On travel and diversity

The idea of gardening abundance is a metaphorical one and this blog is not only about gardening. A key way in which we can take our preferences into our own hands, however, is to take all the strings of logistics right back to the source. Access to land can increase our autonomy and probably improve our wellbeing when it comes to a great number of things, from food production and distribution to allocation and sharing of resources, or simply access to green, living spaces. Issues surrounding access to land date back quite a long time through history, and it is important to understand the complicated factors surrounding land issues if we are to understand the reasons for  the uneven land distribution which we find in our world today, and indeed, respect and use our land in a way which will benefit more people. These fall broadly into three main categories, which I shall discuss below: the challenges of getting land in the first place, where to find knowledge and gain skills, and how to develop and learn when you are stuck in one place.

Finding land

Historically, the question of who owns which part of land, when it has appeared as a concept – as many cultures do not recognise the idea of ‘ownership’ of land at all (see for example 1) – has been one of simply whoever has the most power gaining the most land. This was enshrined in law in Britain during the succession of “Inclosure” (in Old English) or Enclosure Acts which were passed by a series of UK governments between 1604 and 1914, turning what was once common land into private land (2). However, I shall not dwell on such issues, as it is clear that in spite of who claims to have the law or power on their side, access to land is both achievable and possible. This can be shown by the number of squatted communities in the world (see for example 2, 3), the success of guerrilla gardening (see for example 4) and the number of projects in the UK where people have begun living on the land and afterwards got ‘retrospective planning permission’ (6); permission which would probably not have been given had they asked the ‘powers which be’ and waited for it.

Of course, if you are working on the land without the permission of those who claim to own it, there is always the issue of security. But will the security of the piece of paper which you obtain at vast expense protect you from the sudden violent rainstorm which destroys half of your crops? The unexpected drought which comes, when you investigate it, from the aqueduct which carries your water from the source high above your land having a gate installed in it by a multinational water corporation, who have signed a contract with the local council for ‘rights’ to  number of litres per year rather than a percentage of the actual amount of water? The complaints from your neighbours whom you have not bothered becoming friends with as you know you have the legal right to be there? The lightning when it strikes?

For many, the idea of having a piece of land to work on is not only a distant dream but an impossibility. This is simply because they are considering land prices, planning permission and scarcity of land as insurmountable obstacles rather than intriguing challenges.

Have land – now what to do?

If you have grown up following the rhythms of your environment and learned how to utilise bits of it to help keep you alive then you still have the mutual connection which will greatly enable you to grow and build with confidence and abundance. For many in the last couple of generations, however, this connection has been somewhat cut; not severed completely, or we would never be able to survive, but made very much smaller. Now as more and more people begin recognising the importance of respecting the land and are deciding that a great way to do this is to move onto the land themselves (see for example 7), there is also the challenge of arriving in the field and not having a clue what to do with the things you find there. You can study how to grow, but most ‘conventional’ agriculture takes into account profitability as the highest goal and is therefore more likely to damage the land than enhance it. Other ways of growing are available to learn about. This can be done formally, through apprenticeship schemes such as with the Soil Association in the UK (8) or the Biodynamic or Demeter Association worldwide (9); or through courses such as the Permaculture Design Course available worldwide (10, 11) and the Permaculture Diploma in the UK (12) or more research-oriented courses such as those at the Centre for Agro-ecology, Water and Resilience (13) or at the Schumacher College (14). If you do not have the time or money to go for one of these there are more informal ways of learning, such as using exchange programmes like Helpx (14) or Worldwide Work on Organic Farms (15) to find a time and place which suits you and gain practical experience.

At the recent Oxford Real Farming Conference (16), I was present at a very enlightening discussion about the ‘rural-urban divide’ and how this can be overcome to help farmers work more efficiently and less stressfully, and help those wishing to start out in farming to begin. The discussion touched on a range of issues, but one which kept coming up was the idea of city people, who live at a faster paced life than those in the countryside, feeling that simply because they have spent a couple of months studying they know how to change styles of farming which have been in place for generations. This viewpoint, though it is not necessarily completely arrogant (as farmers probably can learn a lot from city folk; but it has to work both ways), is something to be aware of; as is the tendency, mentioned by one amused farmer, of city-dwellers to find problems with everything, and to expect solutions to come immediately or panic must ensue. “You have to just be a bit more patient”, he commented; things are changing, it just takes time.

