20 March 2010

What a day! (Farmers' Market and 'Off the Rails')

Huddling under the great tree outside the Farmers’ Market, we called to people walking past, “Free seeds here! We’re doing a seed swap.”
“A what?”

“We’re encouraging people to grow their own food, hoping to make our community more resilient.”
People nodded, smiled and took seeds. Julie wrapped spinach plants, which Jez had brought from her allotment, and handed them out.
“We’re part of Transition Wivenhoe,” I said. Jo had been doing her job well as most people knew what I was taking about. Wanting to hear about events, they wrote down their email addresses on a piece of paper that had to be weighed down with stones against the gusts of air.
Jo cycled up, armed with her camera. “Look natural! Smile!” she said, as the wind whipped our hair across our faces. She took a few pics, grimaced at the images, and, looking over my shoulder, said, “There are some children! – get them in the picture!” Seeing a man, she shouted, “We need a bit of gender balance – you’re nice and tall! Could you stand over there?”
Despite the drizzle, a stream of people ebbed and flowed around our table. Allotments, face-creams, and the impracticality of dancing naked around a fire were discussed. We drank peppermint tea and ate Jamaican fish cakes to keep us warm. Laughter rose and fell, and the morning slipped away until all that was left of the spinach plants were a few bedraggled leaves on black soil. The tins, once full of seed packets, were now half-empty, and the donations cup was half-full.
On then…
… to the station
… to meet Martha Haversham, initiator of the ‘Off the Rails Project’.
“Let’s go in,” she said.
Through the gate we went, into the old stationmaster’s garden. There was a scrubby patch of grass surrounded by wet concrete and a crumbling brick wall. “We want to grow herbs here, and sunflowers, maybe nasturtiums and green beans. Imagine it!” And by the magic of words, Martha’s dream was ours too. A station full of herbs and plants. We would have a vegetable garden, and walls of beans and flowers, tomatoes could tumble from containers and passion fruit could climb over the fence.
“There’s more,” said Martha.
The rain fell but the day seemed incredibly bright. We walked on looking at all the land available. “Oh!” said Jez. “There’s enough space here for at least forty allotments.” And so, by the old engine shed, another dream was born.
“We want to have herbs for the commuters to take home,” said Martha. “It’ll be all about the welcome. Imagine stepping off the train.” She took us to the platform, wet with drizzle, paint flaking. “We want a poetry blackboard, and trompe l’oeil, sculptures and plants.” We smiled with her, seeing what she could. She pushed open the door to the station and we followed her into the barren room, flanked by faded red-plastic chairs. A poster gave notice of engineering work and the clock ticked. Martha laughed and spread out her arms. “Here there’ll be art work and books to read, big fat sofas and freshly picked flowers. It’s whatever we want to make it.”
Next Thursday at 9.30 Mwikali, Jez, Martha and I will be at the station with our forks and shovels to start the dream. Join us if you can…

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