Tej Rawal

Tej is the assistant food grower and The Seed Saving Network coordinator at OmVed Gardens, a gardener, scholar and interdisciplinary artist. His thinking weaves together various strands, including growing and being in 'nature' as an act of centring wellbeing; the power of social movements in our present time of several overlapping climate and social crises and ways of being and bearing witness to a world fundamentally changed by anthropogenic climate change. In the pre-pandemic world, Tej pursued formal training in Dramaturgy at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, while there were parts of that world he enjoyed, he never felt at peace. The pandemic, like for countless others, forced him to pause and rethink, leading him to refind gardening and growing.

Describe the nature around you at the moment.

At the moment, I’m spending a lot of time reading in a library deep in the concrete jungle of central London. Apart from the London plane trees ensconced by paving, on initial observation, there doesn’t seem to be much by way of nature. When I’m in these environments, I find myself stopping for a second and being observant, invariably something crops up; I can see moss lining steps, so-called weeds weaving through concrete pavers, the sure signs of tentative bulbs clawing forth from the soil and heralding spring and last but not least, the remnants of a fox visitation overnight!

Where do you feel most at ease?

I feel most at ease wherever my family are. In our present time of climate crisis, I feel the places I inhabit with my loved ones are where I feel most human.

How does nature link to our well-being?

Just as I’d completed my undergraduate degree and started my master’s, we lost our family home to a fire. While the place was being rebuilt, mostly during the pandemic, we found temporary accommodation in a home with a garden that backed onto an ancient woodland growing around a brook, which rises in pastureland eventually joining the Thames. Rain or shine, my Dad and I found ourselves compelled to traverse the course of the brook nearly every day, noting the trees we saw, the birdsong audible in the absence of moaning planes and the din of the dual carriageway. Amidst this newfound awareness of the natural world - albeit through great difficulty - we felt comfortable enough to discuss the traumas we’d experienced in ways that were previously impossible. I can't say in certain terms how nature links to our well-being but I can say the prolonged experience of these walks was profound.

What lesson have you learned from nature?

Nature has taught me it operates on a clock beyond our comprehension, both in the rapaciousness with which it can colonise over anthropic attempts to master it, and the contradictory but considered slowness with which it melds great forests, rivers and the creatures that inhabit both. I guess it demands we learn humility.

Name a film, book or podcast that blew your mind.

Hope Against Hope: Writings on Ecological Crisis by Out of The Woods Collective.

What are you interested in at the moment?

I’m obsessed with the pond a friend and I dug, seeing how it's changing over the seasons has been fascinating. I’m hoping to put a hydrophone in it over the spring so I can hear the cacophony of life under the water’s surface! Also snowdrops, I'm obsessed with them at the moment.

What kind of ancestor would you like to be?

Good question! I guess I’d like to be an ancestor who simply instils kindness in generations to come, with the hope they carry that kindness forward.

Have you always felt a deep connection to nature, or was there a moment or event in your life that sparked it? (Question from #TheNatureKind interview with Joanna Ayre)

I guess both! 'Nature’ never gives us straightforward answers, right? I felt a deep connection to the natural world before I recognised it as such. When my mother, who was a florist by trade, was dying and trying to prepare her children for a life without her, she would tell me to close my eyes and think of her and I’d find her there if and when I needed her. When I do so, she’s always in a paradise, surrounded by deep, verdant leaves and purple flowers that seem to catch the light from all directions, I think they’re Rhododendrons, but who knows, they might be a species from beyond this world! Only in my adult life, in which I’ve been compelled to work as a gardener and grower, have I felt the deep sense of peace and connection I found in these visions in my day-to-day life.

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

What vegetable couldn’t you live without?

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

Lufti and Ruby who founded Willowbrook Farm in Oxford, a farm that strives to rear animals ethically and sustainably.

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