Apprenticeship at the Castle 2014 - by Lucy Nacson-Jones
The Castle garden is one of those sought after places in the Big Smoke that give you a moment’s peace from the hustle and bustle of the city, and I have been lucky enough to be doing the apprenticeship there since May.
After studying a Masters in the Anthropology of Food, I was vividly aware of the state of the current food system and the importance of promoting self-sufficiency. Having spent several years trying to exercise my consumer power in the most ethical or environmentally friendly ways, I realized that growing my own food would be best way for me to really feel a part of the process of growing, cooking and eating food. And so, with the intention of improving my food growing skills and gaining a long-term exposure to one site rather than the ad hoc voluntary work I had been doing until then, I began an apprenticeship at the Castle Garden learning the ins and outs of running a community garden.
I quickly began to tune in to the rhythm of life in the garden, acutely aware of the numerous challenges of growing food, including onslaughts of slugs and snails, unpredictable weather and nasty crop-destroying pests. This kind of work I quickly learnt was not for the faint hearted. I embraced such challenges, seeing them instead as a relief and a favorable alternative to my previous job, sitting in front of a computer all day.
Over the course of the spring, summer and autumn, I have seen many different fruiting plants that we have then harvested for the Castle café. These foods have been almost like adopted children for the last few months; planting them as seeds, feeding them, watching grow to become big, strong healthy and reproducing adult plants. Seeing this process beyond the feeble tomato plant on my balcony at home, was a huge learning curve and I learnt the care that must be applied to gardening.
As an apprentice, I have been lucky enough to meet a number of volunteers, from all over the world that join the team on a bi-weekly basis. This has been an interesting insight into the different motivations behind volunteering in urban growing spaces. Many volunteers are climbers from the centre and share a passion for the outside but equally want to learn more about gardening and how to grow vegetables. The enthusiasm from such volunteers has been very inspiring and perhaps testament to the fact the people are becoming increasingly interested in developing such skills and attuned to the idea of living a more sustainable lifestyle; urban farms have the potential to play a fundamental role within this.
London is a creative and very exciting place to be right now in terms of the urban food movement. I think people are increasingly aware of the changing sphere of urban agriculture, and seeing the potential of using the space around us to grow food. This is not something that is restricted to gardeners or growers, but anyone who has the space and motivation to turn a bit a concrete into green! Beyond the Castle, there are a huge number of amazing and innovative projects in London that can be a fantastic opportunity to learn from experienced food growers and to gain the skills and confidence to grow food yourself, and of course it’s also an opportunity for you to help them.
The Castle garden has been extremely inspiring project to work for; seeing how a piece of abandoned land has been transformed a productive and bountiful garden. It has showed me that with a vision, motivation, and a supporting community, you can do anything!