Grow Jersey

Recently, whilst flicking through facebook, I alighted upon an invitation from Grow Jersey to attend a presentation on ‘Cultivating well-being through nature’ – very much fitting in with my own ethos, this immediately caught my eye.  I attended said talk given by Damien Newman visiting the island from Thrive UK…The Editor

The event at the town hall was excellent. In his hour-long talk, Damien really got across the importance of nature and the therapeutic value of community growing.  This really gave me an appetite to learn more so I booked time to visit Sheena Brockie, one of Grow Jersey’s founders, at the St Helier site.

On arrival I was concerned to hear Sheena had to isolate after being a direct contact for someone who had picked up Sars-Cov-2 – such is the way of the strange world we live in at the moment…I was instead greeted by Kevin and his recently adopted beagle pup, Jasper.

Kevin explained, “I’m on the committee and have been involved from the start. It’s only a few months old and if you’d have seen it in February – totally flat and empty…you wouldn’t recognise it compared to today.” Kevin pointed out the rows of pollinator crops and fruit trees now emerging from the once bare soil.

I asked about the concept of the project and how it came about. “A few of us were looking for a space for a different project when we found this field.  We intended to raise funds to buy it, but St Helier Parish were also interested because of its location next to Serville cemetery. So we can use the field with the caveat of a gradual take back over a number of years.”

“So myself, Sheena, Dave over there from Men’s Space, and also Andy Le Seelleuer from Thrive Jersey, and a few others started this up.  We currently have 130 fruit and nut trees, the start of the orchard planted by volunteers, and you can see we also have pollinator patches and cover crops such as mustard, clover and lots of pineapple weed (wild chamomile) all good for the soil.  The pollinator plants include poppies, verbena, cornflowers, salvias and so on – it is intended that between every fruit tree there will be fruit bushes and herbs.”

It all looked beautiful and calming. I was interested to l know more. “Eventually we will be teaching people how to grow crops but beyond that, how to use them for cooking, pickling and so on – the plan is to have an outdoor classroom, fully accessible raised beds, butterfly surveys, bat and even worm surveys with schools, a pond project, beehives, a sensory garden and so on.” This all sounded amazing.

Kevin continued “When you are up here with the sounds of the birds in this green space, it’s so healing. It’s also intended to be a non-judgemental space where people can come and be who they are and reconnect with nature – we have a vision of working with schools, education teams and volunteers…I personally do some work with the Recovery College, so other organisations like that will be invited to come along, it’s a privilege to be part of such an amazing project.”

At that point we were joined by one of the two Dave’s on site – and it turned out we knew each other – it was lovely to see him again. Dave joined in, “Several groups are coming at this project from slightly different angles – it’s all about social and therapeutic horticulture, we want to grow native species, medlars, quince, almonds, pears and apples, the idea is to create a third space.  Many of us have a workplace and a home space but not all have access to a growing space, so this will create that green, third space that we all need. A familiar place where you can hang out in a community area with a kitchen.” Dave then took the beautiful but very vocal Jasper for a walk so I could hear Kevin better!

“We have Barn owl, bat and kestrel boxes, we are surrounded by orchards, valleys and meadows, and all the neighbours have been supportive.  Over there is Rosanne – part of the education team.” Kevin suggested I take a walk around the field and go an introduce myself to Rosanne. I did just that…

Rosanne shared, “I’ve been involved since the end of January. Sheena is leading as she has so much experience and knowledge and I’ve been collating information for education.  I’m on the Branchage committee and the Pollinator Project and my background is in zoology, I was also a speech therapist for adults and am a yoga instructor, so am interested in health and well-being, especially mental health and of course the health of the planet.  This was a potato field farmed with chemicals, so it’s really interesting to see what comes back with permaculture techniques. We are at a tipping point; the earth is not going to continue unless we re-think – so in this project we hope to provide a wonderful example of what can be done in terms of sustainable growing.  We intend to have a muddy play area and pond dipping and not just for the kids!”

“Nature is so good for the soul.”

“We are currently getting ready to work with school children next term and have put in planning applications for a kitchen area to make things with the produce in a ‘seed to fork’ campaign.” 

Talking of school I needed to go and pick up my son, but, on my way, out I met the other Dave, he shared “Sadly so much of life revolves around commerciality and how it looks on a spreadsheet, a lot of good will effort and time goes into projects like this but the world at large don’t seem to see the value – being here with the bees and butterflies diverts you from daily stress.” 

“My background is in engineering; I now work with Men’s Space and was looking for a space for a men’s shed and am a volunteer peer support with Mind Jersey – it’s all very people centred up here and it’s amazing to see people change.”

Sadly I had to leave but had thoroughly enjoyed my time wondering around the field, chatting to impassioned people, taking photos and learning about the project….and meeting Jasper of course! And I somehow just know I will be back…