My goodness it’s a long while since I wrote anything here – I guess that happens over the winter, there’s not a lot happening growing wise when all said and done. Actually we’ve been pretty busy with PXI – Space to Grow in the past few months, and more is planned as we slowly but surely move closer to Springtime.
So here’s a few highlights of our recent activities:
The Chutney and Jam making sessions in October / November were really popular, a number of people joined including people who’d never made them before in their lives. We experimented with Quince, and Hedgerow jams, as well as with a number of varieties of Chutneys (Ploughmans, Windfall chutney, and Green and Red Tomato) all delicious. The sessions took place at Cross at Yew Lane Quiet Garden and were led by Diane Cocker (LEAF) assisted by Charlie Hill (local artist).
As well as the Chutney and Jam making, we’ve also worked with Charlie (using a grant from CDF for groups in Southey ward) to organise mini beast hunts in Parson Cross Park and a willow weaving session this last Saturday. This took place again at Yew Lane and we joined by adults and children who helped construct upright willow structures that we’ll be using to support planting this year.
The sessions have gone so well we’re already looking forward to the spring and what else we might do but already we’re thinking of a Using Seasonal Food series of events, as well as family activities at Plot107, and more creative sessions at yew Lane, Mount Tabor and the Learning Zone. So watch this space for more news.
How quickly the seasons come and go – it’s a while since I last updated the Space to Grow blog and in that time, summer has changed into autumn. Its been a busy few weeks, which is an excuse rather than a reason for not updating you all as much as I’d hoped, with various harvest festivals in the local churches I’m part of – but also with the actual task of harvesting and deciding what to do with the produce that is now gathered in.
As part of the whole emergency food parcel / food bank provision that PXI offers from Mount Tabor we’ve been able over the past few weeks to offer some fresh food alongside the usual tinned and dried products – and today we’ll be holding our second monthly community meal out of “Share” the Friday drop In that we run.
Now our minds have turned to preserving some of the last fruit and parts of the harvest and so we are starting to look at jam and chutney recipes. We’ve been blessed with a small grant from Community Development Foundation to work with local artist Charlie Hill and other local partners including LEAF and Yewlands School to do a series of seasonal events from walking and creative writing to willow weaving and jam making. So next week on Thursday (24th October) and on 7th November we’ll be doing jams and chutneys at The Cross at Yew Lane. Sadly much of the soft fruit has gone over now so they’ll be no local blackberry jams this year – but instead we’re trying our hands at Quince Jelly and variations of apple chutneys all using locally harvested produce.
Meanwhile we’re expanding the “green” stuff we are doing in PXI with Peter our Community Youth Worker now helping with gardening groups in a number of local schools including Yewlands and St Thomas More schools, as well as celebrating harvest with new friends at Wooley Wood school. In the past week we’ve also been chatting to other growers in other parts of Sheffield including a project at the Methodist Church in Hollinshead – its good to see more and more people reconnecting with growing food, and with the spiritual dimensions of relating to seasonal changes, and becoming re- grounded in the earth and creation.
“Summertime…” says the George Gershwin song “….and the living is easy.” With the summer we’ve been having there have certainly been some days when just sitting down and enjoying the sun and all that’s alive around you has without doubt been the most sensible thing to do. That said there’s still been plenty of work to do on the various plots and allotments PXI is involved in – Plot107 has produced loads of fruit this year, especially rhubarb and gooseberries despite the fact its all got a bit overgrown in places, and now we’ve teamed up with Chaucer school to work on the neighbouring Plot108 we’re hoping to be even more productive next year as we also hope to use it as a base for some out of school youth work.
As well as the work in Parson Cross Park, we’ve been busy down on Herries Road at LEAF and at Plot64. The new plot is still taking time to get into a productive state again, with loads of weeding and digging out still to be done as well as avoiding disturbing wasps nests! Even so it’s gradually beginning to take shape and hopefully by next season we’ll be looking to plant.
At LEAF we’ve been busy with some enthusiasm from some of our younger volunteers over the summer helping to do much needed work harvesting, weeding and replanting. The bees are also doing really well there and continue to busy themselves with storing up and making honey. We’ve also had time for some social time, last Saturday LEAF threw “open house” and invited people round for tea, using food made from stuff grown on our various allotments – in the end about fifteen people came and made their own pizzas in the pizza oven before sampling a range of pies, cakes and crumbles.
Soon we’ll be looking to the apples and pears and other “hard fruits” and hopefully be working once again alongside Abundance (the Sheffield urban harvesting group http://growsheffield.com/abundance/ ) and starting some more jam and chutney making and cooking sessions at Mount Tabor and at the Cross at Yew Lane. So enjoy the last few weeks of summer, and look forward to the seasons to come.
