Review by Ben Clements. Ben lives and works in Nottingham, UK, and has shared ownership of a vegan organic allotment for four years.

Well done to Graham Cole of Holywell House, Hampshire, and to VON, for making this great little film about stockfree growing on a garden or allotment scale. This complements perfectly the previous film about growing on a more agricultural scale that featured Iain Tolhurst, and fills some of the gaps the first film left. It runs for a little over half an hour, but in that time Graham explains a great deal about stockfree, and in a way that would be very easily digested by viewers unfamiliar with the subject.

Graham is a passionate and engaging presenter, and obviously knows his onions. His years of experience shine through, though not in a showy sort of way, and his warm charm feels much more real than that of your regular TV presenter.

The viewer gets to feel like they’re really having a good poke around this garden. You get to see a lot of the soil. I was surprised how fibrous the compost is, how much leaf mould is applied, and just how healthy and full of organic matter the soil is. I will try and adjust my own practices accordingly….

After a run-through of the problems with conventional farming, the main means of promoting fertility vegan organically are set out in sections on green manures, compost, leaf mould, and chipped branch wood. Text and graphics at intervals work really well for these sections, with clear headings and summaries of the main points. The key techniques are all explained in very practical terms. The newcomer can easily go dizzy reading in detail about nitrogen cycles in chipped branch wood, but I think the pitch of this is just about right. Not aimed at children, but not aimed at PhD students either.

Top tips

Graham back at work; he says that his memories of the filming are of a good but long day!

Rotation, biodiversity, weed control, growing under glass, and picking your patch and tools, all get an equally sensible treatment.

Then we get a tour of the crops in the order of rotation, and some things outside the rotation too. There are some lovely looking plants. I wish I could grow grapes and figs like these! I don’t know if the potatoes match Tolly’s in the first film – but they could have enlarged in my memory.

The film is full of little tips – a type of raspberry that ripens after the pigeons have lost interest, using fleece for certain pests, lavender to encourage hoverfly, and lots more. Little bits of know-how that we all enjoy, and send us reaching for a notepad.

It’s a shame though that not all the veg were quite up to show standards. I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps the budget didn’t allow enough film crew visits over the year? Or was it just a bad year for leeks? (The leek, in fact.)

There are other minor criticisms I would have. In the early section in the film, although much of the explanation about the reasons for going stockfree was put very well, some of it could have been put better. The graphics at this point seemed a little childlike and clunky. And the central message was somewhat detracted from by a heavy-handed link made with the Transition Movement. I may be a minority view here, but I find linking stockfree with the Transition Movement a bit of a turn-off. If I had wanted to see a film about Transition, I would have watched one. Transition doesn’t reflect everyone’s politics (does it have any politics?) and to me this looks like bandwagon jumping. Alas Graham sounded rather off his familiar ground in this section.

That said, I don’t want to put anyone off, or detract from the overall success of the film. My abiding impressions are “wow” and “must get out into the garden”. It would be a great introduction for people new to growing, or new to stockfree, of all ages and abilities, and it would make a lovely gift. As Graham said he hoped it would be, this really is an empowering and inspiring film.

This, along with our other DVDs, can be purchased from VON’s shop: The DVDs are free to VON members (but unless you request them when you join, which allows us to post it with your Growing Green International magazine, there is postage to pay). Our DVDs can be watched for free (but at lower video quality) on our vegan organic YouTube page.

This review appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 28 (Winter 2011/12), p21.