Hay festival: Monty Don returns in revolutionary moodCharlotte Higgins, arts correspondent Monday May 26, 2008 guardian.co.uk Feeling rosy ... Monty Don and Sky News presenter Adam Boulton at the Hay Festival. Photograph: Gareth Llewellyn/PA Writer, broadcaster and national treasure Monty Don was in revolutionary mood as he made his first public appearance since a stroke led to his retiring as presenter of Gardeners' World.
"I intend to make a full recovery," he added. "I am pottering about at the moment, having a nice time." Friends, he added, have said he looks better than ever; and he quipped that his ill health was due to "not eating enough organic vegetables".
If he seemed the merest fraction less hale than his old self, Don was certainly on fighting form, as his new role as president of the Soil Association was announced at the Guardian Hay festival.
Sharing a platform with Patrick Holden, the Soil Association's chief, Don spoke of his ambitions to turn the organisation into a people's campaigning body that will transform attitudes to food and the environment.
"My attitude to politicians is that they are a pretty useless bunch on the whole," he said. "You have to become a rabble. One should scare them and pressure them, and subvert the system from the ground up."
He said the movement should mobilise Britain's 11 million gardeners, and involve everyone from large-scale farmers to those growing a single basil plant on a windowsill.
Holden said that, in light of environmental concerns and what he believes is a looming oil crisis, he was calling for "a national policy of self-sufficiency in staple foods". Large centralised distribution systems will become economically unviable, he argued, and food will have to be produced locally. Imports should be limited, though he said there was still argument for shipping in certain cases.
"Maybe third world countries will have to suffer as a result of our national food policy," said Don.
"You don't necessarily have to stop all trade, but maybe you have to modify it. We should be trying to make third world countries resilient so they don't have to trade food."
He recalled a recent visit to Cuba, describing the "resilience" of the country in the face of the dwindling fuel supplies that had followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Calorific consumption halved. People responded by doing what they could do. People had to be self-sufficient. They had to grow their own herbs for medicine. In Havana, there were 300,000 people working on the land, growing superb-quality vegetables." Self-sufficiency, he argued, was thus not only desirable but possible; and he praised the exceptional quality of Cuban compost.
Holden and Don advised the turning over of private gardens, public parks or open space surrounding offices to vegetable-growing. He called most parks "boring and ugly", saying "planting designed by committee is always at best bland and at worst vile." Vegetables, he said, were beautiful.