Last week at LEAF we were visited by a film crew who were making a documentary all about local food production and community approaches to food. It was a good opportunity to show why I in particular enjoy being at LEAF so much when I get the opportunity to be there – it’s not just about the food growing, important though that is, it’s also about being community.
Now being a community, just like being a family isn’t always easy, and there are times when people fall out – sometimes over little things that are easily patched up, and sometimes over things that are much harder to heal and move on from, but the mark of any community (and family) is in how much it is able to forgive each other and move on. Now forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, and it doesn’t mean the hurts will always disappear but it does mean that we learn to understand each others faults and failings and therefore try to find ways of moving on beyond them. In the bible it says “…love each other deeply, because love makes you willing to forgive many sins.” (1 Peter 4.8 ) – obviously this isn’t the slushy romantic love of cinema screens and soaps operas, this is a deep unreserved love for our fellow human beings that has almost limitless powerful opportunities to heal and build.
But back to the film – the crew we there all day doing interviews with people and filming as Kadeja cooked a wonderful Iranian style omlette all made with ingredients from the plots including the eggs from Garys chickens – all in all its about as local as you can get, and delicious too!
In addition to the film crew, PXI also welcomed visitors from the Anglican Diocese of Manchester last week who are currently travelling the country to gather stories about how the governments “austerity” politics is adding to the effects of poverty in communities up and down the nation. They paid a visit first to the “food bank” we run at Mount Tabor and then in turn came to visit LEAF before spending time at St Leonards church in Longley.
This week as the sun continued to bear down on us we opened up two new beds to plant some Yacon and Okra – but before we did it was time to harvest a decent yield of runner beans and offer them to the public. We’d had at least one taker before I left at lunchtime – I do hope they enjoyed them.
After the morning at LEAF, I moved on to the quiet garden at Cross at Yew Lane, where the raspberries this year have done really well. Another two pounds almost today to add to the full tub we’d already picked and shared on Sunday with visitors to “The Gathering” which is a small christian group that meets regularly there.
There were more Raspberries on Plot107 when Angela was up there today – lots of weeds still to cut down but as the site for our main fruit crops its been doing well this year at least as far as the raspberries and gooseberries are concerned. For some reason the rhubarb has not done as well, and the strawberries have largely failed due to us allowing them to get shaded out by other stuff – a new plan will be needed next year for them.
I’ve been in a bit of a reflective mood recently looking at some of the things we do in PXI and why we do them, but as I’ve done that I’ve also learned a number of lessons from life on the allotments.
1. A few weeks ago our plots at Parson Cross Park and at Norwood looked really overgrown – the weeds had grow tall and parts were like a jungle, all because we’d neglected our work there for a month or so – it amazing how quickly neglect can overwhelm a situation.It the same with other things in life it’s amazing how quickly situations worsen, relationships suffer, and problems mount if we neglect dealing with them. I met someone the other week who got themselves into a load of debt (thousands of pounds) just because they’d tried to ignore the situation and so the interest was added on, the debt grew and a problem that had started smaller had grown and grown until it was almost overwhelming. Thankfully this person had now seen a debt advice worker at an advice centre and bit by bit the debt was being brought under control – it will still be a struggle, there are rarely any easy solutions, but at least the problem is being managed again, much like our overgrown plots.
Our relationships with each other and with God can also be a bit like that, in the Bible, Paul tells members of the early Church “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4.26) – in other words don’t let arguments, disagreements, and fall outs drag on – because the longer they do the more other things grow up around them making it harder to apologise, forgive or rebuild the relationship.
Likewise our relationship with God can also get neglected when we don’t spend time in conversation with “him” – that’s why we pray. Prayer is no more than our ongoing conversation with God, there’s no right way to do it – no special words needed, just an honest recogition of how we feel and where our friendship with God is. Thankfully whatever our relationship with God is like “he” is always ready to listen to us.
