By Fergus Walker
Forres is only a bit over 30 miles east of Inverness, but already you are heading into different country. We had left the Highlands well and truly behind us, and we were well into barley country – for that is the principle crop grown in these parts, mostly for feeding the whisky industry. Now, I’m as fond of a wee dram as the next man, but it’s a pity to see all that good land set aside to produce exported distilled sugars, when there are so many people who could be growing all their own food.
When we arrived at the Transition Town Forres community garden on Tuesday morning, we were greeted by a welcome sight: 70 well tended plots full of thriving greenery, (edible, beautiful, and bee friendly) – and Donald, one of the plot holders. A cheery fellow indeed, he made us instantly welcome, and showed us round. The plots are laid out in circular pod shapes about 15 metres across, and each plot holder gets a quarter. “It’s a very convivial arrangement – the layout means it’s quite sociable” he told us. “But in a way, it’s a pity they’re so small – I could easily take on a whole pod, or two”. There was more evidence of a need for better access to land that evening – a young couple, the man currently working at the RAF base – would love to be able to get their own croft or small bit of land to work.
We got the tent set up in the big lot adjacent to the garden (although not without a lot of battering of the poor tent pegs to get them into very gravelly soil!) TTF have just had a shed converted into a fantastic community hall space, with kitchen, toilets, a big hall space and a big stove (I think a pellet stove?). Well, we soon got our own stove set up, and there were kids and adults alike who appreciated being able to thresh, winnow and grind their own wheat, and then partake of a freshly made pancake while receiving story sustenance from Mrs Mash.
We invited our newly found expert – Agric from the Black Isle– who gave another talk on how to save seeds. Quite a lot of people turned up to listen (about 30) and they had lots of questions. There was also a workshop on how to make sauerkraut put on by TTF, and some delicious smoothies and juices made by Carin Schwartz, a powerhouse of a woman within the organisation. She is one of the many strong women we were to meet along the length of our journey – for it seems it is women who are usually at the heart of successful community groups.
That evening we held a ceilidh in the same hall, right next to the garden. We welcomed local storyteller Margot Henderson, who brought a wonderful weaving of story, song, percussion and music that captured everyone’s imagination. After the evening was over, there was talk that TTF might hold some more ceilidhs like that in future…
We were handed a big bag of seeds to take with us, including lots of flower seeds, such as corn cockle, birds foot trefoil, sweet pea, and some rocket and kale.