In our climate, the climax vegetation is woodland or forest. This is the natural tendency of land if you allow it to truly express itself. Over time, a field will eventually transform into something vibrant and diverse, with plants working in harmony with a variety of wildlife to create a new balanced ecosystem.
Walking through the tough landscapes of cities becomes less and less exciting when I think of what fantastic natural potential has been shut out, delegated to only entertain us on wildlife programmes and the rare weekend away in the countryside.
I’m visiting Switzerland for a wedding. It’s a stunning country. However the comfortable, pristine streets of Zurich became boring as I contemplate nature’s potential. Don’t get me wrong, I love the quaint boutique shops and winding cobbled roads of the old town. I love the abundance of cozy cafes and restaurants, the flickering candles glowing warmly at night, aromas of fine cuisine, as families and lovers dine together, drinking fine wines.
Walking up to a view point that overlooks the city, we notice a couple of local foragers plucking fruit from a tree. Plants do make their way into Zurich but like many cities, always confined in the smallest of pockets.
Shutting nature out of cities makes us disconnected, physically and spiritually. We can even start to fear nature. The only insect I saw on Saturday evening was a wasp, which frightened and annoyed one of the friends I was traveling with – prompting a discussion about fly swatting devices. I know it may be unrealistic to create some sort of fully hybrid forest-city garden, but we can do so much more to integrate greenery into cities.
Just the other week, a lady came to the Farm with her two daughters. As we strolled around the farm discussing the food we grew, I noticed her daughter’s reluctance to walk into our polytunnels that were full of plants and to trample across the soil to touch and feel the vegetables.
Her mum giggled, encouraging her to try our cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and not be afraid. Growing up on a housing estate in Clapham, her daughter had rarely walked on surfaces that weren’t artificial. Seeing food growing on plants was a whole new experience – an experience many children in the city never have. This is one of the many reasons I love Sutton Community Farm and believe it’s such an important project.