Volunteering at the Urb Farm: tonic for mental health

December 13, 2018


Volunteering at The Urb Farm has been a mental lifesaver for me. I've had a difficult summer and autumn - low moods, a splash of apathy, a pinch of dissatisfaction have all combined together to leave me with fewer feelings of 'wellbeing' than I would have wanted. Different people have different ways to tackle this, whether it's talking it out or seeking professional help. For me, the solution was to do something out of the ordinary, something fulfilling.

I wrote an article around two years ago about The Urb Farm in Wolverton (you can read about it here.) It's an oasis of green in a housing estate, where young people can learn new skills and farm-to-fork eating is made more accessible. I contacted Florie, who runs the place, and offered my services. I don't have the greenest fingers (have you seen my garden?!) but I thought I could be of some use - or could learn to be. And I felt doing something really worthwhile, once a week would help me with the situation I now found myself in. And I am pleased to say it has.

The tasks I perform are simple - from watering plants to thinning turnips - but satisfying at the same time. It's fantastic therapy and a learning opportunity to boot. Where else can you learn how to prune blackcurrant bushes and harvest apples on the same day? It is also an opportunity to be sociable, to meet new people at various stages of life, from the trainee learning the basics of food production to the person who has changed career later in life and is now doing what they really wanted to do, all along.

It is also an eye-opening experience where you find out about different types of salad leaves you didn't know existed, or just how many different species of wildlife call the Urb Farm home including butterflies, bees, birds and the occasional frog. Discoveries that would be concerning to anyone else are a sign here that nature is running as it should be, whether it's finding a wasps' nest or spotting a cabbage white butterfly in the tomato polytunnel.

Common frog on grass

There's no clock watching here - the hours pass like minutes - and the weather changes continually with the sun on your face one minute and a gust of wind blowing through you the next, keeping you moving and on your toes. There are moments of peace - planting seeds for a salad harvest - and moments of chatting, whether it's about what you plan to do on the coming weekend or what you have learned that day.

There are also thrilling moments (well, to me anyway) like when you realise the plant thinning you carried out only a couple of weeks ago has meant there are now fully-grown turnips to be sold or when you notice the fruit you picked has made it into a jar of jam.

You keep in touch with the seasons - strawberries in summer, squashes in autumn - and watch each change with excitement as something which was only a seed is now ready and ripe for the picking, opening up a whole new world of colour and flavour. Everything is fresher, chard stems are brighter, radishes are redder, leaves a more vibrant green. There are spots of wild plants near the produce too with mallow plants sharing space with the courgettes in the polytunnel and borage waving its star-shaped blooms at the chard.

Rainbow chard Pink wildflower

And there is the satisfaction of knowing that something you harvested that day could be taking pride of place on someone's dinner plate, ending up in a stew or the preserving pan, as fresh as it could possibly be.

Volunteering opens up a whole new world of possibilities and experiences, allows you to tap into new spheres of learning while being able to feel like you are having an impact on your small portion of the world.

If you want to have a closer look at the Urb Farm, they run a couple of open days a year. Or you can contribute by signing up to their Veggie Mail where you can purchase whatever produce they have available. Or sponsor a chicken. Or purchase Christmas presents.

The possibilities are truly endless.

charity, FruitAndVeg, gardening, LocalFood, MentalHealth, producer, UrbanFarm

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