A couple of weekends ago, I found myself, once more, down on the farm. Spitalfields City Farm, that is. For the latest meeting of the Islamic Community Food Project. As with other meetings we’d had, I really enjoyed the day - enjoyed interacting with new people, and others who had been a part of the project since the beginning; loved being back down on the farm, surrounded by the honking of the geese (who really own it) and the smells of other animals; and revelled in getting my hands properly dirty as I helped mix soil and compost for a new plant bed to be made in an old holey wheel-barrow.
As we chatted about what we had done to date, the phrase ‘fertile void’ was mentioned, and I immediately latched on to the brilliance of this as a description of the many possibilities that the project could fulfil. It also reminded me, though, of a project that’s been bubbling in my mind for a few years now.
Behind our block of flats, there is a sort of court yard. It might once have been a tennis court, or maybe a children’s playground, whatever - whatever it was, it no longer is, as it has been locked up for the past...5 years? 10 years? We’ve lived here nearly 20 years now, and I can’t remember when it was open, and what it was used for back then. Right now, it’s overgrown with weeds, and full of various bits of trash - a broken chair, a trolley that’s unlikely to see its supermarket ever again, an old hula hoop all bent out of shape. It’s an eyesore, and just a massive shameful waste of space.
And when I first heard about guerilla gardening a few years back, an idea started forming… What if we took this space, reclaimed it, and turned it into a space where the estate could plant and grow? Where people could sit and enjoy the sight of blooming plants, and kids could maybe learn a bit about where their food comes from, other than the local supermarket. And maybe butterflies would tend the blossom, and the place would become the central hub for our whole community. Yeah, and throw in a rainbow and a couple of unicorns there too! OK, so maybe I had a slightly rosy, overoptimistic view of what could become of the courtyard. But thinking realistically, I still believed something could be done with the place.
So, I come back to this idea of the ‘fertile void’. Imagine filling that? This neglected dumping ground, that’s basically just an eyesore, waiting to be further vandalised and dumped in. How amazing is the potential of this place! Maybe it won’t become a massive community garden and a safe haven for all of the area’s wildlife. But maybe it could be somewhere where maybe just one or two people will come, and clear up a little. Maybe put out some young plants, and tend them. And maybe, a few others, looking out of their windows, and seeing something new, positive, will be encouraged to join in, or just curious to know what’s going on. And maybe they’ll come down and ask a few questions. And perhaps those neighbours who we’re still only on nodding acquaintance with will become those neighbours who have a friend that has a few spare seeds, or knows where to get some great compost, or has a few old tyres lying around. And maybe, just maybe, the seeds of community could flourish in what for now is just an empty space, but one that is, I feel, absolutely brimming with opportunity.