The last month has seen the addition of two rather wonderful volunteers at Growing Communities. Of course all our volunteers really deserve a mention, but I’m profiling these two because they are part of a pretty special programme.
That programme is the Global Exchange Programme, of which the Asian Action Group in Haringey in partnership with an Indian-based organisation called Pravah is a part. With the aim is to set up international networks of youth volunteers and youth leaders who work, live and learn together (yes, I’m copying their mission statement!), this exchange sees the pairing up of 9 volunteers from India with 9 volunteers from the UK. Each pair gets to choose an organisation to work with. This year the theme was ‘The World of Food’ so Growing Communities offered up a pretty good place to discover alternative food supplies…in our urban market gardens and on the packing line, getting the veg bags ready for pick up…
So, I wanted to introduce you. Meet Jon and Molly…
Here they are with seceteurs at the ready before a Tuesday harvest…
In a little departure from my usual blogging style, I interviewed the pair of them, so you could get a sense of what they are up to…
How did you get involved with the Global Exchange (GX) Programme?
Molly: I’ve known one of the partner organizations, Pravah for a few years now and have come in contact with them a couple of times. This year however, I felt I wanted to participate in the GX program and explore two regions that were completely new to me, England and Rajasthan. I was curious especially about the work placements and work ethics in these two environments.
Jon: I learned about VSO through my mum after wanting to do some travelling before university. I then found out about the GX programme through the VSO website and it seemed like a great starting point for young people who want to develop themselves into what we now call ‘Global Citizens’.
Why did you choose Growing Communities as your placement?
Molly: If I remember correctly we were given about eight choices. Of the lot, Growing Communities seemed the most straight forward about the kind of work involved. Also, the work is very closely linked to what I am doing back home: organic farming. We do not have the concept of food miles and carbon footprint yet but I wanted to get a good understanding of how these things work, especially in an urban setting. A honest approach tackling a pressing social concern creatively.
Jon: I think it’s an amazing company that has been one of the pioneers in a successful movement that is only going to get bigger and better. I also chose this as my placement because I wanted to learn more about growing and harvesting fruit and veg so I could perhaps have an allotment where I do this when I’m older.
You’ve been working at the gardens now for 4 weeks, what do you find most challenging?
Molly: The cold! I come from an extremely hot region in India and so am completely and totally unused to cold weather. It affects my flexibility and productivity to quite an extent but is also an experience in itself. This is actually the only challenge!
Jon: As the harsh winter weather sets in, its definitely been more and more of a challenge to keep myself from turning into a popsicle whilst working on the growing sites. (this comes from a fellow from up north! Yup, it can be cold working outside but you’ve just got to keep moving!)
What do you like most about working with us?
Molly: I am spoilt for choice! I am so glad that I picked this placement. Mostly I enjoy all the hands on tasks. Many of the activities are very new for me, using seceteurs, raking, harvesting salad leaves, weighing and packing. The methodologies used here are very different and getting a chance to try out everything is a huge learning.
Jon: The people are simply great. (We like you too Jon!)
What is your favourite salad leaf?
Molly: Miner’s lettuce, Salt bush, Sorrel, chives and the Sicily leafy bush that tastes faintly like liquorice.
Jon: Has to be the mustard leaf. (I had them harvesting mustard a few weeks in a row, so he must have gotten a taste for its fiery flavour)
What do you hope to get out of working with Growing Communities?
Molly: I want to understand how urban organic marketing works. Being around the fire station on Wednesdays I have observed the general energy and find it very heartening that what appears to be a small scale set up actually has a strong and loyal customer base, many of whom come and pick up their food bags! That is exactly what I want to learn. Hopefully I can recreate the same back at home. I want to be able to build a long lasting relationship between producer and consumer that is symbiotic.
Jon: Enough experience to hopefully grow my own fruit and veg one day and the opportunity to see how such a great company works. I also want to do ‘Woofing’ in the summer and this will be good experience for me.
And the million dollar question…will you grow salad when you go home?
Molly: In India I come from a place that has excess sunlight most of the year. Most of the greens that flourish in that climate are native hardy ones that are able to deal with little water. At GC I find that water intensive crops do well. Perhaps it is not always an external water supply or irrigation but the climate in itself provides it. Unfortunately I don’t see the same salads doing as well there as they do here. I like quite a few of the salad leaves here, especially the salt bush and sorrel. I am hopeful about growing them during the winter months. The leaves of the salt bush seem succulent; perhaps they are suited to harsher climates. Sadly, I don’t think I can grow the rest of the salads…
Jon: I’ll encourage my grandparents to. They own an allotment at home.
Jon and Molly will be working with us until the middle of December. On the 22nd December, they and the other Global Exchange volunteers will be putting on a market in Haringey at the Selby Centre, the culmination of their time here in the UK. Head on down if you want to meet them. From there, they’ll be doing a similar stint in Rajasthan. I’m looking forward to hearing how it all goes, and more specifically…how will Jon deal with the heat!?