Hands Down: Alice Holden, Grower

This is the third in a series of interviews from MEMORANDUM, a collaborative journal celebrating craft, community and nature. This week Harriet Walker speaks to London based grower, Alice Holden.

Alice Holden, 33, manages a two-acre market garden in Dagenham where, along with a pack of devoted volunteers, she grows vegetables, salad crops and tomatoes. After a degree in anthropology, she decided- having grown up on a dairy farm- that she would rather work on the land for a living than push pens.

“It was never put forward as an option,” she says of her chosen career. “That might have put me off. But it’s very healing work. Part of the reason I do it is to sort my head out, and I think people gravitate towards it because of that.”

“It’s having a renaissance because of the basic desire to feel direct connection to nature. It’s something to do with feeling useful in a very direct, hands-on way. You can see what you’re creating and, when you eat it, its a wonderful thing that you’re part of the process.”

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This day-job in horticulture however has taken a toll on her hands. Though you might more readily associate repetitive strain injury with the deskbound mouse-clickery that most of us endure as part of our modern digital lives, Alice has developed it from using techniques that haven’t changed since the day the first humans sowed the seeds for their first lunch. “I’ve damaged my wrist from some of the repaeted movements – sowing, planting, harvesting,” she says. You have to watch out for things like that.”

“I really should do a lot more upkeep. Often I forget how muddy my fingernails are. People don’t expect it so much from a girl, but when I’m on the tube or delivering produce in Canary Wharf, I get horrified looks from people. I should sort my hands out more, but you get to the point where you think well, theyre only going to get dirty again.

Alice Holden is the author of Do Grow published by the Do Book Company

Interview by Harriet Walker

Photography by Tess Hurrell

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