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The fabulous Craftivist Collective supports the Grow campaign

Posted by Emma Cooney Media Officer for Oxfam London and the south east

9th Aug 2012

Who thought tomato jam could be world changing? Find out the inspiration behind the Craftivist Collective summer jam project. Watch an instruction video and check out the video of the launch at a city farm. Get involved, think about your food choices, spread the word. Could you use your hobbies and interests to change the world?


Oxfam intern Sarah P never thought she'd spend an evening making jam. She left the first batch on the hob too long and it turned to caramel. Not good. Running out of time, she started again and the second batch was finished in the early hours. Luckily her frantic efforts went down a treat at Spitalfields City Farm where it was handed around in sandwiches at the project launch.

The Craftivist Collective combines craft + activism and is known for its mini protest banners, which it leaves in public places to highlight social justice campaigns from train fare increases to child labour in sweat shops. They have turned their love of craft into a positive movement for change. By turning their attention to food inequality they have created a buzz in the craft scene and bloggers including Momtaz from Cos I Like Making Stuff and Kim Smith Happy and many, many more have been spreading the word about the Grow campaign. Since the launch Craftivist Collective founder Sarah C has worked with the Women's Institute and Hackney craft group The Make Escape and there's lots more to come.

GROW aims for a world where everyone has enough to eat and encourages people to think about simple local solutions from buying local  food, growing your own, shopping in food co-operatives and joining a local veg box scheme to buying Fair Trade. There's lots you can do. It struck a nerve with Sarah C, who met a Kenyan farmer called Christine five years ago. Christine gave Sarah a tomato jam recipe and Sarah has been looking for a way to share Christine's story ever since. 

She said: "Christine had lost her husband and sister to AIDS and, like many older women where she lived, she was looking after orphaned children she couldn't afford. She discovered tomatoes grow when there isn't much rain and started making tomato jam to sell at the local market. She joined a women's co-operative, which brought these women together to share their skills and they pooled their money together to send the children to school.

"I met Christine for ten minutes and we used an interpreter, but she was really giggly and funny and animated and really proud of what they were doing. She reminded me of a woman called Ann from my home town of Everton, who worked really hard in the community to make it better for little or no pay. She just wanted to make it a better place to live and did everything from tackling anti-social behaviour to lobbying for better housing.  We should all tell these women's stories.

"Christine is still probably working really hard at a time when she should be retired."

Sarah added: "Craft is a time for reflection. It's a good time to think about how the way we grow and share our food doesn't work. One in seven people go to bed hungry every night but in some parts of the world 80% of food is wasted." 

Part of Grow is about lobbying the Government to invest in small holder farmers who already feed one in three people on the planet. When this happened in Vietnam, hunger was halved in 12 years.

I went along to the stitch-in at the East London farm. To get inspired to host your own event, watch the video of the day HERE.   

Everyone was given empty jam jars containing sewing equipment, jam making & stitching instructions, information about Grow, Christine's tomato jam recipe & her story. The aim was to stitch a message on the lid and later fill the jar with the homemade jam and present it to their local MP, shop keeper, family or friends to get people to think about and act on food inequality and to spread the word by talking to people, blogging and uploading videos on sites like YouTube. Fingers crossed everyone sees the project through to the end.

Here are my favourite quotes from the day:

Chloe, from website, The Merry Bobbins, sewed message 'Don't keep calm and carry on on.'  "It's really nice to sit and sew and meet other people who are part of the crafting scene, or from Oxfam or Shoreditch Sisters, and to chat about the wider issues as well as craft. You can't really escape meditating on the subject. it's also a lovely women's story. There's a sense of women as the agents of action, women getting things done."

Constanza, a Global Poverty Programme ambassador, stitched 'If you don't change, you don't grow'."It's empowering. It shows women that actually we can make a change. It's amazing to see how these issues get people together. I think it shows a hope as well."

Steph, of Global Poverty Programme and WI Bitch and Stitch Group, said"I'd never heard of tomato jam before and I must confess I was quite sceptical but it actually tasted really nice. It's a different way of campaigning and discussing poverty issues with like minded people. You are surrounded by people who care in the same way that you do. It's refreshing to be in that environment."

Tilly, of craft website Tilly and the Buttons sewed 'Be the change you wish to see in the world.'"I am interested in craft as having a sense of agency and empowerment. Craftivists believe you can effect change by making something. It affects not only the people who make the things and feel more involved in the world but also the recipients of the lovely hand stitched gifts."

Singer songwriters Shivon and Miriam had just spent two weeks in Kenya and have previously worked on social justice projects in Peru and India. Miriam said the jam project reminded her of the women she met in Kenya."The whole thing made me think of how resourceful they are. They don't have much but they make it work. This project is so out there. It's not your typical rally or protest. Who would think that tomato jam can be a world changing thing? A simple message on a jam jar can reach places a protest can't reach."

Shivon added: "It's very simple and very effective. This tomato jam could just spread and develop so many different conversations about food issues and food injustices."

Oxfam supporter Pilar stitched 'True peace can never grow in the soil of inequality.'"After reading Christine's story I found it really inspiring that these women, after having gone so much hardship, came together and found a way to work through and find solutions. It shows how great things can be when people work together. By joining forces can make a big impact on society and on the world."

Sarah C also teamed up with Clash front man Joe Strummer's daughter, Jazz Domino Holly, whose book Queen of Crafts was published by Penguin, to make this INSTRUCTION VIDEO about the project. Check it out for inspiration on how you can get involved.

Images from this day of filming, making jam and stitching, ended up in Lost in London magazine, a beautiful seasonal guide for simple living in the city, with information about the Grow campaign. We're in the latest edition Summer 2012 across six pages! It's fantastic. The Craftivist Collective project is continuing into the autumn and possibly beyond so it's not too late to get on board. Or perhaps you could use your hobbies and talents to make a change...




Blog post written by Emma Cooney

Media Officer for Oxfam London and the south east

More by Emma Cooney