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.

Taking Time Out

Nasturtiums, Peas and Beetroot on Plot107

Well it looks like summers finally arrived (even if only briefly according the the forecasts) and is was lovely to spend a good portion of my day today on the plot – and it needed it! The recent wet weather had made everything grow and especially the weeds, so despite the heat it was a case of being down on my knees pulling up weeds of all different varieties. Weeding is one of those gardening tasks of course that never seems to end, it’s a bit like painting the proverbial Forth Bridge,but staying on top of them is important to allow growing and breathing space to the plants as a gardener you want to do well – and there was no shortage of those as well today. From the bright and colourful Nasturtiums, to the harvesting of 4llbs of Broad Beans, the reward of tasting lovely wild strawberries, and cutting some chives for tonights tea, this years harvest is well underway – and all because of that space to grow and the nurturing that goes with it.

It being so hot and sunny it was also good to just take some time out from the work and relax and reflect – friends and regular followers of this blog will probably know about my interest in re-discovering “monastic rhythms” and exploring ideas of “new monasticism” for me the plot is as much a part of the monastery garden (alongside Quiet Garden at the Cross at Yew Lane) and as such it is about providing a space where we can be nurtured and grow just like the plants around us. And so it was that I found myself sitting and reading “Cave, Refectory, Road” by Ian Adams late into an the afternoon.

Adams identifies three spaces key to a “spiritual” life;

  • the Cave. This is that place of quiet, often solitary – where we take that essential time out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, with all its joys and sorrows, its burdens and its rewards, this is the place that we rest, this is the place we try to draw close to the “more” that we sense almost instinctively that we know there is to life – we may each call that “more” something different, for me the “more”is God as shown to us by Jesus.
  • the Refectory. Here we meet with others in community, our friends our family our neighbours – this is where we share hospitality, it is the place that gives us our stability.
  • the Road. The road calls us to live our lives shaped by our contact with others, to become public over private.

…. and so I sit, now showered and home from the plot, to spend more time in solitary reflection and, strangely, I find my mind turning to a scene in Christopher Nolans “Batman Begins”. It’s the scene where Bruce Wayne having returned from a time of personal challenge decides to confront his fear of bats, he does this by venturing into the cave of his boyhood terrors and standing as the bats fly around him – gradually as his fear is overcome – the cave that in the past held only fear and terror, has become not simply a refuge but the place of growth and power. Caves it would seem are not always dark and damp, nor are they simply places to fear, they can be places lit up with insight, where fears and worries can be overcome, and where new insights can be gained. ….. And so back to the cave!

“The journey to knowing God must include the discipline of coming to know yourself, and that risky journey invariably starts in silence” Ian Adams “Cave, Refectory, Road”

Welcome to the jungle


Walking to Plot107 this week was a bit like a jungle trek with weeds on unused plots at head height. It’s frustrating trying to keep your own plot free from weeds when there’s neighbouring plots stacked high with them and ready to spread seeds across the site – meanwhile the recent weather has been ideal not just for weeds but for lots of produce on the allotments.

This weeks also been good for fruit on the plot – managed to harvest the first of the gooseberries (which made a rather lovely crumble with custard, thanks to my wife Angela and her cooking skills!) and the wild strawberry plants are putting up loads of their mini strawberries. Not to be outdone though the cultivated strawberry plants are also well down the line of producing fruits. I must admit I always enjoy being able to pick and eat a strawberry straight from the plant – it reminds me of past trips to PYO (Pick Your Own) strawberry fields, I used to like the one in Ecclesfield but now the only reference to it being a farm is the name of the pub there!

As the tennis at Wimbledon has started this week as (not that I’m a huge tennis fan) it made me think about how we associate Strawberries in particular with something that somehow seems to say “English summertime”, weather its strawberries and cream, or strawberry jam on scones with butter, they just seem to shout out a particular picture of “English middle class-ness” – but on looking up facts about strawberry production for this particular blog post, I was hit by the figures on world strawberry production and harvest.

In 2010 the world production of stawberries was over 4.3million tonnes, now that’s a lot of strawberries! And the biggest producers of strawberries in the world? ….. USA (1.2 million tonnes), Turkey & Spain(0.3 million tonnes), Egypt, South Korea & Mexico (0.2million tonnes)

I can’t compete with that …… still I bet mine taste nicer!

Strawberries and Gooseberries on Plot107




Chatting and chitting

Blake on Plot107

With the sun finally out it was good to get back on the allotments today, it was good to have company in the shape of my son Blake and Mr A and Mr W from Chaucer school on the neighbouring plot. We spent time doing some weeding, planting some more onions and broad beans, and putting in the strawberries that our friends Harry and Wendy brought over at the weekend.

Sadly it looks like the frost over the weekend has killed off the early shoots from my potatoes – so it’s a good job I’ve got some more already chitting at home to be put in over this next week or so.

Blake being the talkative type that he is we also spent a lot of time chatting – to each other and to our neighbours. In fact Blake spent a lot more time talking than he did digging – but it left me thinking that  that’s all part of the joy of allotment life.The fact that we all need to find places where we can be together and learn about and from each other, as well as places where we can be quiet and alone with our own thoughts and feelings. At different times our allotment plots can offer both of these spaces and perhaps that’s one of the things that makes them so special.

 Discovering that there is a time and a place for all things is something that the author of Ecclesiastes was also aware of:  “There is a right time for everything, and everything on earth will happen at the right time. ….There is a time to plant  and a time to pull up plants…. So I saw that the best thing people can do is to enjoy what they do…” Ecclesiastes 3 . 1-2 and 22


Making ourselves vulnerable

Strawberries on Plot107

Well the bank holiday weekend is over but we’re still in the period we Christians call Easter – one of the things I’ve been thinking about this Easter is this verse from John.

“It is a fact that a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die before it can grow and produce much more wheat. If it never dies, it will never be more than a single seed.” (John 12.24)

Now clearly there’s some real gardeners wisdom there, but Jesus wasn’t just talking about plants, and he wasn’t just talking about his own death on Good Friday (although that is certainly part of it) – he was, I think also talking about how we need to give up some of our own securities before we can grow as people – we must make ourselves “intentionally, deliberately vulnerable” (from the Rule of the Northumbria Community). But what does making ourselves vulnerable really mean?  After all, surely few of us take pleasure in putting ourselves at risk?

I think importantly that intentional vulnerability makes us look at two key areas of our lives:

  • Our willingness to learn from others
  • Our willingness to dare

How far we are willing to learn from others, and from God, depends on our being honest about how we feel – and open to learning from the most unlikely people and situations. I am always amazed for example how much I have learned about my own fears, my own short comings, sometimes my strengths, and the total absurdity of much of what the world takes for granted by the seven years time I have spent with my autistic foster son Blake.

As for that willingness to dare – the sight of some very early strawberry flowers made me think that sometimes we have to dare to take risks as part of our being vulnerable. There are few guarantees in life and just like these flowers that have dared to bloom early despite the risk that there could still be more heavy frosts, even more snow …. still they’ve braved it all to put out an early chance of bearing fruit. Sometimes we need to take those first risky steps – uncertain perhaps as to where they will take us, what might happen – but always with that potential to bear wonderful and abundant fruit in our lives, and the lives of those around us.