The turn of the year is always a good time to make plans for the new. For many allotmenters supporting a slightly larger tummy, recovering in the warmth of indoors after a year of hard gardening, there will inevitably be thoughts of whether another year’s effort is worth it.
Mixed up in this thinking is often the contrast between the hard work of allotmenting compared to all the entertainments provided to us through technology. The growth of our digital lives allows us to sit behind our digital devices and:
- Share our lives with friends and family
- Find new friends or partners
- Educate ourselves – even take a degree
- Buy all our food, clothes, and presents
- Solve problems like remedies for colds and how to cook a turkey
- Entertain ourselves by watching TV and playing games
Our digital lives seem to be taking over our whole lives. Technology has empowered us, meeting our needs and giving us answers to almost all we can wish for – and all by sitting still and moving our fingers.
Yet this is exactly the contradiction of modern life. We are empowered, but somehow not powerful. We can find what to do at a click, but actually we are simply following other people’s intelligence. The really clever people have spent many hours, sometimes lifetimes, gathering the skills and knowledge we all have access to. Merely accessing this can seem wonderful at first, but when you walk away from the computer there is a sensation of no tangible change, nothing created, nothing touched, no visible reward.
Perhaps there is no better example of this than watching the excellent BBC production of Tudor Monastery Farm (see Tudor Monastery Farm on Amazon UK), a recreation of 16th century life – not of Kings and Queens – but of real, ordinary people like ourselves. The series illustrates all the practical skills and knowledge of the farm workers of the time, from:
- Preparing ground for sowing using oxen
- Preserving meet and fish
- Catching eels
- Making cheese and butter
- Sterilising water and preserving as beer
- Making bread
- Washing clothes
- Cleaning cooking equipment
- Growing fruit and vegetables all year round
- Making homes and houses
- Shearing sheep and making yarn
- Spinning cloth
- Making plates from wood
- Tool making
- Candle making
- Carving ornaments
and the list goes on and on … a really marvellous series on how to physically interact with the land, follow the seasons, learn new skills, and share life with fellow workers.
Of course, this time was no ideal. Life expectancy was only in the 30s. People were at the mercy of very limited medical understanding, poor harvests, and the weather. It was also a very spiritual time, where faith and life were intwined together. The church had a leading and central role, working for the poor, distributing food, healthcare, and were often the landlords of the farm workers. The church customs, traditions, and festivals, were the landmarks of the annual calendar, as people prayed for their souls, grace, and good harvests.
However, perhaps the need to balance modern life, that can seem too digital and too ‘unskilled’, explains the continuing popularity of people wanting to really connect with life by learning skills by doing. Moving beyond, almost escaping from, a digital life, to learn, touch, create, and enjoy work they create with their hands. Studies show that somewhere between a third and a quarter of all adults try to grow some of their own fruit and vegetables.
As many an allotmenter will tell you, growing your own fruit and vegetables is hard work, and not always successful. Yet this is real life. And with this thought we wish you happy growing in 2014!