Are you environmental enthusiasts and gardeners yourself? What is your background?
George’s dad, Andy, currently delivers organic fruit and vegetables for a regional wholesaler. I’m Ali, George’s mum. I’m a community cook for two not-for-profit organisations—Operation Farm, a community gardening and cookery project and People First Tameside, an organisation for adults with learning disabilities. Together, we are both environmentally aware and do as much as we can at a domestic and local level to be ‘green’. Andy has fudged his way into gardening over the years and has now become really passionate about organic gardening. Meanwhile, I’m always in the kitchen ready to prepare their home-grown veggies and turn them into something delicious.
When and how did you first introduce George to gardening and the environment?
We didn’t set out consciously to introduce George to either gardening or the natural world; it was just what we were already interested in. We always spent days off outside, and spent the holidays camping. We were keen to develop the garden and unused space around the house into a productive growing space. Andy has always been interested in wildlife and loves cycling and walking. I set up Operation Farm and I’m a keen cook. So, I suppose it’s our way of life. George’s school also put gardening on the curriculum, and he had one of the best teachers, Sarah. She also started an out of school gardening club, which was brilliant for topping up his knowledge. She has since become a great friend.
What activities did you do with George to begin educating him about wildlife? How old was George and when did you start doing this?
Since he was born we visited parks, gardens, the countryside and the coast. He’s made the transition from being strapped on our backs, to piggy backs to toddling to striding up steep hills. During these trips, we would look out for wildlife and start to name them, especially if it wasn’t something we had seen before. We have spent hours in rockpools, bird hides and piers. Over time and with a bit of research, George’s knowledge really developed to a point where he could tell you the difference between a male, female and juvenile woodpecker for example. He pores over non-fiction books and wildlife magazines and soaks up the small details.
We love that you all garden together as a family, what other environmental activities do you do as a family? How has this helped bond your family together?
We do lots of community events that help to raise awareness of environmental issues, and through this, we have made a great network of friends who all share the same passions and values. Day trips don’t have to be complicated or expensive; we have spent many an hour besides a river looking for water voles or kingfishers – it’s all about the small pleasures.
When did you begin gardening with George?
About 7 years ago.
How have you supported George with Green Fingered George?
We couldn’t be more proud and supportive of his achievements. His family and friends are too. We are also his personal assistants, chauffeurs, stylist, chefs, secretary and dogsbody! We enjoy his engagements too, they are really good fun and such great opportunities for a young person.
Where do you see George’s love for wild life and the environment taking him in the future? Do you think this passion could lead to a full time career in the future?
After leaving high school, I think George would like to be involved in conservation and environmental gardening; anything that helps to protect the planet and save wildlife. He doesn’t like what we are doing to the environment and he often talks passionately about how we build too many buildings rather than having green spaces, how we pollute the sea with beauty products, the destruction of wildlife habitats and how we kill endangered species unnecessarily. He’s really interested in the connection between plants and birdlife, so maybe he’ll do research in that. He’s also interested in how gardening can come up with solutions to big problems, like flooding in our cities. I think he’d like to go on world-wide adventures and see a lot of the natural world for himself!
What advice do you have for other parents, if they want their kids to have a passion for our environment?
To support children, to allow it to flourish. To surround them with all the knowledge in different formats and let them soak it up like a sponge. To allow those difficult conversations whatever their age. I remember George asking about animal welfare, which led to sustainable food. We were driving at the time and I was finding it difficult to give him answers in a way he would understand – but he did understand and now that subject is easier to discuss when we are making food choices in the supermarket.
What are some practical things parents can do with their children?
Experience life outside, have a fire on the beach, go bird spotting, look up at the night sky, eat a picnic in the winter and get your feet wet! Just wear the right clothes—if it’s cold and wet and children aren’t dressed correctly, it will be a bad experience and just put them off. As Billy Connolly famously said, "There's no such thing as bad weather - just the wrong clothing . . .”
Are there any easy activities families can do together to help the environment?
Go for a walk in the woods and make natural sculptures with the materials found lying around. It’s great fun--the artist Andy Goldsworthy does this. Look & listen for birds and the sounds they make and then try and name them – there are some great apps for this. Go on a two minute beach cleanup – we have a campaign in the UK – do you? Upcycle junk into something funky for the home or garden – George regularly plays with old construction pipes, bricks and wood and makes water slides with them. Plant a community garden or orchard to share with your school friends, neighbours or work mates – it brings you together and improves the area too.