Personal Story 3, by Amnah Ali: Islamic Community Food Project at Spitalfields
Arriving at Spitalfields City farm on a sunny Sunday morning armed with a rainproof jacket and impractical boots, I had little preconception of what the Islamic Community Food Project would entail. But the chance to create with my own two hands was incentive enough to go.
I had been thinking about growing my own food for awhile but my inability to sustain indoor plants for longer than a few weeks usually dimmed my hope. If I couldn’t keep a little plant alive would I be able to manage tomatoes; marrows; or even basic herbs. My success rate with coriander was abysmal and I couldn’t bear thinking about the chives.
However, being able to weave my desire to grow with Islamic principles of patience; adab (etiquette); taqwa (God consciousness); and beauty was enticement. As was being able to do it all under supervision of Wisdom In Nature members; Muzammal and Wasi, and the lovely Naomi Glass!
So I arrived, uncertain but relaxed, ready to take on any task given to me. First the boots were discarded; and the bag; a pair of wellies embraced. Then I was raking soil; clearing weeds; replanting rosemary; chitting potatoes; and getting acquainted with a handful of militant spiders. I named them all Henry and hoped none had decided to journey home with me that evening. I was even given my first sprig of lemon balm (a ‘natural air freshener’ as the gutters were being cleaned and emitting a not-so-fragrant smell).
After a morning of sun soaked toiling, we had a group lunch where once again I witnessed the generosity of the group. Being as usual, slightly disorganised and forgetting to bring lunch to share, the group kindly decided to feed me. I realised the importance of community and the bounteousness of sharing. It again made me think of the way we chose to live today: the isolated ‘me’ culture with the one-two person meals from your local supermarket, ingested by you in your home, whilst your unknown neighbours do the same. Meanwhile the ingredients for your meals come from a range of countries; communities who may not have the resources to eat the food they put on your plates. Is there any pleasure to be had in food that comes from discord or sorrow? Whilst I was aware my choices were affecting many people rarely did it feel tangible as it did in that moment.
I saw and felt firsthand that growing the food you eat changes your relationship with food. In my mind’s eye the food is suddenly imbued with blessings: the love; time; affection you gave to it in its growing phase. The process of growing it and then allowing it to nourish you and your beloved community is God consciousness in action. Is it possible not to be grateful when the food you’ve grown is ingested by you? The mercy that it grew, under your protection, when you were nervous it wouldn’t, and now it nourishes your dearest?
We had workshops – wonderful, free, organic workshops – in the afternoon which challenged our perceptions and called for us to really look at how responsible we were when it came to food. I realised that my middle classed upbringing and lifestyle gave me the freedom to make choices – to be fair-trade; organic etc. Yet, I still was unable to really take action. Since then I have ventured baby steps into home gardening. My balcony now supports coriander; chives; and basil. I look at them tenderly and consistently, like an overzealous new mother, hoping that they might survive the spring chill and that my sabr and taqwa will generate nourishment: physical and, spiritual.