Life talk

I’ve been spending time lately with someone who is dying. The day I thought I might see him for the last time I went for a run beside the stream near our house. I was trying to work out what to say. Is it better to plan, or to wait and see what comes in the moment?

I was running past a bridge and the sun was falling through the trees and splashing on the path. You should talk to him about life, I thought. Tell him how grateful you are for his gift, the one that made it possible for you to live here. Tell him about the tomatoes slowly ripening in the allotment polytunnel, and the way the light is lying in a shaft across that millstone.


I ran beside a stretch of water that is kept for wildfowl. The moorhens’ nest had gone, and the mallards dozing in the early morning sun didn’t even twitch as I went by. You should talk much more about life, I thought. You should talk about the heron flying across the reddening sky last night, and the earthworms that show that the allotment soil is getting healthier, and the fox that appeared out of nowhere after you had put manure around the raspberries and stared you straight in the eyes, as if daring you to try and scare it away.

chocolate cherry

I’m picking up the blog again because I’ve realised that the most important things in life only become visible when you pay proper attention. I’ve been trying to develop that habit of paying attention, especially on the allotment where there is so much to learn, not just about how to grow food but also about the myriad life forms that share the plot with us. It’s a hard habit to embed when so many things clamour for an instant response, when so much seems urgent, pressing, demanding of haste. I hope that  regular blogging will help.

When I saw my dying friend after the run last week, he asked me the usual things born of a lifetime of good manners. How are you, how are the children, did you have a good journey? I told him we were well, that the journey was long but OK. I told him about the red kite hovering over the M1. His eyes lit up.


I am very, very excited to tell you that we have just signed a contract with the French publisher Actes Sud and our book Incredible! will be published in France in the spring.

The French edition will be called Incroyables Comestibles, the French name for the Incredible Edible movement, which now has more than 400 groups across France and more in other French-speaking countries, such as Morocco, Senegal and Mali.

The inimitable Mary Clear wrote a wonderful report of the recent Incroyables Comestibles conference in Cergy, which you can read on the Incredible Edible Todmorden website here.

To celebrate we’ll be putting the English book on special offer throughout December – more news on that very soon.

For now I’ll leave you with a picture of the amazing François Rouillay, founder of Incredible Edible France, taken at the book launch in July. He’s saying hello to Rufus at Incredible Farm.

Francois and Rufus


Tanzania postcards 4: barbecue bridges



nana swing

An ordinary Sunday in Mwanza. Hot, hot sun; kites wheeling overhead; deafening songs of praise belting out from the revival meeting in the centre of town.

Our friends held a barbecue. The guests were from seven countries across three continents. We were Christian, Muslim and ‘prefer not to say’. There was peri peri chicken, cardamom spiced rice, and pizza cooked from scratch by ten-year-old Caleb.

The young ones played football and basketball; a couple of the older ones injured themselves trying to keep up. The toddler worked out how to turn on the outside tap and shrieked with laughter each time he soaked himself with the sudden rush of cool water.

The sun sinks fast here. HALLELUJAH, screamed the revival preacher as the shadows lengthened and the kites flew in to roost on the treetops. Hallelujah, I whispered as the guests began to say their goodbyes. Kwaheri … Asante … See you again, I hope.

Tanzania postcards 3: death birds

marabou stork

We have nicknamed them the death birds. Properly known as Marabou storks, they are some of the ugliest creatures I have ever seen, with their scraggy bald necks and stick-like legs that bend in the middle as if hinged.

They gather wherever anything is festering. When we visited the markets in Mwanza, we found them congregated on heaps of rotting vegetables: the putrid smell complementing the birds’ funereal appearance.

But then someone suggested that they were probably a benefit to the area. Rubbish that is consumed cannot linger to spread infection and disease.

So they might look evil, but actually they are fulfilling a valuable service. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.

Picture credit

Postcards from Tanzania 2: load bearing


Wherever you go in Mwanza, you see women carrying improbable loads on their heads. They make it look so easy, walking with straight backs and an easy grace.

When we visited a nearby village, we met a young woman who had been carrying a bowl of bricks on her head for half an hour.

Here’s what happened when our friend, a 6ft tall rugby player, tried to lift the same bowl above his shoulders.

mark bricks

 Appearances can be deceptive.

Delayed in the post

I was hoping to publish a whole series of ‘postcards’ from Tanzania, but there is so much here that is new and thought-provoking that it seems wiser to wait until we get home. It’s also quite hard to upload pictures. I’ve got some short posts that are nearly ready to go, and look forward to sharing them very soon.

Tanzania postcards 1: vegetable solidarity

One of the many things I love about growing food is that it is so easy to make connections with other gardeners. When we left Sheffield to stay with friends in Tanzania last week, we were just celebrating the first ripe plum from a tree we planted in 2012.


When we arrived in Tanzania, our friends’ gardener Abu allowed me to photograph him harvesting their first paw paw.

paw paw

Then Abu took me all around the garden he and our friends have created by transforming what was a huge pile of rubble into a thriving, productive vegetable patch.

keyhole garden resized

I had heard about keyhole gardens before and it was fascinating to see them in action. The gardens have a central hole for water and compostable kitchen waste: they are a kind of recycling system that allows nutrients to spread throughout the soil and they have the added benefit of making maximum use of water in very dry areas.

bananas resized

Abu is also growing five different kinds of banana, along with spinach, rocket, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, cassava, sweetcorn, sweet potatoes, chillies, onions, avocado, carrots, peppers – and probably more that I have forgotten.

Leaves from the banana trees are used to shade a special germination area, protecting the tender young seedlings from the strong Tanzanian sun.

shelter resized

I gave Abu some runner bean seeds from England and we talked about our favourite herbs. I promised to send him some basil seeds, which he loves but finds hard to get in Tanzania. It was a conversation that made me feel immediately connected in a country I have never visited before.

Thank you, Abu, for giving me such a great welcome.