How to be an urban earth mother – part one

Our allotment in February

Over the years I have turned into an urban hippy. I didn’t set out to do it –  no master plan. It just happened, slowly, incrementally. In part, it was due to my exposure to the Waldorf-Steiner movement through two sets of good friends whose children went to Steiner schools. My profession – social work with a strong bent to community development and empowerment – clearly played a role in this transformation as did my reading of “In Praise of Slow” by Carl Honore (a journalist who lived and wrote this book just up the road from where we live).

It was also a progression of my values / spiritual journey – a love of creation, deep thinking about our planet, social justice and responsibility and a belief that how I live every day is where its at in terms of faith and love. And it was most definitely about becoming a parent – the awesome responsibility to raise kids that love themselves, others and the planet they live on and wanting to model to them a way of living that is counter-cultural rather than consumeristic.

How much my husband and I have changed has kind of surprised me. I remember sitting in a restaurant a couple of years ago, talking to someone who I hardly knew. She obviously cottoned on to the kind of person I was and started asking me a barrage of questions (in good humour ):

“So, do you use cloth bags instead of plastic ones?”   “err…yes”

“Do you use eco-friendly detergents?”   “err…yes”

“Do you eat lots of beans and not so much meat”    “errrrrr…yes”

“Do  your kids not watch much telly?     “errr…no”

“Do you grow your own veg?”   “err….I try to”

“Do you have lots of baskets round your house?”   ….”Yes! How did you guess?”

It was at that point that I realised there was a stereotype of an earth mother and that I clearly fitted it (the whole conversation did deteriorate into fits of giggles when we started talking about mooncups!).

I am happy with the profile of being an earth mother – whatever jest it may incur – I embrace it and love it because its good and the values that underpin it make sense. I love gleaning inspiration from the likes of Heather at Beauty That Moves and the legendary Soule Mama. But here’s the rub – how can you embrace earth-friendly, slow(er), intentional living when you don’t have access to much soil (a handkerchief patch in our back yard) and you live in a fast, furiously-paced, highly consumerist setting where it is impossible to walk along the street without the over-stimulation of adverts (posters and moving image) on every conceivable public surface?

So, in this little series, I will be unravelling for myself, and sharing with you, what it means to be an urban ‘earth mother’. I know before I set off on this reflective keyboard-tapping process, that  some of it is obvious,  some of it is subtle and that there are things about the urban setting (in my case, London, UK) that both help and most definitely hinder the development of the urban earth mother/ father / general hippy.

Kids in their bean wigwam!

So, I start with one of the most obvious – growing your own food. I love the soil. Part of my childhood was spent in the vine groves of my family’s farmland in Southern Italy and I found freedom in the soil. I have always loved tending our very small but lovely garden and started trying to grow our own veg about 4 years ago – rewarding but challenging when our courgette (zucchini) plants literally took over the garden!

Toby at the farm

We started a more full on re-connection with the soil with the arrival of Sutton Community Farm, a community supported agriculture scheme (CSA) about 20 minutes from our home. We went almost every week for a year and loved it so much (read our glee on its arrival here).

Then, 15 months ago, we had the opportunity to take a plot at a disused allotment 15 minutes from our house. It was totally covered in waist-height brambles, but that did not matter one bit.

The sea of brambles (and a carrot)!

As soon as we saw it, there was an emphatic ‘yes’ in both of us and we took a double plot. Since then, along with our good friends, Rob and Charlotte, we have worked this bit of land and this year took our first proper harvest – woohoo!. It  has been an amazing part of our lives, so much so that we go almost every weekend (and frequently after school too). People often ask “How do you fit it in, with kids, home, running a creative business, art making?”. The answer is that it matters and it ticks so many boxes – great food, fresh air, exercise (digging brambles is a serious workout!) great for the kids to learn and have fun, very communal and totally in line with our values.

I know that, in London at least, getting an allotment can take years (were were very lucky), but once this yearning for land to grow is on your radar, you start noticing opportunities such as community farms and the new schemes emerging where people who want to grow veg can work the garden of an elderly neighbour and share produce. There are also ways of getting together with others, finding unused common land and approaching the authorities to convert it for veg growing. These are all options for us land starved urban-ites as well as getting creative with the small indoor and outdoor spaces we have.  The more we grow the more we are learning – like how easy peasy it is to grow amazing salad leaves in just 2 inches of soil (I have been finding little spaces in our small garden to do so – pics to come).

For now, ladies and gentlemen, our first harvest in pictures….

The broad beans

Carrots

Fennel

Turnips

Artichokes (yuuum!)

Courgettes (so many of them, we are still harvesting!)

More artichokes!

The sweetest of sweetcorn

Rainbow chard (prolific and delicious)

More carrots!

Beautiful squashes

Huge marrows

Oh so many potatoes...

...and onions

...and little knobbly creatures!

9 Responses to “How to be an urban earth mother – part one”

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  1. Janey says:

    lovely photos, my earth sister! And thank you for the courgette and sweetcorn which we will enjoy tonight…I will bring bramble jam from your rural earth-granny next week…actually earth-grandad did half the picking and all the jam-making so a shout out for all you earth-fathers out there!

  2. sy says:

    really lovely post Concetta, thanks for the birthday wishes too
    xx

  3. Alice says:

    ahhh yes, I guess I fit the criteria too! although, like you, it has been a gradual thing that I didn’t really plan?! So wonderful that you have found your piece of land, we hope to do the same at some point, until then we’ll grow what we can on the roof of the boat 🙂

  4. Krista says:

    I am a new follower and I can’t wait to follow along with you in this series! We started our own garden 3 years ago and sacrifice more and more of our yard to it every year because we just love to grow all this lovely food!

    • Concetta says:

      Lovely to have you Krista! Yes, I totally get that. We have adapted so much of our home and garden (creating freezer space, pantry space) because its become such a part of our lives. Off to plant some spinach…!

  5. AG Ambroult says:

    oh I am going to LOVE this series. Especially because I suspect my evolution to earth mother happened parallel to yours. Your conversation with your friend had me chuckling, as I answered right along with you, “errs…” and everything! Love seeing the pics of your kids in the garden, they are so adorable. And your veggies?! You got quite the yield! Way to go, you hippie. 😉

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