Monty Don. 2006 Hodder and Stoughton 14.99
The author is well known as a television presenter of gardening programmes and he is fanatical about food being locally produced and organically grown.
The book vividly charts the progress of a courageous project to rehabilitate some drug users through introducing them to farming, and to eating food they have grown themselves. In an impassioned introduction Monty Don makes a link between the mechanisation of agriculture, lack of employment in the countryside and the targeting by drug dealers of a disenfranchised generation living in rural towns and villages. Some become outlaws, prone to addiction and the crime needed to fund it, without a sense of identity or responsibility to a place, community or family. The project aims to teach some young people to respect the land, animals and crops as a way to learn to respect themselves and then their fellow citizens.
We see how through working in collaboration with the West Mercia Probation Service and gaining the agreement of the BBC to film the project, he leaps in, feet first, only to discover after locating a possible site for the experiment that it arouses the implacable ire of the local community who see it bringing a bunch of criminals into their area. When an alternative place is found, the locals are consulted first. .
There is a lot to learn about drugs and those who abuse them. Though he had his own experience of coping with depression through gardening, he was clearly unprepared for the condition in which he found the first candidates to arrive for a day’s work: ‘concentration and stamina nil’. He is astounded by their lack of any enthusiasm and appreciation, their isolation and inability to communicate. At first they not only fail to enjoy any organic food, in some cases they refuse even to sit at the table, ‘Why can’t we have normal supermarket food?’
Day book entries from members of the group and excerpts from Monty’s diary written, ‘often late at night when dog tired or very early in the mornings and always on top of doing a full day’s work’, chart the obstacles, relapses and small triumphs as the year passes. A measure of success: ‘a moment of satisfied silence as everyone is busy eating’.
He learns that it is necessary to set a tight structure: ‘starting the day with a drink and discussion of the work to be done, lunch together, their own produce, rounding up the day with another cup of tea and discussion’. Doesn’t that make one realise how we could all benefit from such a regime? It takes a lot of energy though, as well as patience and forbearance, to work with drug users.
The book may have been hastily put together but is very informative about drugs and users and includes memorable anecdotes. The intention is to inspire other small-scale projects with similar aims throughout the country.