For several weeks now, I have been spending Saturday morning's volunteering at a local farm. I find this a surprising thing to say: not because I'm volunteering, but because I live in NW London and am able to get there in less than 30 minutes on foot.
I discovered the farm after seeing fb posts advertising its weekly produce market. For weeks I was unable to make the 11-2 time slot but finally one Saturday back in August, I got there just before they closed.
I was so excited to have something like this virtually on my doorstep. I purchased some butter churned on site, apple juice fresh from the orchard, beetroot picked for me and green bean chutney (which was delicious). What was amazing was that this wasn't a local farmers market, it was literally a farm shop with everything grown and made right there.
My delight at all of this obviously shone through as Justin informed me that they were always keen on volunteers.
I did just that. I first volunteered there at the end of August (not lockdown but we have always been socially distanced and wear masks as necessary). The joy it has provided me is something that I didn't expect. There is something so wonderful about being surrounded by a range of fruit and vegetables including apples, beetroot, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, chard, squash.
They sold a few different honeys, one, I was delighted to discover, was produced from a hive at an allotment one street away from where I live.
Each Saturday morning, I look forward to my trip over there as it feels like an adventure away from how we typically view London and to a place where I can get dirt under my nails whilst digging up veg, collect freshly laid chicken eggs and wash soil off the garlic.
Last weekend I spent an hour picking delicate salad leaves. It produced just 3 bags for sale but how wonderful to think of the taste and nutritional value contained in those leaves compared to something which has been packaged. These pre-packed greens are bad for so many reasons:
Grown far from where we live
Uses a lot of water
Holds very few nutrients due to the processes
Contains lots of chemicals to keep them fresh
Lots of food miles
During my hour picking, I noticed that my breathing became less confined to my chest. It was a grey and rainy day but nevertheless, I felt happy and at peace. There was something therapeutic about gently removing the outer leaves and placing them in a basket. I could smell the soil and it was good.
Whilst not certified organic, they don't use pesticides, use companion planting and have a no dig method. I actually get happy to see some leaves eaten by slugs as I know this is food for the birds. The more insects there are, the greater the biodiversity.
In recent years we have become used to pristine leaves, potatoes and fruit. I remember a time when our shop bought potatoes were covered in mud and that was fine, because it showed where it came from. Our obsession with perfection results in huge amounts of water, pesticides and significant waste.
No wonder my Saturday mornings at the farm are a few hours of joy.