Small Revolutions

I’m sure there’s a deep-rooted human desire for full circles.

It’s one of the fundamental pleasures of this work. It can be tough. Monday afternoon was set aside for pottering around nurturing the crops: instead, I became aware that the blight had made its unwelcome annual visit,  and it was spent in a frenzy of scything, mowing down a field of  potato foliage in time for the evening co-op meeting, with only a grim satisfaction. Circles can be vicious,sure, but mostly they are restorative: the melons are ripe again, and the celery becomes ready.

Celery, as you may know, is a “cult classic” at Hawkwood Community Plant Nursery. This means it has a hardcore following and grows brilliantly here; so brilliantly that, last year, even the hardcore tired of seeing it in their vegeboxes, let alone the larger constituency of detractors. This year, a further plan was needed. Operation Shift Celery was born.

Growing Communities are a social enterprise in Hackney, who run an organic box scheme, THE organic farmers market, and urban market gardens supplying splendid salad to the former. Once upon a time I was a grower there: when push hoe came to shovel, I deemed that the next challenge for me personally, and the community food movement at large, was to develop broader scale urban edge growing to back up the intensive pockets of production amongst the high dense. I vowed one day I’d return with a cartload of fringe vegetables.

When you leave something you love, promises of return, some sunny day, are a means of coping, hoping with the grief. Sometimes though, the wheel does run true.

This week we have had our second annual  Soil Association inspection, which means we are officially “in organic conversion”. And Growing Communities’ buying policy allows for “in conversion” produce. Tuesday, for the first time, we picked, cleaned and packed in situ in the damp of the Entrance Field, the harvest being too big to haul through to the packing section of the warehouse. Nicole, an OrganicLea co-op member and Growing Communities employee, fittingly masterminded the Operation.

As the drawing summer’s evening drew in, Nicole and I pulled up at the Old Fire Station, GC’s office and packing yard. There was some appreciation: this was their first delivery of  “peri-urban” vegetables, a vital piece in their jigsaw of a community-controlled food system. A team of seven was packing the Hackney salad as we hauled out the Hawkwood specialities: the popular hit, our Bull’s Blood beetroot, glowering crimson in the crates; and close to four hundred  crisp clumps of a certain cult classic, virtually our whole bed’s worth. Controversial celery, an ideal bring-back for a prodigal son.

A perfect circle.

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