Welcoming Visitors

Cooking and filming at LEAF
Cooking and filming at LEAF

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!

You can read more about the film project at: https://www.facebook.com/LocalFoodRoots?fref=ts

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.

Runner Beans on offer at LEAF
Runner Beans on offer at LEAF

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.

Stories from the Plots

The story of the lost keys
The story of the lost keys

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) ….

Enjoy the sunshine – and may God bless you.

Special & Spiritual Spaces

special & spiritualIn 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;

  • Cherry Plum,
  • Hawthorn,
  • Hazel,
  • Blackthorn,
  • Bird Cherry and
  • Crab Apple.

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.

Prayers and Potatoes

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.

Clearing out the rubbish

Rubbish to be cleared from Plot 64
Rubbish to be cleared from Plot 64

Well although it’s all gone a bit foggy again over the last couple of days, this weekend felt like Spring really was on its way and it gave us a good opportunity to get stuck into the new plot (Plot64) at Norwood. The new plot has been out of use for sometime and is quite neglected and overgrown, but the major task before we can start growing anything is to clear out all the rubbish – piles of it (as you can see from the picture!)

At the moment we’re in the period we Christians call Lent – the time that we prepare and look ahead to Easter. Traditionally it’s a timing for giving things up (chocolate always seems to be a favourite – maybe in anticipation of the over indulging of Easter eggs in a few weeks time!) and for reflection and prayer. Well all things rubbish got me reflecting on the rubbish we pile up in our lives that maybe we need to get rid of. Some of it, like some of the stuff on the allotment might have been useful once, like the hurt we carry from past and broken relationships or let downs, some of it might never had any use in the first place – but however it got there, and whatever our reason for holding on to it sometimes there comes a moment when we have to make the decision and just get rid.

We’ve still got more clearing to do on the plot but until we do there’s not much point in starting to plant anything new – but in time, clearing a particular spot each time we go, it will be ready and we can start to look ahead to a new season of growth.

Just a few sleeps to go ….

OK … my children and the sign in the supermarket keep reminding me that it is now only 6 sleeps until Christmas day! So I thought it was about time to get all festive on the Space to Grow blog, our friends at LEAF have been busy recently with chutney making and candle making and we’ve got Cake and Carols all lined for Sunday 23rd. In case you didn’t see the details last time,it starts at 6pm on the LEAF plot (Norwood Allotments, Herries Road) and we’ll be gathered round the fire for warmth, there’ll be mince pies and it sounds like Garys Mum may have baked us a cake too.

All this writing about mince pies and Christmas cake has made me hungry, so what will you all be having for Christmas dinner I wonder? Whether its the traditional turkey, or something more exotic or vegetarian, one item on the Christmas plate is always the source of debate and disagreement – the Brussels Sprout! Now I have to admit being a fan, the key for me is them not being overcooked, but they really are one of my favourites. Sad news therefore that (according to the Brassica Growers Association) the crop yield of Brussels this year is 30% down on an average year …. in turn this has driven the supermarket price up.

The Mayan "Stone of the Sun"
The Mayan “Stone of the Sun”

Of course we’ve first got the Winter Solstice on the 21st December when the earth turns to its northern pole furthest from the sun – this year of course the solstice also co-incides with the “end of the world” stories that have somehow become linked with the Mayan calendar – which didn’t really predict such things at all. Of course one day the world will end …. will it be this week, I really don’t don’t know and no-one else does either, as Jesus is reported to say in Matthews Gospel (ch24.36): “No one knows about that day or hour, [of the worlds end] not even the angels in heaven … but only the Father.” So let’s not worry too much about it and just give thanks for the changing of the seasons and the wonders of all the universe.

Meanwhile, wrap up tight to stay warm, and enjoy your sleeps ….. however many there are left.

Earth Abbey Reflections

Jonathan & Chris planting garlic and onions at Yew Lane

This week I was able to welcome a special visitor to the Space to Grow project, Chris Sunderland, who is involved in various community growing projects in and around Bristol including: Sims Hill Shared Harvest, Barton Hill Walled Garden and Earth Abbey.

Chris visited the three sites used by PXI in our Space to Grow project at:

  • LEAF (on Norwood Allotments, Herries Road)
  • Cross at Yew Lane
  • Parson Cross Community Growing Space (Parson Cross Park)

We were able to share ideas’ and Chris was able to provide a useful “outside” view on the work currently undertaken as well as suggest new ideas for taking partnerships between PXI and local growing groups forward.

You can read more about some of the community growing projects that Chris is involved in on these links:

http://simshillsharedharvest.wordpress.com/about/

http://bartonhillwalledgarden.wordpress.com/about/

For those of you who would like to join us for a bit of gardening this weekend, we’re having a garden work day at the Cross at Yew lane on Saturday from 10am until about 3pm (we’ll provide a light lunch for all volunteers) we’re hoping to do more work on developing the front and inner garden spaces at Yew Lane as well as a whole load of “tidying up”. We’re also hoping to plant some Spring bulbs around the area -it would be great to see both old and new friends even for only a short time on the day –