Letter From Americas

There’s been over a month’s lull since the last posting, reflecting a rest in my horticultural activity. Much as we all love summer holidays, late December/ January is for many growers the ideal time to kick back or disappear: after all, that is what the plants are doing. Usually, I take this time to make local, and inner, journeys. This year, though, I lit the carbon bullet and went transatlantic.

In the high density of New York I witnessed the unstoppable human urge to cultivate:  micro-allotments on rescued strips of land, market gardens (or “urban farms” as they like to call them) on roof tops, reclaimed ball courts, and an unoccupied island! Urban agriculture is fairly advanced in the US in general, buoyed by the popularity of farmers’ markets. Good news, but with it, inevitably, come challenges. For instance, how to respond when a pioneering urban farmer is elevated to celebrity status, and does a deal with Wal-Mart, who surely represent everything community food production isn’t? An early warning for local and organic food citizens here in Blighty.

In Mexico I’ve seen, for the first time with adult eyes, the sheer fecundity of rainforest: how plants there jostle for every conceivable, and inconceivable, bit of space and light. In the highlands of Chiapas there was Extreme Farming – maize fields  rotating through mountain banks I would think too steep to  set foot on, let alone garden. Fittingly, some of these “milpas” also displayed good examples of the renowned Mayan “Three Sisters” polyculture of corn, squash and beans.

In the Mexican cities, it was back yard fruit trees that flew the flag for “productive” plants, whilst the food culture – always underscored by one or more of the numerous types of chilli pepper – is scintillating.

Some of these chilli types, recipes and growing techniques I will attempt to introduce and adapt to our cool island setting; some will simply not make sense here, but will live on as a memory, a dream. Ultimately, I defer to Proust: “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes”.  This is the best reason for going away: to return with a refreshed perspective on this island, this patch of earth. I can report that it is fertile; green; lush; and, if you look closely, you can see it is just stirring into life.

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