The issue of time

This is perhaps the most complicated issue of all, and one which I shall be writing much more about. As mentioned in my Web of Biodiversity, it may vastly help us to go about achieving our individual and collective goals if we bear in mind a celebration of a culture of biodiversity; which means not just in the seeds which we plant once we have gained access to land, but in the diverse nature of all the myriad characters and stories which make up human existence. If we are truly to understand and celebrate this, perhaps it is useful for us to travel at regular intervals in our lives, to experience the vast range of ways in which we can live in this world by seeing how people do it in other places. Travel can also be a fast way of helping us to learn, as well as helping to open up the mind, though this can be done in many ways, including sitting alone in your room, as long as you have the right stimuli.

Yet how can one care for the land and travel around learning about how others do it? If we are to truly gain an abundant harvest from or land, we need to be there, utilising the permaculture principle of ‘observe and interact’ by experiencing what the place is like throughout the seasons, learning the habits of the plants and creatures on it, in order to discover how best to design a system which will work with the natural flows whilst providing produce and joy for ourselves. This necessitates staying in one place.

However, a simple observation of many natural phenomena is that when they stay in one place with no movement, this can be highly detrimental. Plants and trees need air to move through their branches and leaves to help keep them oxygenated; water if it is left standing with no current will go stagnant. The same seems to be true of humans; if we stay in one routine for too long, we can end up losing sight of the holistic picture and become lost in our own bureaucracy.

Travelling farms

This is not true of everyone, however; as mentioned, the human race is made of a huge diversity of characters and many people may be happy to always live in the same place.  Equally, there are many who will never have any interest in having a hand in where the products they use come from, or in truly living in connection with nature, and so it doesn’t matter where they go. For those  who are interested in experiencing it all, it seems there can be a new way of looking after the land. Those who wish to learn to grow can travel from farm to farm, learning as they go, and with the understanding that they can also give, in terms of bringing new energy as well as manual labour and human strength. This is already in place to some extent with the WWOOF and Helpx systems; the only way in which it could become even more mutually beneficial is to extend the idea of land use to include those who travel around as a key part of working on the land.

Nomadic landworkers

These ideas represent only a fraction of the possibilities available to us as long as we can broaden our definitions of what it means to own or work on the land to include not just paying someone some money but all of the other activities which make up human experience. It is in this spirit that I shall be spending the next six weeks travelling around Southern Spain, helping out on different projects and learning more techniques to enable me better to garden abundantly myself. After all, even those who own land outright in the ‘official’ sense are nothing but tenants anyway; we are all only alive on the Earth for a brief period of time, and we may as well make our tenancy worthwhile.

References

  1. Halcyon, 2014. ‘Chief Seattle’s reply to a Government offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands: 1854’. http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/chiefsea.html – retrieved 31/01/15
  2. UK Parliament, 2015. ‘Enclosing the Land’. http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/towncountry/landscape/overview/enclosingland/
  3. Google Maps, 2014. ‘Résistance! Carte des utopies et luttes écologistes et sociales concrètes [ ‘Resistance! Map of utopias and fixed ecological and social struggles” (my translation)]. https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zB1OZmeGJ7OA.kepycQ8XsohU&mid=1385494633&msa=0
  4. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Grow Heathrow: Response to Comments’. Permaculture News, 10/4/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/04/10/grow-heathrow-response-comments/
  5. Reynolds, R, 2009. On Guerilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening without Borders. Bloomsbury: London
  6. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Need for Sustainable Building’. Permaculture Magazine, 2014. http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/need-sustainable-building
  7. Reclaim the Fields, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.reclaimthefields.org.uk/about/
  8. Soil Association, 2015. ‘Future Growers’. http://www.soilassociation.org/futuregrowers
  9. Biodynamic Association, 2015. ‘Diploma in Biodynamic Association (formerly BD Apprenticeship)’. http://www.biodynamic.org.uk/training/
  10. Permaculture Magazine, 2015. ‘Courses’. http://www.permaculture.co.uk/courses
  11. Permaculture Research Institute, 2015. ‘Permaculture Courses’. http://www.permaculturenews.org/courses.php
  12. Permaculture Association, 2015. ‘Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design’. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/diploma
  13. Centre for Agro-Ecology, water and Resilience, 2015. ‘About the CAWR’. http://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/areas-of-research/agroecology-water-resilience/
  14. Schumacher College, 2015. ‘About’ .https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/about
  15. Helpx, 2015. ‘About’.http://helpx.net/about.asp
  16. Wwoof, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.wwoof.net/about/
  17. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/
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