Into the swing of things
Cat Laidlaw - 23 June 2011
I'm now three months into my apprenticeship at North Aston Organics and I'm starting to feel a little more useful about the place and fully into the swing of things. Although, of course there's always something new to learn. No sooner have I got to grips at harvesting leeks, topping and tailing them with swift, deft movements of the Opinel knife that could land me as an extra in a martial arts film, it's time to move on and harness my sugar snap pea spotting abilities and seek out all their hiding places amongst the leaves and tendrils. No matter how many times you go up and down a row more peas always seem to magically appear!
I first heard about the apprenticeship scheme a couple of years ago when a friend had just started as an apprentice here at North Aston. It would be really refreshing coming to visit David, catching up with what was growing, harvesting food for a meal, cooking up something super tasty and then of course eating it while usually putting the world to rights. Apart from some stints WWOOFing and a few goes at growing things in the bits of “garden” I've had, like David this whole world of organic farming and growing was fairly new to me. But watching David go through the apprenticeship made me think maybe I can do this too, that working on the land isn't restricted to just those from farming families or rural backgrounds... So here I am!
And why organic growing of all the multitude of things I could be doing? Well I guess I'll delve into and explore that more over the coming months but in a gist I suppose from general frustration at not having any real concrete skills to contribute to a more sustainable way for us to go about living. To know how to produce food that benefits both humans and the natural world seems like such a fundamental skill and I want to know how to do it! And also from seeing the lack of connection people have with where food comes from and what to do with it - I want to gain the knowledge and experience to help find better ways of feeding ourselves. I love being active and outdoors as well (I might have to remind myself of that when it's winter!) and so in various ways heading into organic growing ticks lots of boxes.
Meeting up with the other apprentices at Helen Browning's farm last month was also inspiring...and reassuring! It was great to share stories of sore backs, constantly dirt ingrained hands and the odd “weeding” mistake (ahem). But we were all in consensus that deciding to head into this sort of work has been a brilliant decision to make. There's something undeniably satisfying about working hard, standing back and seeing the results. And of course being outside in the glorious sunshine for the past few months has helped...although at last some decent rain has arrived!
In some ways it's also been some of the most stressful work I've ever done! At first being given the the responsibility of sowing thousands of seeds and having to water all the seedlings everyday left me constantly worrying about things not growing or killing off swathes of crops! But those peas and beans are tasting rather good and the cucumbers are looking great so under the patient guidance of Mark, who with his wife Ginny set up North Aston Organics, I'm feeling a little more confident of my ability to actually help things grow. It's great to be working with a group of people passionate about all aspects of food. I don't think I have ever worked so hard in my life (which isn't even close to how hard you have to work if you're running the place), but it also doesn't feel like “work” in the nine to five sense. I don't feel the need to clock watch, I sleep deeply, have beautiful surroundings to work in and there's no need to worry about having that extra piece of cake at tea break!
Thanks for reading this far and like James I've also got some pictorial treats to give you a taste of the my first three months at North Aston.
Cat is an Organic Apprentice at North Aston Organics in Oxfordshire. Having worked mostly on cycling and sustainable transport projects since graduating with an English Literature degree, she has mainly been utilising her lower body strength and pedal power. Her last job with the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, was on their Schools team providing advice and support to parents and schools. Now she has decided to build up her neglected arm muscles and make the switch from bicycles to plant cycles and learn more about organic growing.