Claire Ratinon

Claire Ratinon is an organic food grower and writer based in East Sussex. She has worked in a range of roles from growing produce for the Ottolenghi restaurant, Rovi to delivering growing workshops and talks to audiences including East London primary schools, community centres and educational institutions. Claire is passionate about the act of growing plants - especially edible ones - and the potential for it to be nourishing, connecting and healing. Her second book Unearthed: On Race and Roots, and How the Soil Taught Me I Belong was released in June 2022. Portraits by Christian Cassiel / @christiancassiel

Describe the nature around you at the moment.

Although I’m sitting at my desk, I can see my garden from the window next to me and my veg patch beyond it, and beyond that a large field peppered with ancient trees. It is especially beautiful on crisp winter days like today.

Where do you feel most at ease?

Walking at low tide on a bright, clear day. I only discovered this remarkable pocket of time and space a couple of years ago when I moved out of London and towards the south coast. I’ve been captivated by its ever-changing, shifting nature since.

What would you like audiences to take away from your book Unearthed?

Principally, I’d love for readers to come away from reading Unearthed with a sense that cultivating a relationship with the living world is not only possible but powerful and necessary. Through telling my own story of sowing seeds where my heart ached with unbelonging, and how the plants I grew in that space weaved me back together, I hope that other people might consider turning towards the earth to come to understand that they - that we all - belong to the living world, and to each other.

I hope, too, that readers come away from reading Unearthed with the belief that working with the soil and growing plants is humble, meaningful and political all at once. That seeds are the carriers of our heritage and our futures, that our histories are intertwined with those of the plants we grow and that we are all the descendants of land stewards and food growers so it deeply matters that we all have access to the opportunity to grow should we want it.

What lessons have you learned from nature?

I’ve learnt so much from the natural world that my answer to this question could fill another book! More than anything, it has taught me that our connection, our interdependence - with each other, with all living things - is infinite, unquestionable and sacred. Nurturing the soil, growing plants, making compost are all prisms through which I can see how exquisitely living systems co-operate and conspire in our collective thriving. Knowing this compels me to consider the impact of my actions and choices, and to try and be of service to the earth whenever I can.

Which song, book or poem nurtured your relationship with nature?

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver was the first text that I’d encountered that depicted the edible growing season as a narrative and in it, Kingsolver tells the story of the year when herself and her family attempted to live off the land, almost entirely, bar a handful of luxury items. It’s a book that combines compelling storytelling, interrogation of our food systems and regular acknowledgment of the challenges and hard graft that goes into growing food which necessarily explodes romanticised notions of self-sufficiency. It’s been many years since I last read it though - I wonder if I’d enjoy it as much now.

Which rituals do you practice to keep you grounded and connected to the outer world?

Observing. I always encourage new growers to keep a growing diary - noting the weather, sowing dates, germination times, first harvests. Not only is it a genuinely useful thing to do but it encourages you to take your time to bear witness to how things grow, behave and change. It offers up a sense of the story of the unfolding growing season. And since a grower’s to-do list is never complete, it can be hard to resist the compulsion to dive straight into the doing so making a ritual of looking, I think, is essential.

What are you interested in at the moment?

I ran a series of BPOC landworker retreats last year and that experience has left me reflecting on the need that so many of us have in this space to do work that is sustaining and feels purposeful while also accessing the kind of rest and recovery we need to make it to the following season. How can making time and space for recuperation and reflection become an ordinary part of the work that we do?

And as we move into the colder months, I’m attempting to take my cue from the seasons and accept the invitation to quieten down for the winter, to reflect on this enormous question and honour all that I have done with this year.

What do you think is the most impactful thing we, as individuals can do to help save the planet? (Question from #TheNatureKind interview with Judith Alter)

Grow something! There are few things that we can do as human beings that genuinely give more than they take but growing a plant is one of them. In this time of incessant extraction and consumption, growing plants is something we can do that feels unequivocally generative and is an act imbued with care, reciprocity and delicious beauty.

What question would you like to ask to the next person on #TNK?

Describe your vision of the future you hope for.

And could you suggest someone else or other organisations you admire that we could approach for #TheNatureKind

Samson Hart at Miknaf Haaretz and Becky MacKay at Ragman’s Lane Market Garden

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