Taking on a small allotment project in the centre of the city has been a hugely rewarding experience. An opportunity to provide fresh vegetables for our table, to connect with the land and the local community and to get to know the local foxes. Not to mention, an opportunity to learn valuable skills for my own future project; A little plot somewhere in the southwest where we grow our own food, go off grid, learn to live simply and reconnect with ourself, each other and the land.
Seeing how the land gives forth such bounty in exchange for your energy and attention is a miraculous thing. The soil, the water, the sun and even elements of the air are transformed into fruits and vegetables that sustain us. With the compost full of worms and rotting down nicely, the cycle continues back to the earth. The great circle of life!
Of course, it does not always matter how much energy or time you put into something, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”. There are as always so many causes and conditions coming together and again a reminder that we are not in control.
The courgettes that where so bountiful start to decay and the leaves become mottled yellow with mosaic virus. It was not in the soil. It was in the seeds. So, no matter how much care and attention went into growing these plants, it was inevitable. It starts to spread to the cucumbers. But this cucumber is quickly uprooted, and it does not spread further. So many cucumbers we have now!! They are growing quicker than we can eat them. Some experiments with cucumber pickle ensue to mixed reviews. The 2-week fermented chilli pickles with less salt and a little less garlic win. But still some people did not dare even try.
Preparation and creative perseverance do often pay off. For example, the cabbages. We are the only plot that bothered as they so often get eaten by slugs or caterpillars. But a nifty two rings of slug defence seemed to confuse the slugs enough to protect the vulnerable young plants, and then some netting to keep of the dreaded cabbage whites. Granted you sometimes found a butterfly or two playing inside the net. But it did enough to stop them making the cabbages a caterpillar nursery.
Some things take no human intervention, such as the rhubarb. So many rhubarb crumbles and cakes and now to try rhubarb jam… not to mention the raspberry jam and foraged blackberries. And from nowhere a pumpkin vine springs up; a seed leftover from last year in the soil. And it just thrives. Just take a bit more rhubarb for the kitchen to make some space and it flourishes, promising a huge autumn bounty (but let go of expectations and attachments).
Then there are the rewards of generosity. Exchanging of plants, harvests and knowledge. The delicious Zimbabwean greens “muriwo” were an unexpected addition to our allotment one morning when the lovely lady on the next plot handed me plant after plant. And the lady one plot over who has farming in her blood going back generations and is always ready to share her experience.
Walking back through the park with a bucket or crate loaded with veggies always raises a few eyebrows and you see the natural delight in seeing homegrown food. One older lady called me over where she was sitting on the exercise equipment so she could see what I had in my bucket: a huge harvest of broad beans. She told me about the land she had in Poland that she worked every day with her husband and showed me her hard working and slightly gnarled hands. She told me she had a stroke, and she cannot work like that now. She was trying to regain some strength on the park exercise machine. I offered her a big handful of broad beans and he face lit up as she told me in detail exactly how she was going to prepare them.
Food brings people together. It is something we all share and all need. Not just humans, but all sentient beings. Can we all find more connection around these most basic and vital things in life? Can we take back the supply of food from corporate companies and re-establish our own relationship with the earth; cultivating connections in our own communities to provide what we need to thrive? Perhaps there could be more respect and love for the earth, and each other, if we could directly feel that interdependence.