For the most part, food growing in urban spaces means compromise - alterations for space, for capacity to care and for security. This summer, we've been doing a lot in the alleys - tiny shared spaces that sit at the rear of the back-to-back terraces that are typical of central Middlesbrough. At best, they are quiet, peaceful, beautiful and, useful for gardens, warm and sheltered. At worst they have challenges that have included flytipping, misuse of bins, vandalism and theft. But we're all about making things wonderful!
Having made the move as a family as far away as possible from single-use plastics ('SUP' as they are now referred to in the #ontrend nomenclature of the eco warrior), we are now bar soap users rather than shower gel-ers. (Incidentally, this met with some resistance initially from the teens, but over a bottle a week was reason enough to stand firm!)
Our soap use is also off-the-scale ridiculous however. I'd like to think this is a reflection of our cleanliness, but it's probably more to do with the muck of working outdoors, and having three footballers in the household.
I love the New Year - a fresh start and new adventures to plan! After the gluttony and excess of Christmas, it always feels so refreshing to clear out the old.
This year has started with a difference. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a coppicing course with one of my favourite eco-heroes, Ben Law, accompanying volunteers from the very excellent Kindlewoods CIC, a project that manages woodland and delivers woodland wellbeing programmes for people experiencing mental health challenges. I love what Kindlewoods is about - it's one of the things I'm most grateful to be involved with and well worth a moment of investigation.
We arrived for our stay, at the Sustainability Centre, late at night - too late to see much at all - but we had a warm and comfortable bed and in the morning we were able to investigate a little more that it had to offer. The site is large and home to a variety of habitats and some beautiful timber buildings. Everything is geared towards showcasing environmental gains - our heating was provided by a biomass boiler, all the food provided was organic and Fairtrade and there were posters and information sheets displayed throughout. Short days meant less exploring that maybe we could, but it's on the revisit list!
There is a general consensus that wildflower area = low maintenance. If this is something you're considering on that basis, STOP now! Stunning in full flower, meadows are very special places, and having been lucky enough in a past life to spend a hazy summer surveying them in upper Teesdale, they hold a special place in my heart. But, like all areas of planting, they require care and attention.
You will know, I'm sure, that I have a minor obsession with yarn-based crafts. It started at an early age...
I'm going to start straight off and state that I really don't think there is anything eco about holidaying. But I didn't half need a break!
I once read that you should build a life from which you don't need a holiday - sage advice - but not necessarily something that the majority can do. Whilst I probably feel less inclined than most to depart from normal life (as normal life for me is pretty enjoyable!) it is nice, once in a while, to leave the distractions behind and find a new corner to explore.
Flying is ruled out immediately - not just on account of the environmental impact, but also because there are too many of us to make it feasible! And although a foreign jaunt is appealing, we are lacking in passports and the means to make it happen comfortably. The weather has been so fine this year though, that actually staying on home turf is not a bad option!
The UK has plenty of unchartered territory for us, and with vaguely predictable weather, making an active choice to stay in the country was perfectly viable. The first choice, Mull, however was ruled out last minute due to rain and low temperatures, and instead we picked Norfolk, somewhere we had never ventured.
I have a favourite pair of work trousers for the summer. They're light, quick to dry, mud coloured and above all of this, mysteriously only a size 8 and big! (This shouldn't be a consideration, but when you spend your life dressed in wellies with odds and sods of vegetation stuck in your hair, ingrained fingers and mucky fingernails, the positive affirmations of a clothes label that reminds you that at least you're holding the muffin tops at bay is generally a thing to be celebrated!)
We managed to pick up a colony of bees a few weeks ago (literally pick up, in a box in the boot of the car!), which we've safely rehomed in an empty hive that had been kicking around the garden, wishfully thinking, for a couple of years.
We have no aspirations for honey this year - we will have done well to keep them alive through winter. (The colony is a swarmed one and only little. Bee colonies need to have enough bodies to collect food to store to keep them through the cold months and sadly I really don't think they're going to be able to do that). But honey or not, we wanted to inspect the hive and make sure things were going OK, especially after ferocious storms a week ago.
I have a thing about natural fibres. I can't even claim that this arose as a result of all the publicity relating to microfibres in the oceans; I've been fanatically checking the labels on clothing for as long as I remember.
More by accident than design, I've reached the middle of the summer having been able to tick off quite a few items from my mental 'skills bucket list.'
I suspect I stand alone with this, but I love learning new things, especially those that involve a practical application - a 'making' skill. It's a gift when someone takes time and energy from their life to introduce something new and amazing to yours, and I love that the things you make yourself are wrapped in so many memories and experiences.
I started with ceramics, with my lovely friend Carol, who is an incredibly talented and inspirational artist (who, thankfully for me, also has unlimited patience!) Carol ran a short course from a new pottery and workshop she's developing and we made small pinch pots, ceramic birds and modelled a head. Clay is definitely not my forte (and I'm awaiting my fired pots to see if I can salvage any level of pride!) but the opportunity to have a go under her guidance, and meet others who felt the same need to give it a try, was lovely. I also got to spend unexpected time with my nearly-adult son, which was a joy.
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.