how to change the world

No good being a campaigner if you're not a good neighbour

By John-Paul Flintoff

John-Paul Flintoff buried in vegetables

Photo copyright: Pal Hansen

I was mad keen for everybody in Britain to start growing food, as I had done (I still do). But how to start that? Not, I suspected, by delivering hectoring speeches.

And then I came across the brilliant book by Alastair McIntosh, Soil and Soul, in which he suggested that it’s no good being a campaigner if you’re not a good neighbour. Was he right? I decided to test it.

In the autumn I collected sacks full of apples from the tree on my new allotment, and packed them into boxes and took my four-year-old daughter from house to house up the street, saying I had more apples than I could possibly use myself and would they like to take any?

From the delighted expression on their faces, I gathered that there is nothing intimidating or alarming about a man ringing the doorbell so long as he is holding the hand of a four-year-old girl and handing out free apples.

Having thus improved further our family’s relations with the neighbours, as prescribed by McIntosh, I prepared for the next part of my cunning plan, a few months later.

I planted tomato seeds in pots, and when they had grown a few inches tall I wandered up and down the road ringing the same doorbells, once again holding Nancy’s little hand. “I have grown too many tomato seedlings,” I announced, and my neighbours agreed to take one or two pots off my hands.

After a few minutes work, I had helped a large number to start the journey towards food growing. I daresay that many may had done this before, or were about to do it anyway. But others perhaps wouldn’t have known the joys of growing food themselves if it hadn’t been for this plan. Anyway, several were successful with the tomato plants – and I happen to know that they have since moved on to grow other types of food, too.

Posted: April 6, 2012