Category Archives: Abundance Garden – Events

Rising Phoenix: Magic and Art at Europe’s largest Fire Festival

All photos by David Ashwanden – for more see his Phoenix flickr album here

Last week I had the pleasure of joining the volunteer team at what is probably Europe’s largest gathering of fire performers, the Phoenix Fire Convention in Germany (1). Having worked as a fire performer and been involved in the circus community for the past few years I thought I kind of knew what I was getting into. Yet nothing could have prepared me for what I found at the Phoenix festival – magic, deep connection and lots of amazing skills.

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Setting up The Fire Space

What does fire mean?

It is all around us nowadays – from the man walking by you in the street lighting his cigarette to the somewhat tamed flames of the circuits sparking inside the machine on which you are reading these words – and sometimes it can be easy to forget the raw vitality of this most elementary power. Yet fire is today as dangerous to touch as it was for our Promethean ancestors, and though we may feel we have trained it to do our will, a visit to any dry country in the summertime could swiftly show you that we are by no means always in control.

 

What does Phoenix mean?

The legend of the phoenix originates in Ancient Greece, though as a mythological symbol it has counterparts in many cultures (2), as do many of our most profound societal symbols (3). It is generally described as a large, beautiful bird with lustrous red or purple feathers (etymologically, ‘phoenix’ stems from the Greek word for ‘purple’, a colour associated with fire and the sunrise) (4), which burns on the fire and dies but is re-born from the ashes of the same fire. As a symbol of a fire festival, then, it is pretty apt.  However, the fire-bird is more than a symbol – it is actually an integral part of the festival. Every night at dusk the Phoenix, a large metal sculpture, was ceremonially set alight. Only when it had burned completely did the fire space of the festival, a large carpeted area which at its capacity could safely host around 30 fire performers at a time, open.

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Setting the Phoenix Alight

The ritual nature of this helped to set a tone of respect and mutual appreciation. Many of us play with fire on a weekly or even daily basis and from watching some of the people in the fire space it was clear that more than a few feel totally at home when surrounded by flames.  This familiarity, however, perhaps makes it all the more important to remember what we are playing with and to accord it the respect it deserves.  The phoenix-burning ceremony was a beautiful way to represent this.

Sacred Space

Preparation of sacred space to show the importance of an activity is something which can help a lot in directing focus and attention on one’s actions, on the present moment and on appreciating what the world is giving to us. This by no means needs to be religious; but there are many aspects of modern Western culture which can be seen to be lacking this appreciation and sared-isation. Luckily, this lack means there is space for the creation of new ceremonies and placement of new importance on places and events. As a volunteer helping to set up the fire space at the Phoenix, I was part of a team of people who helped to turn a piece of dusty, stony ground into a smooth, carpeted dance-space. The care and attention going into this was emphasised by the fact that the festival hired a group dedicated to fire-space preparation to organise it, who are named very aptly The Fire Space (5).

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Setting up the Fire Space.

This is something I have actually done before though not on such a grand scale, and though not everyone may use the word ‘sacred’ to describe the activity, it was done with such care, attention and love that there doesn’t appear, to me, to be a difference (for more on my definitions of ‘sacred’ and on the importance of sacred space see my article here) (5).

Magic Circle

Feel like you don’t have your own ‘sacred space’? Maybe you can create one…Photo by David Ashwanden

What does convention mean?

Altogether there ended up being around 800 attendees at the convention: jugglers, spinners, sculptors, whippers, people who could move their bodies in ways I’d not dreamed possible before and of course, people bringing many many examples of fire-toys, from places as diverse as Denmark, Costa Rica, Canada, Australia, Spain and many others, even Wales.

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Fire swords in the pre-dawn light.

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LED toys in the ‘Blacklight Space’.

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Spinning with the gigantically impressive ‘Triplengs’.

Each day of the convention was filled with workshops so that we could learn more about the skills we already have or pick up an entirely new skill if we wanted. More importantly than these learnings, however, seems to be the gathering together of people who share the same passions, which seems to accelerate learning even if there is no formal teaching.

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The magic of gathering together.

The location of the festival was in the beautiful Thuringia hills, and it seems indicative of the friendliness and welcoming attitude of the conventioners that on the Saturday night, hundreds of local villagers came to see the Gala show and join in a little bit themselves.

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One of the Gala Show comperes: Pete the Witch Doctor.

Even the weather was appropriate, with burning hot sun every day of the festival, which finally broke into an awesome lightning storm on the evening of the final day, as the Phoenix was carefully cleared away.

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Even the sky was playing with fire.

