When I asked Sonia (graduate apprentice grower) to tell me something about Paul, she said: 'do you mean, why I adore him because he taught me everything I know about food growing and changed my life!'. Some of you may know that Paul Bradbury, our head grower, has moved on to embark on an exciting project with Landmatters in Devon with his partner Mihaela and their adorable 4-year-old son Luca.
The longest-serving head grower at Growing Communities after Brian, Paul has not only managed our three market garden sites and been instrumental in developing our patchwork farm, which now includes nine additional growing sites in Hackney, but he has also trained up a whopping 17 apprentice food growers over his four and a half years with us.
What struck me when speaking to volunteers, apprentices and patchwork growers is that he's a really, really good teacher. Sonia said he's 'quite literally a fountain of knowledge'. Liz, who has volunteered at our Springfield site for over two years, also stressed what a good teacher he is and how he's managed to create such a lovely learning environment. Ximena was reading through all the lovely messages in the card the growers gave Paul and was blown away by the affection the team - past and present - has for him. She says that people respect him enormously for his huge knowlege of growing plants organically, crop rotation etc. but that he's so down to earth and humble with it - and what she'll remember most is his care for people, for the patchwork farmers and apprentices he has worked with and nurtured over the years.
So, it goes without saying that we're sad to say goodbye to Paul but we're very grateful for everything he's brought to Growing Communities. Thank you Paul from us all and we look forward to hearing about your news and adventures from Devon.
And we're incredibly excited to welcome the wonderful Sophie as our new head grower. She really needs no introduction: Sophie started at GC in 2004 as one of the general support workers packing the veg bags, so she's been here longer than most of the rest of us!
Then she was one of our earliest apprentices, clearing and developing the Castle Climbing Centre site with Ida, before becoming assistant grower three years ago.
She's been running the Clissold site and its volunteer team, bringing it up to the fabulous state it's now in, and finding time to sell salad straight from the site, nurture exotics in the polytunnel and organise kids workshops. We already know she's a brilliant grower and teacher, who is loads of fun to work with.
We wish her the best of luck in taking over Paul's amazing admin systems, supervising panting plans and keeping track of all the 12 sites in the Patchwork Farm and the dozens of volunteers who are working on them - as well as thinking of more ways to allow people to access and enjoy our growing sites.