One man is bringing back a Caribbean tradition to Bristol, one that he says has been lost.
Mark Barnaby has been lovingly growing his own fruit and vegetables on his allotment for the past 13 years.
The 52-year-old, from Easton, says his Jamaican parents, like many of their generation, have always done this. But he says it is something younger people have forgotten.
His series of videos and photos on social media dubbed his ‘Allotment Diaries’, he is trying to spread awareness of the power of gardening.
He is sharing tips on how to grow food and where the things we eat come from with inner-city young people.
Mark Barnaby is not your average gardener. He doesn’t watch Gardener’s World, has never been to the Chelsea Flower Show, and is probably better known in Bristol for being one of the pioneers of basketball coaching in schools and youth clubs.
The former Bristol Blackhawks player stands tall at 6ft2ins, a big powerful muscular man and a commanding figure who was known as a no nonsense coach who even some of the most challenging young people would stop and listen to, and usually obey.
He grew up on the tough streets of St Pauls and Easton, but now spends most of his days tending to broad beans, butternut squash and his favourite Calloloo, a Jamaican spinach which only grows in hot weather. And he’s on a mission. A mission to reignite a lost tradition and culture in his community.
He said: “I guarantee if you go to a house of someone over the age of 70 in the Jamaican community in the UK, they will grow their own veg. Their back garden will have tomatoes, runner beans, and stuff. Even small gardens, any given space they have you will see this.
“It’s to do with the connection to the countryside back in Jamaica, everyone grew their own food. This continued here with the Windrush generation, but it’s sadly no more.”
‘It was always a way for our dads to get out of the house’
The allotment plot was inherited from his father, and was something many early migrants took up the opportunity from the council to have.
“Although many have now passed away, of course, a few of my father’s peers who started at the same time as him are still active. But of course they won’t be forever. There was once such a pervasive Caribbean presence on inner-city allotments,” he said.
His father, however, didn’t show him how to grow, his gardening knowledge is all self-taught.
Mark said: “While it is a tradition, me and my friends were never taken up to the allotment really. It was always a way for our dads to get out of the house, to escape from the family,” he laughed.
“It was kind of their mental shed really. They didn’t invite us along. It wasn’t a passing along the line thing for us anyway.”
When Mark’s father stopped going to the allotment, he took up the reigns – and he hasn’t looked back since.
Since he has retired from basketball coaching, it has become his real passion.
He said: “I love it. It’s very therapeutic. You leave the world outside at the gate. It’s all that matters. Whether its turning over the compost, weeding, or tidying up the shed.”
It is this sense of freedom and being connected to nature he feels inner-city kids are missing.
“When I am there, I feel free. It’s your own creation. If you think about being in a job what you do is often for someone else. With gardening you are governed by the laws of nature of course, but it’s still your own creation.
“This is something that inner-city kids don’t always have. That power, that freedom,” he added.
What started out primarily for himself has grown into something of a community. Mark started using social media to share videos, initially to record his own progress on. Then he started talking and explaining about what he does at the allotment. He called it ‘Allotment Diaries’ and for him the response has been surprising.
He explained: “I am a private person, I don’t do media.
“I didn’t expect much back but so many people started asking questions, they were curious about it. Many people then began growing things in their gardens, all from my generation and younger.
“There have also been several people, including one recent lady who has applied for her own allotment plot.
Mark posts daily photos and videos, all delivered in an earthy and engaging style.
“I guess I am not Alan Titchmarsh, so normal people can relate to me.
“When I was in basketball, I worked with kids schools said they struggled with, but they could relate to me.
“I was from those areas, and knew the drill. They wouldn’t mess about. It’s the same with this I guess, I am talking in a way people understand.”
Knowing where food comes from, and being more connected to nature is something Mark feels is of major benefit to young people.
He said: “Being connected to nature has become lost. A lot of Jamaicans are country people, and I think for all kids really being in the countryside opens them up.
“It might feel different and weird at first, as disconnected from what you are used to, but its so good for you. There are lots of studies out now, even about how touching soil and using your hands can alleviate depression.”
‘Kids need to reconnect’
The allotment attracts lots of animals, including birds and insects and Mark likes to relax by his newly-created pond.
When he first took his seven-year-old great niece to the allotment, she was scared of a bee. He said: “She was frightened and hiding behind her dad. I told her unless you are a flower it isn’t interested in you, just relax. It’s things like that make me laugh. Kids need to reconnect.”
Mark believes every school should have an allotment, and allow young people access to this. “The new generation need to understand the link to the food chain, it’s important. Most only see stuff in supermarkets or when its food.”
Mark eats 80 per cent of the food he grows, and gives the rest to his family and dfriends.
He wants to ensure that there is a legacy, and said: “I want to honour the generations before, and for the new to pick the mantle up.
“It’s good to grow.”
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