Flames of Earth

Our human society is full of fire, you can even say it is built on fire. There are many aspects of the way in which we use fire which can be seen as massively destructive, even if they do seem to provide us with convenient things such as means of travel or communication. One reason why we may be causing so much self-destruction, as explored by Abram (7) and others, is our lack of connection to the beauty and power of fire and its symbolic equivalence within the burning of our own spirits. With this in mind it seems clear that a step towards responsible use of the earth’s resources is recognition of the sacred art which we can create with it, and which it always possible to create with it. That is not to say that fire performers are not using the Earth’s resources, but we are tapping into the raw energy of the fire in a way in which you may not consider when you, for example, take a ride on a bus. Is this recognition and love part of creating a re-considered use of resources? Perhaps.

One final tradition of the festival was that everyone who attended was given a tiny corked bottle on a string. Into this we put a small amount of the ashes from the burned phoenix. Next year, the phoenix can only rise again with the help of the returning festival-goers, who can contribute the ash it needs for the rebirth.

As if we needed another incentive to come back…

Do you enjoy these photos? For many more from the convention, check out David Ashwanden’s flickr album here.

References

  1. Phoenix Convention, 2016. ‘Homepage’. http://phoenix-convention.de/
  2. Garry, Jane; El-Shamy, Hasan, 2005. Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature. ME Sharpe: New York City.
  3. Van der Broek, R, 1972. The Myth of the Phoenix. Seeger I trans. EJ Brill: Leidon/Boston/Tokyo.
  4. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero With a Thousand Faces.  Pantheon: New York City
  5. Fire Space, 2016. ‘Fire Space Project’. https://www.facebook.com/FireSpaceProject/?pnref=lhc
  6. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Sacred Spaces’. Abundance Garden, 3/3/2015. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/sacred-spaces/
  7. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage: New York City

 

 

How to Care for your Garden: Kosmicare UK at the Secret Garden Party

Some people go to festivals as a king of mini-holiday; others because they want to see the bands and music. Some go because they love the atmosphere, and some go simply because it’s the closest thing we can find to the way we live our lives anyway which also resonates with the so-called normal world. Festivals are places to party, but much more than that; traditionally (and this goes back to the first tribal ceremonial gatherings) (1) they are a place to experiment, where boundaries dissolve and where you could find yourself going on journeys which you never expected to before…

Journey Help

Sometimes this boundary dissolution could be a little confusing, especially if the festival is a big one, which is why I was so pleased to be working with Kosmicare UK (1) last weekend at Secret Garden Party (2), which has many areas, from labyrinths and mazes to space-hopper games zones, and from natural (though very muddy) swimming pools in the forest to giant hot tubs with views of animal sculptures. Somehow the overall effect seems to be to encourage party-goers to don as much glitter as they can possibly get their hands on, sometimes with no other garments at all. All of this creates an atmosphere of fun and intrigue, perhaps encouraging experimentation, although with around 20,000 other party-goers around (the festival capacity’s normally 40,000, but apparently numbers were down this year) such experimentation can go along with a slight risk element.

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So much glitter it was even falling from the sky! Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

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Inside the ‘Sanctuary’ space at Kosmicare UK. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

Coming into The Loop

In our non-judgmental acceptance of anyone, regardless of which substances they may have taken, and our understanding of how psychedelics can affect behaviour and mood and how to respond to this, Kosmicare UK is part of the recognition of so-called ‘drug’ culture (though perhaps we need a new word for this – see my article here for more thoughts on the matter). Through this it was very exciting to be present at Secret Garden Party alongside The Loop (4), an organisation who use state-of-the-art spectroscopy scanning to anonymously test whichever chemicals you bring them and tell you what they are. In non-science speak, festival-goers could go to The Loop tent, throughout the festival, and have their pills and powders tested using a laser which can tell them, within a matter of minutes, which chemicals they are made up of, so you could find out how pure your drugs were, or if they were even what they had been sold to you as. The organisation managed to get an agreement with on-site police that there would be no police presence anywhere near the drugs-testing tent.

This was the first time The Loop have been present at any UK festival, though given their success and positive feedback (see 5, 6) it will probably not be the last. Neither The Loop or Kosmicare UK encourage taking of illegal substances, but the fact that both areas were busy throughout the festival shows that people are doing it anyway, and if they can test their substances so they know what they are taking, and have a safe and welcoming space to go to once they have taken them, the risks of such activity are significantly lower and everyone can do what they probably came to the festival for in the first place – to have a good time.

How environment can affect our mood?

