Operation Farm

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I once entered a scarecrow competition for Tameside Radio. Not personally I might add; I was sent with a scarecrow. We didn’t win. Perhaps if I had entered then we would have had more of a chance. While I was there I met members of Operation Farm pressing apples found across Tameside into the most beautiful apple juice. They meet on Tuesdays in Hyde Park at the community allotment. They organise days in the community throughout the year and run training on various aspects of planting and growing, from apple trees to composting. I joined them on Tuesday, probably one of the windiest days of the year. I wandered through a deserted Hyde Park to meet Anna and after a few twigs had blown past and I had braced myself from being knocked over a few times I found her by the allotments. Understandably some volunteers had not ventured out on this day but a few had met with Anna earlier to find out about a free course on how to learn to grow your own organic vegetables which would end with a harvest picnic. I met Jen who was volunteering too; she was retired and had spent over a year volunteering on the allotment. I asked Jen what she enjoyed about volunteering and she said “the friends you make and the enjoyment you get from growing things”. Jen told me that she was a farmer’s daughter. Which I thought was handy because I didn’t have many green fingers and I had broken a set of secateurs at my last outdoor volunteering. Jen, Anna and I planted some lettuce in the raised beds just before it started hailing. We retreated into the green house and shed for a tea. The wind blew, the hail flew and the shed rattled but it was lovely. I suddenly wondered why lots of men enjoy hanging about in their sheds. It was peaceful.

The awkward spring weather changed into blazing sunshine and we went to work. We planted onions in rows, dug up chard and spinach which had grown and turned over the soil. A few worms came over to say hello. I used an onion rake to weed which I must say was the easiest weeding I have ever done. We moved a tiny polytunnel over our lettuce and Jen and Anna put netting over the onions. I wished the lettuce luck in its growing. Anna was very knowledgeable having studied landscape architecture and was patient and reassuring with a novice like me. It was nice to learn new things and it felt wonderful to be outdoors even in this weather. I asked Jen what had happened to all the apple juice that was made from the Harvest event and Jen revealed it had been made into cider. I think I might take up permanently volunteering for Operation Farm. The volunteers come each week to help out and split the produce that is left after training purposes. With such long waiting times for allotment plots in Tameside and the upkeep and commitment they take this seems a great way to enjoy all the plus points of having an allotment without the negative ones.

As we tidied up we realised that some of the seeds hadn’t germinated in the green house. Although it was sad I was glad that things don’t always grow and it showed it wasn’t just me. I feared for the lettuce that I had planted as most of my plants at home die. However I knew they were in good hands at Operation Farm. True to their word we split the lettuce and chard we dug up for our tea and I must say it was delicious.