This is a story of yet another young lady who has found fulfilment from working the land. Young people – men and women – make up a a major part of the network of alternative growing and farming around the country, and this, I suggest, has to be something which shines a new light of hope into the future. One which we should celebrate. In this case, Madalena Vaz was a fashion designer in Porto – at first glance a great place for a bright, attractive young lady. But, she caught the growing bug at the ASHA centre in England’s Forest of Dean, and life changed
The ASHA Centre is a charity which works for the empowerment of young people, aligned to sustainable development, and worldwide peace and reconciliation It was founded by human rights campaigner and author, Zerbanoo Gifford. Zerbanoo made political history when elected as a councillor for the Liberals in 1982 as the first non-white woman. She then went on to be the first Asian woman to contest a Parliamentary election, is a former advisor to the British Home Secretary, and chair of the Race Relations Forum. She has been the director of Anti-Slavery International, London Organiser for Shelter, and helped set up Charities Aid Foundation in India. In 2006 she was voted International Woman of the Year.
The centre in the Forest of Dean provides a hub for intercultural activities as the location of educational, performing arts and environment based programmes through which young people can seek a new understanding and purpose to their existence. The location of the centre is simply stunning – a Georgian manor set in five acres of biodynamic gardens where the food which feeds the staff and residents is grown and which provides space to wander and think. The gardens are adorned with numerous artefacts which provide an almost spiritual presence to the place. It is one of the most striking places of nurturing for inner calm and respect that I have had the privilege to visit
Madalena came to ASHA on a one year residential programme which included growing activities. After her programme she stayed on as a volunteer under ASHA’s European Volunteer Service programme, and when the opportunity arose was appointed as gardener and volunteer task – coordinator with the job of inspiring, coordinating and sharing her knowledge and passion with new volunteers. The day I was at ASHA I not only had the pleasure of Madalena’s company but also that of her mother, who was making a short visit from Portugal, and gardening assistant Wojtek, also a product of the ASHA system.
Madalena is part of what I would like to suggest is an enlightened ‘loading of the bases’ for sustainable food production. Yes there have been organic movements and like in the past, but today I suggest we can take hope, and should celebrate, the number of bright, fit, young people – women in particular – who could be doing umpteen other things but who have made a critical decision in their lives to become producers of local and sustainable food. Something special seems to be happening. It is decision which needs guts and commitment. The network of young growers is extensive and though the nodes may be fragile financially – as they indeed will be til the population at large wake up to what currently happens in the production of their food – the vigour from such a rich cohort of men and women who are confident in themselves and in the belief that there has to be another way, must provide the rest of us with an opportunity for change which we cannot let pass by. It leaves me personally determined to get the work I made on show and hopefully sufficiently inspiring to have people change their ways and make use of the local, sustainable and ethical food production resources we have around us.