The allotment at St Benedict’s in Garforth featured in last year’s Annual Review as one of the ways in which our parishes are following the imperative to care for the earth, our common home and fulfil the exhortations made in the Holy Father’s encyclical, Laudato Si‘. Parishioner Trish Sandbach is Vice-Chair of the Diocese of Leeds Justice and Peace Commission and Chairs the Commission’s Climate Action Group. Trish sends us this blog as an update on the allotment and how the people, poultry, and potatoes of the parish are thriving on Garforth’s Green Acres…
Looking at the photographs of a neat productive, green, fertile allotment it is hard to imagine the same space eight years ago as a forest of tall thistles, assorted umbelliferae, rose-bay willow herb and ragworts – all of interest and use to finches, insects and small creatures looking for shelter and food and wonderfully wild – but human intervention has changed most of it in favour of cultivation!
It started with a few people from the parish getting together to discuss how the land behind the church, which we owned, could best be used. We had hoped it might be suitable for building sheltered accommodation or similar, but access was a problem. The suggestion of a parish allotment was mooted and taken to the parish priest who was enthusiastic and supportive. Clearing by hand, foot and anything else sturdy and sharp ensued, so that eventually a man with a rotovator could come and clear it. From the beginning it was designated as an organic garden and seen as a community good. In the early days it was very simple: mostly cabbages and potatoes, onions with a few beans. It has now become more varied, with two apple orchards and two pear trees, and celebrating that we are part of the famous Rhubarb Triangle (if you wiggle the line a bit) a wondrous patch of rhubarb. We use the flowers in church and have food for the soul as well as for the body: as Pope Francis says in Laudato Si‘, ‘beauty is a great motivator’ – and this is borne out in the delicate summer yellow flowers of cucumbers and courgettes and tomatoes, the dahlias, gladioli, daffodils in Spring as well as birds and butterflies.
It is quite democratic: all those who are involved meet to plan for next season’s planting. Everyone’s ideas are listened to and discussed and decisions made in the light of what grew well and what the parish likes to eat, as well as trying new things. Kohlrabi was not a great success (recipes were supplied) but our magnificent onions are! In the past we have made French onion soup to share after Mass as a Winter warmer. We have planted our first somewhat twiggy blackcurrants this year but it is early days. Patience is required.
It is a place to pop in to have a chat and look round and delight in God’s creation especially in its edible forms. A visitor usually signals time to stop work, sit round in the poly-tunnel or in the outdoor sitting area and catch up on the current trials and triumphs. Rounds of quick-fire banter at each other’s expense usually ensue but they are rooted in affection. The garden team’s core of 8 men and 3 women always welcome visitors, even if they’re not actually going to help! It is a place where people are welcome who may be in need of healing hurt or loss, or are just vulnerable and want to be somewhere safe where they are accepted as they are without judgement. If you are in need of warmth and laughter it is the place to go. The chickens Bernadette, Scholastica, Theresa and Benedict, the cock, are a source much interest and humour – if not actually eggs!
Mindful of care of our common home we have bird boxes, walkways, sheds, fences and gates – all made from re-used pallets scrounged from building sites, which also provide plastic tubing that would have been scrapped to give protection for fragile plants. Old tools are repaired and re-used. The planning ensures crop rotation and is detailed on maps with photos for future reference. Monty Don, horticulturalist extraordinaire, is much respected and heeded, particularly by the leader of the group. We are developing more insect life, especially bees and butterflies, while trying to protect our Purple King cabbages from the ravages of the cabbage white using frames and nets – but no sprays!
The allotment has become a bit like an octopus: our produce goes to the parish – donations welcome – and to the Neighbourhood Elders Team, and the SVP who use it to provide meals in their centre in town. In Covid times we have been supplying a deprived area in Leeds through a charity that distributes the produce to those in need. Networks have formed locally between different allotment holders who share plants and swap when they have surpluses: our first attempt at cucumbers came in exchange for courgette plants, and local farmers supply manure and compost heaps help to replenish the soil. A friendly local Councillor has given small amounts of money over the years to purchase water butts to collect water from the roof of the Parish Centre, buy poly-tunnels and wheelbarrows, and make the paths safer.
We appreciate that caring for and celebrating Creation is a way of thanking God for the wonder of this great gift. As Pope Francis says ‘if we lose our sense of wonder, our attitude towards the Earth will be that of …consumers and ruthless exploiters.’ Every living thing reflects something of the Creator, so it is a place to praise and pray. We have produced various Liturgies, for example on Earth Day (22 April), for the Season of Creation (1 September through to St Francis of Assisi’s Feast Day on 4 October). The site also lends itself well to a ‘Stations of the Cross’ format. We are immensely blessed by the work of the team who have been constant in their labours, unstinting in their time, commitment and care. Laudato Si’!
Coming soon…! Our diocesan web developer is working on special Environment pages for this website, where this and other Diocese of Leeds parish blogs, news and any Laudato Si’ initiatives will take pride of place…