“Mud, mud, glorious mud. There’s nothing quite like it for stirring the blood…” This was the rousing chorus of the song my head teacher used to play at lunchtimes in my primary school. Happy days…back to the mud. I can’t tell you how sad I get when I hear some parents says to their children, “don’t touch the soil it’s dirty, yuck” this is when their little toddler is eagerly exploring a healthy bed of quality compost and soil at the Children’s Centre where I work. Now, I know gardening may not be for everyone, but when your children have an opportunity to get their hands dirty and literally get in touch with nature, they should be encouraged. I could write plenty about the educational benefits of playing in a soil bed and more about the social personal benefits. Over the top you may think, but having a look at the earth, discovering a worm and wondering what that worm’s place in the world is, or seeing how a plant grows and needs nurturing keeps a person grounded, literally. They may not get all this as a toddler but it is the beginning of developing respect for nature and practically speaking gaining an understanding of where fruit and vegetables come from.
I remember looking at my empty allotment plot when I started to grow vegetables and it really made me think about how much land and work is needed to produce enough food for a household, village, town, city and country. I saw my plot multiplying before me. Then consider the resources to hand, water being your most important. If you are trying to grow things you really appreciate rain when others may grumble because you see how important it is, you appreciate how much farmers rely on a good downpour, never mind washing the car or keeping a cultivated lawn. This line of thinking takes me to the reason I stopped eating meat when I moved to Newcastle from my country village. I could not see the link between the packaged meat in the supermarket and the life of the animal that died to feed me. I am not debating the merits of vegetarianism, but I used to help my dad skin and gut rabbits when I was a child and even had a biology lesson thrown in; I could identify the chambers of the heart and all. The disconnect I felt later as a teenager in a city when looking at a chicken carcass in a foam tray covered in cling film, was powerful and I haven’t eaten meat for twenty years now.
So, we can’t all live the good life, though I love the idea of it, but we can make a connection with the natural world and appreciate our place in it, even if that is with a small soil bed filled with good clean compost. It doesn’t mean your children will be vegetarian, just for the record.