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Angela Tilby: Growing food is good for the soul

24 June 2022

BBC / Plimsoll Productions Ltd. / Simon Arnold

Marcus Wareing Marcus with his homegrown rhubarb

Marcus Wareing Marcus with his homegrown rhubarb

THE chard has overrun its bed this year — such an abundance of bright green leaves and white stalks to be cooked down with butter and nutmeg. Surely this counts as two of your five a day in one! The green beans are growing fast, and the peas, and perhaps this year the redcurrants will survive torpedoing pigeons, and the rhubarb will escape the burrowing paws of the fox. I am not a gardener. Without help from a professional neighbour, none of this would have happened.

It was good to see Marcus Wareing getting to work on his East Sussex smallholding, in BBC 2’s Tales from a Kitchen Garden. After years of high-end gastronomy, both in the kitchen and on television, Wareing has become obsessed by sourcing his own ingredients and learning the techniques of growing his own food. He is as aware as anyone that our habits of eating must change, and that growing and consuming what is available locally makes much more sense than flying fruit and veg halfway around the world.

In the episode that I watched most recently, he entertained his friends with a magnificent array of home-grown barbecued vegetables on a bed of ricotta with charred lemon, herbs, and a dressing of smoked garlic (recipe on the BBC Food Website). I could almost experience the smell and taste of summer through the television screen. The programme was a tribute to the small producers, the farmers, the growers, and the innovators who pour themselves into working with nature and widening the public’s experience of where food comes from.

Growing food is spiritually uplifting, not least because it puts us in physical touch with the greenness all around us. The green of grass and trees in that strange summer of the first lockdown seemed to me to represent the extraordinary forgiveness and resilience of nature. Whatever humans do to it, nature finds a way of recovery. Think of lichen on bare rock, moss on tiles, weeds sprouting through paving stones. After the bombing of Hiroshima, it was believed that nothing would grow again, perhaps for centuries. Yet, within a year, there were small signs of green poking through the devastation. Nothing could stop it.

The green Sundays after Trinity represent times of spiritual growth. In the Orthodox tradition, green can also stand for the Holy Spirit. In Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity, the personification of the Spirit wears a green robe. Growth is the dynamic both of nature and the spiritual life — and they are more related than we often think. We should remember that many Christian places of worship contain echoes of the forest: arches, pillars, water, foliage traced in wood and stone, even the Green Man who reminds us of our pagan roots. Nature is not alien to Spirit, but an expression of it.

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