural Centre in Haringey. I saw a sign asking for volunteers. I gave one day a week to the centre and so many people were just flabbergasted by the impact I made.”
Regeneration… takes into account people, the planet and animals
Using his experience of farming, electric and carpentry, Soner says he helped the Centre set up pumps and planters.
Now the Centre is one of several locations Soner uses across the borough to grow the fruit and veg that he distributes to locals for free.
“We’re fundamentally based in Haringey, but we work with many other boroughs. We have another growing project in Broadwater Farm, an outreach project working with Harmony Gardens. We also have a community space in Tottenham, at the High Cross Centre, and an amazing roof project in Stamford Hill,” he says.
“We’re here to regenerate the land, our communities, and ways of thinking in society. We advocate for and work closely with many, many businesses to change their way of thinking. We make unused spaces edible and educate people, and make people feel included.”
Putting emphasis on the word ‘regenerate’, Soner says: “the word ‘sustainable’ is overused. Regeneration is a whole different ball game. It always takes into account people, the planet and animals. That’s the blueprint that I laid down in Edible London from the beginning.
“We’re ambassadors of this earth, so it’s about time we stopped talking, pointing fingers, and started doing.”
Edible London is a “sociocracy” but struggling with simple things like getting a van
Soner describes his organisation as a “sociocracy”, and showers its many directors with praise for making it what it is today, but he says many leaders in his organisation have had to step down because the bureaucratic hurdles thrown in front of their charity work has proved to be too frustrating for some.
“No one wants to see an organisation that isn’t using the money other organisations are using be so successful, connecting dots and sharing resources without holding them back, inviting people and feeding them without charging an entry fee,” he says.
“We’ve seen so much money raised for other causes, yet after four years Edible London is still struggling with simple things, like getting a van,” he adds. “We don’t have a van at the moment because our one broke down.
"Thanks to our corporate sponsors we were able to borrow one to get us out of trouble over the summer. That van was delivering free school meals to children in Haringey. We’re doing everything by ourselves.” Continued below…
“Grow food, and share it with your friends and family.”
Despite the lack of funds, however, Soner says Edible London was able to pull through to deliver some 80,000 meals for 8,000 people shielding in Haringey during the lockdown as part of a 12-week agreement with the local council.
“Haringey Council needed our help,” he says. “I’ve been in the business for 25 years, so I had the connections and the resources and the know-how to put together a food distribution operation.
“At that point we were working with 32 organisations such as food banks, youth centres, old peoples’ homes and homeless shelters. It was a beautiful operation. It proved what can happen when there’s unity and respect between the average laymen and the powers that be.
“Prior to the pandemic, people like us were invisible, disrespected, most of the time ignored. Suddenly we were needed.”
However, he still believes the success of the campaign Edible London led during the lockdown is “unsung”.
“With all the money that was actually made from the pandemic, how much of that has gone to the volunteers who helped this country get through it?” he asks.
Nonetheless, Soner insists that Edible London will not only continue to serve communities the way it has done throughout the pandemic, but it is also planning to expand its operations.
“We have a few more big projects in London, including some really, really exciting rooftop projects that will solidify who we are and what we are. We’re forming proper partnerships with technologically advanced organisations that will work with anyone to bring solar panels to their buildings and technology to deal with their waste water,” he says.
“We’re about to launch a project with a new organisation that has a 130-acre estate in Buckinghamshire, as well as projects with our new corporate partners, Sharmans."
Asked what Londoners can do to help Edible London continue to serve the capital’s most needy, Soner encourages those with gardens and adequate farming space to start producing their own organic food at home.
He says: “Grow food, and share it with your friends and family. Instead of spending your whole life working to go to the shop to buy your food, take a day off work and spend it at home to grow your own.
“And if you have a surplus, come down to our food hub, because there’s a lot of people we can feed with it. Help us to make London edible!”
Source: Ertan Karpazli for MyLondon.news
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