2. Story telling is one of the ways we learn truths about life, Jesus used stories a lot when he taught his followers about God. This week we went to Plot 64 to do some more clearance work and to try and start making space for the first beds we hope to prepare. In the end we had to leave in a bit of a rush because of one of those mini family crisis you get when you’ve got kids – so Angela put on the padlock and we were ready to go. It was only then we realised that we’d lost the keys somewhere so now we were locked out of our allotment and inside the allotment compound, and still we needed to rush home. Thankfully a kind allotmenteer opened the site gates so we could leave and deal with our family crisis – but still we had no idea where the keys were. We searched through the bag we’d taken to the plot – we emptied out our pockets, and every compartment in the car – but no keys! Later we went back to the plot with a ladder so we could climb over the hedge and on to the plot to find the lost keys – we looked all over the site and then we found them – what joy, what relief the keys were lying there, and all our worries about buying replacements, the cost of a new gate and so on were gone. That same sense of joy that we had in finding those keys, is how Jesus says God feels when someone he hasn’t heard from in ages gets in touch as wants to become friends (You can read the bible story in Luke 15.8-10) ….
In the past few weeks with the weather improving we’ve been able to get out again into the various different growing spaces that PXI is part of in and around the area. At the Cross at Yew Lane we planted new fruit apple trees, and added new whips into our blackberry hedge to strengthen it and add to the diversity with;
Bird Cherry and
In addition to the trees and hedging we planted up a number of new planters in the front and inner garden areas, and erected a new seating area, and began work on attracting more wildlife into the garden. Meanwhile at LEAF we hosted a prayer event called Prayer 8 for the Methodist Church in Sheffield – this led some of us into a conversation about the “Special & Spiritual Spaces” at LEAF. Now this conversation was in response to something I’d read and shared some years ago, an article by George Lings called “The Seven Sacred Spaces of Monastery” http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/news/encounters43 in the article George outlines seven spaces common to monastic spaces, these are:
Chapel – place of public worship & celebration Chapter – place of decision making and ordering of community life Refectory – place of eating and hospitality, community and service. Cell – place of private prayer, reflection & meditation Cloister – an ‘in between’ space which allows for informal interaction with the world beyond Garden – place of manual work Scriptorum – place of study.
The more I think about these spaces the more I think they speak about the things each of us needs in our lives, we may not all see these from a Christian or faith perspective but together they can help us in achieving something of a balance in our life. The “sacredness” of these spaces comes not from the space itself but to how and if we meet with something of God there, as Margaret sine puts it: “Sacred is where the soul goes ….. A place is sacred, ground is holy because we encounter God there.”
Those special, spiritual spaces where we find it easier to meet with God, the divine, are sometimes called “thin places” (especially in Celtic Christian spirituality) but this weekend I was also challenge by Rev John Vincent who spoke about the importance of “thick places”. By “thick places” John was arguing the need to find God not just in the beauty, awe and wonder of creation, but also down amongst the dirt – the hurt and pain of life, the struggle (sometimes just to survive another day), amongst the broken hearts and broken dreams, to find God in the very places that seem to be missing God.
Plot64 feels a bit like a “thick place” in allotment terms – as well as all the rubbish we’ve been trying to clear off in the last few months, the current weather has made everything suddenly resume life. The site is so overgrown it seems at times like there’s nowhere to start and it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by it all, and admittedly this weekend Angela and I were tempted by what seemed an opportunity to swap plots for one that was ready to go as it were. Well it doesn’t always work like you hope and the other plot has now been let out – so we’re just going to have to knuckle down to some hard and heavy graft to clear away all the rubbish, dig out all the weeds and bring new life on to Plot64 – it will take time but it will be worth it.
Well it’s not been the best start to spring as far as the garden is concerned, its been very wet, cold and with more late snow than I can remember – though I recall my Dad, now 92 years old, telling me he remembered snow as late as May!
All that said, I’m late putting in the potatoes this year – traditionally they’d be in around Easter but this year I’ve not even thought about it properly yet. On Plot 64 there’s still a whole load of clearing to do before we can realistically start to plant and plan, on Plot 107 in Parson Cross park the heavy clay soil makes drainage issues the highest priority, whilst at Cross at Yew Lane we’ve now got a “Gardening day” planned for 27th April when we’re planning to re-lay the hedge with some additional whips with hazel, blackberry and the like as well as plant a couple of new fruit trees at the back, if you want to join us you can come anytime from 10am (we’re doing soup about 12.30pm) and stay for as long as you choose.
LEAF of course has its own long standing cycle of work and a ready and committed band of volunteers to carry it out and it has seen lots of work done even in the past few months. New beds have been built, structures renewed, and the banking has had new paths made and planting completed with bulbs and other plants. On May 8th, I’m looking forward to holding a special “Prayer Trail” on the LEAF site as part of Sheffield Methodists Prayer 8 series – the trail will use the site to provide opportunities to sit, think, reflect and pray about issues such as; food and fairness, our environment, and our place and role in our communities, the event is an open one and anyone is welcome to join us between 2-3pm at LEAF on Herries Road.