Nine years ago last month, a bunch of people came together, calling themselves OrganicLea, to “sustainably rehabilitate the food growing heritage of the Lea Valley”. Their first step on this mission were communal work days to clear overgrown plots at Hawkwood allotments, Chingford, for cultivation of organic fruit and vegetables, for themselves and the wider community.
I think back to those pioneering days now, as myself and Nicole, both of us present “at the birth”, once again embark on clearing an almost infinite swathe of tenacious bramble. Nine years on, we’ve inched five minutes up the road to this old council nursery site, in order to start again. Life does indeed go in spirals: gladly this is an upward and outward one.
in 2001, we started work with a few begged and borrowed tools, a small pot of cash raised from a benefit, on a site with no infrastructure but running water. We had a few enthusiastic friends and volunteers, and a world to win.
To paraphrase Durutti , the new world is [still] in our hearts, and it is growing this minute. The last decade has witnessed a surge of interest in organic and local food production, and community gardens have mushroomed. OrganicLea are now an established workers co-operative with staff and firm roots in this corner of East London, based on a range of past and present projects and activities, including the market stall and box scheme, and the renowned “scrumping project”. On the strength of all the above, the council offered us a ten year lease on Hawkwood Plant Nursery (or Hawkwood Nursery for Plants and People, to give it its full title), a 12 acre site bordering Epping Forest, with purpose-built glasshouses and buildings, in which to scale up local production of food, food plants, and training.
Given all this, it is suitably grounding to be back to bashing scrub. And even the bashing has an upward spiral to it: back in the day, not knowing or affording any better, we used loppers, secateurs and sickles; Nicole claims she even resorted to scissors to attack the great blackberry trunks! Today, we have equipment specifically engineered for the job: Sean loves the Irish slasher whilst I lean towards the Austrian scythe with the “Fux” bramble blade. Then we go in with the flail mower, and the roots are finally dug out with a mattock, which (as the rest of the world has known for some time) makes relatively light work of such a task compared to the spade, which we and every other English gardener persisted in using at the start of this century.
So, as we approach the spring equinox and its brief perfect balance between light and dark, let’s drink to spirals: onwards and outwards.