Many years ago I had a dream in which I sunk my fingers into the warm soil where they took root and grew deep into the rich earth. I awoke with a profound sense of strength and happiness and the sense of being rooted in the earth has remained with me ever since.
And that is where this project really begins, in the soil. I have an absolute belief that earth heals. That if we, as individuals and as a society, respect and care for the ground that we stand upon and everything that grows in it, then we shall all be happier as a result.
But as a society we have become increasingly dislocated from the natural world in general and from food production and rural life in particular. I know from personal experience how growing things and working the land cures many mental and physical ills and it seemed to me that it could so the same for social ills too. I thought that if those caught in the spiral of trouble and alienation could have the chance to work the land it might connect them to my kind of reality. At very worst it would give a small group the chance to take some exercise outside in the fresh air in a beautiful environment. At best it might offer a chance to change.
Well that is the fancy stuff. I don’t suppose that it would cut much ice with the group I have been working with over the past year or so. But that idealism is at the heart of The Monty Project. The practical aspects have been gritty and very hard work but sprinkled with a black humour.
I thought that I could take a plot of land and create a smallholding with the group where we could grow our own organic vegetables and rear pigs, sheep and poultry. Simple. In practise it turned out to be anything but that. Over a long and exceptionally wet, cold winter the group worked three days a week to make 6 rented acres of muddy field their own. From the first we asked no favours. This was not therapy or ‘a day out in the country’ as one probation worker described it, but a serious attempt to grow and raise high quality food.
It was tough. One of our group died of an overdose aged 23, three have found their way back into prison and some have found the struggle to shake off addiction to be a daily battle. But most have made huge improvements in every aspect of their lives. In all 28 people have been part of the group over the past year although normally we had between 5 & 7 on the site on any one day. The idea has always to keep it deliberately small and personal so that everything and everybody is accountable and has meaning.
The site is safe. Any drugs means instant removal. We only eat what we produce or what we source locally. Our meals are eaten at a table, with knives and forks which in itself has been a major progress and at times a source of contention. We eat what we grow and share the surplus with our neighbours. We have started to supply a local farm shop and ran a stall at the Ludlow Food Festival where we sold out completely over three days. 28 people have been through the farm over the past year of which three are off drugs and in full time jobs, two have part time jobs and most are dramatically cutting their drug use and making huge improvements in social and practical skills.
I will work on The Monty Project for as long as there are addicts that wish to battle their addiction and re-engage with society and the rhythms of the natural world. As part of our remit we shall not only offer time on the land but also provide training to get people into sustainable employment and stay off drugs and crime. The funding for the pilot project has now ceased and our lease has run out on the land. We are currently applying for charity status so that we may secure further funding to continue with The Monty Project. We are looking to buy our own site. It is only a beginning. It is never too late to start again and get back to earth.
- Monty Don
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