In search for my farm, I have traveled between towns, cities, states, counties and countries; and for the last 3 years, I have been on the move, staying in temporary arrangements, thanks to friends and family who have generously opened their doors to me. Being rootless and homeless is hard work. Living out of a suitcase, ever ready to move on to the next place whilst doing what I have to do – making a living where possible, cooking and eating, connecting with others, contributing in whatever way I can to my hosts, staying on track with finding my farm and not outstaying my welcome.
My latest stint has been on a farm just outside greater London, in county Essex. I was hired as a gardening instructor for vulnerable young people with mental health issues and disabilities – a temporary job for 9 weeks. Due to the short term nature, I was given a room in shared accommodation on the farm, sharing with two 19 year old male apprentices.
Cleanliness and hygiene were concepts alien to these young men. On my first weekend, I spent hours cleaning, rearranging things to make the kitchen more user friendly and removing odd items like liters of car wash out of the cupboards.
The following Monday evening, as I was cooking dinner, I found myself on the receiving end of a tirade as one of the young men started shouting at me, telling me it was his house and that I shouldn’t have moved anything and that I should never speak to him again. After half an hour of failing to engage a civilised conversation and being yelled at, I felt like I had been assaulted. It was the start of feeling like I was constantly walking on egg shells. I reported the incident to management who made a weak attempt to tell this man he had to behave. I learned from other staff that others too had had similar experiences of being yelled at.
The only clean space was my room. Everything in the kitchen was covered in a layer of congealed bacon fat; rubbish poured out of the bins and empty wrappers and plastic bags were left lying around the communal areas; dirty dishes were constantly left in the sink; spilled food remained spilled; mud from dirty boots marked the floors and furniture. The one who had had the tantrum earlier took delight in peeing all over the toilet seat and muddying the bath mat. Complaints to management fell on deaf years. They gave me access to another toilet but did not make any attempts to manage the harassment.
On my part it was a test of patience and managing my anger and stress levels. I was constantly on alert waiting for the next violation, ready to make yet another complaint, knowing it would go nowhere. After several weeks of tolerating this situation, a miracle occurred. The young man was suspended for possession of drugs and I was left with the other one who was equally useless in the cleaning department but was at least quiet and polite.
At this point, the Corona virus entered our lives.
The remaining apprentice went into self-isolation after spending a weekend at home with his mother who had symptoms. This meant he had to leave the accommodation in order to keep the rest of us safe. A week later the entire farm was closed to the public. Clients were no longer able to come, permanent staff were told to stay at home and I lost my job. The lockdown meant I had to stay on the farm, because there was no time to find anywhere else to go. Thankfully, in exchange for voluntary work, I could stay here rent-free.
By the end of day 1 of the lockdown, I had cleaned the entire accommodation, rearranged the furniture, decorated the place with plants taken from the garden and created a home. All my food supplies came out of my room and went into the kitchen cupboards. I started sprouting beans and lentils in jars and set up pots of herbs on the window sill. I had fresh flowers on the dining table.
With no idea when the lockdown will be lifted, for the first time in a long time, I no longer feel the need or pressure to work out where to go next.
For the first time in a long time, I feel like I can be somewhere and not have to consider anyone else. I can arrange my things wherever I please and not have to worry I am taking up space.
For the first time in a long time, I no longer bother to look for jobs or look at real estate sites for farms.
Instead, I spend hours in the garden, tending to the garden beds, sowing new seeds, watering and weeding and continuing to grow food. I can go back ‘home’ any time and have a cup of tea or listen to music. The weather is glorious and spring is definitely here with flowers and blossoms everywhere. I now have a house instead of just a room and in the evenings, I can relax in the living room or connect with friends online. I don’t think I could have wished for a better place to be in lockdown.