Which reminds me of a family I have worked with for the last year. They were desperate to grow some food and teach their children where food comes from and approached me to find out how to get an allotment. Our first conversation was difficult as it was apparent really quickly that they just didn't have the time to work a plot properly and that they would have struggled and given up. This family has parents with 3 jobs between them, one car which is generally at work with one parent or the other or ferrying children around to various sports and clubs and when we sat and worked out what their really spare time looked like it was pretty much not there. They certainly couldn't find 8 hours a week to get on top of a weedy plot!!
I always think it's harsh but kind to be really honest with people about time and gardening, because there is nothing worse than knowing something will be a struggle for someone. If struggle is involved there will disappointment and a feeling of failure. Gardening, be it for flower or fruit, should be a pleasure, a joy and for it to be anything else is sad and wrong.
What I didn't say to this family however, was that they couldn't garden, but that we would find a way they could, allowing for their time, or lack of it, and ensuring the youngsters in the family were involved! We looked at what space they had available to them at home in their tiny back yard and front garden and we planned to make those spaces edible, productive and beautiful.
They discussed what they wanted to grow and a raised bed was made and some large pots bought and filled with compost. Seeds were sown of lettuce leaves and tomato seedlings were bought. Chillies were gifted and herb plants bought. Eventually everything was planted out, a feeding and watering rota was made and the growing began. Every few weeks more salad was sown and slowly over the summer the family realised they were becoming almost self sufficient in salad leaves and in late July when the tomatoes started fruiting, enough sauce was made to last a fair while and some 'sun' dried tomatoes were made using my dehydrator, and stored in olive oil. The chillies also fruited somewhat spectacularly, leaving my own crop looking embarrassingly light, and they were turned into ristras and dried and are on display in their kitchen labelled by heat level with luggage labels.
All in all for a family that's really pushed for time, this little project has done several things. It's enabled them to eat fresh, seasonal food and learn to preserve some of it for the winter months. It's enabled them to use what garden space they have productively, and to be in that space more and so outside more. They've learnt some growing skills and are excited to learn more and have visited some gardens to look at how others grow. But most importantly it has been a family project that they have worked on together and that they all agree has helped their family to spend time together which they might not have otherwise done. With 3 young people in the house between the ages of 9 and 15 it's often hard to find something everyone will enjoy and learn from, but this has seemingly really worked.
I'm told more pots and another raised bed are being planned this season and that courgettes and potatoes in bags are on the menu as well as the tomatoes, chillies and herbs of last year. And that their neighbours are keen to join in turning the project into one for the street, which they are happy to support and help establish.
As we move into 2017, with its uncertainties and global concerns, stories like these make me realise that everyone can make change in their lives if they want to. What's important is that those changes are sustainable, not overwhelming and seen as fun. Small actions that lead to movements of change through families, into communities and beyond through real grassroots activism.
So with all that in our thoughts, let's stop making pointless resolutions. Instead let's look at one small change we can make and make it for good in away that is meaningful and offers kindness to ourselves, our friends and our planet.