Sometimes when people are deeply lost in their psyches they may be unaware of their surroundings, or if people are around they may project onto those people whatever nightmares are in their heads and potentially lash out at them. At Kosmicare UK we are prepared for this and always ensure that our visitors are kept from harming themselves and others around them, though we do not restrain them in an uncomfortable or confrontational way. In this the Kosmicare UK methods seem to differ radically from those I witnessed being used by some of the on-site security and police, and by the Welfare tent. Though we were trying as much as possible to co-ordinate with the other welfare teams and with the security guards and police, at such a large event there were occasionally communication gaps. This could sometimes be frustrating, however, it is probably mainly due to the lack of understanding of what Kosmicare UK is actually providing, and the more we can publicise this the better prepared the other festival staff can be.

As with all the festivals we go to Kosmicare UK was there providing a safe and caring space for anyone who happens to have taken their experimentation in a direction which they are no longer sure how to handle. As such we are usually available for those experiencing drug-related difficulties, though all are welcome at the Kosmic-area, whether they are experiencing psychological problems of any kind or are simply feeling a little lost or lonely. We were busy all weekend with all kinds of visitors; some of the main ones which I experienced being from people who had ingested some kind of psychedelic substance such as LSD who were going through some complicated mental acrobatics. Such cases are relatively easy to deal with in Kosmicare UK because of the way in which we work; using set and setting, which has been proven to affect one’s experience (see for example 6), and by accepting that whatever the person is going through, it is first of all valid and second of all will become less intense as the drug wears off, so there is no point in fighting it. We do this in a number of ways, one of which is by purposefully wearing our own clothes rather than any kind of uniform, to show those coming to Kosmicare UK that we are on the same level as them and therefore create more of a trusting, co-operative atmosphere.

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Working with set and setting: the ‘party’ tent at the Kosmicare area, for those feeling sociable or loud. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

 

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Working with set and setting: the ‘Shrine’ inside the bell tent, which includes amy things to look at and play with including things to connect us to the elements such as the fire of candles, air of incense, a shell filled with water and rose petals, and a live plant connecting us to the natural world and the earth element, and as a reminder of the living, breathing ecosystem around us. Such things can be sufficient to engender calm in an uptight or anxious individual. Photo by Stephanie Amazonas.

We do not have the facilities to provide first aid assistance to those needing physical medical attention. Nor are we particularly interested in sorting out fights between festival goers. All of this can be taken care of by the security, welfare and first aiders and if necessary the police. What we have expertise in and a specially prepared area for is those who are having any kind of difficulties on drugs. Thanks to Secret Garden Party’s open-minded and forward-thinking attitude, we could do this easily and in co-operation with The Loop at the festival.

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Some of the Kosmic Garden Party Team. Photo by Ilaria Foo.

The Secret Garden Party was a refreshing and thought-provoking experience. Hopefully more festivals in the UK will take the lead and become more open to providing not just welfare, but also different kinds of psychological care and attention for people who are exploring, without judgement of the methods they have chosen for their explorations.

Kosmicare UK will next be around at Illusive Festival (7) in September so come and look out for us!

References

  1. Kosmicare UK, 2016. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
  2. Secret Garden Party, 2016. ‘Secret Garden Party’. http://www.secretgardenparty.com/
  3. The Loop, 2016. ‘Mission Statement’. http://wearetheloop.co.uk/missionstatement
  4. Brooks, L, 2016. Secret Garden Party pioneers drugs testing service for festival-goers’. The Guardian, 24/7/16. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jul/24/secret-garden-party-pioneers-drugs-testing-for-festival-goers?CMP=fb_gu
  5. Fisher, H, 2016. ‘I spent my weekend testing drugs at a festival’. The Independent, 25/7/16. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/secret-garden-party-drugs-service-i-tested-drugs-at-festival-service-for-everyone-a7155376.html
  6. Hartogsohn, I, 2013. ‘The American Trip: Set, Setting and Psychedelics in 20th Century Psychology’. MAPS, Spring 2013. Available as a PDF here: http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v23n1/v23n1_p6-9.pdf
  7. Illusive Festival, 2016. ‘Illusive Festival’. http://illusive-festival.co.uk/

Celebrations of Spring and the Sacred

This weekend marks an important festival in many traditions, called by various names and celebrated in different ways. The exact method of celebration varies depending on where you are; however, it seems clear to me that many celebrations have a similar resonance and perhaps even stem from the same archetypal ideas (see for example 1) – that now, in the Northern Hemisphere, is the beginning of Spring, the revolution of the seasons when the world begins to come to life anew.

Here in Italy the celebration is known to the majority Catholic population as ‘Pascua’ – a word which stems from the same root as the word for ‘Passover’ (see for example 2), showing the  links between the different Abrahamic faiths. The traditions of Passover differ from those of Pascua and the celebrations are different depending where you are. Here in Salento one tradition is of the ‘sepolcro’ or ‘tomb’. Following the story of Jesus Christ and his death, on Good Friday, the day every year when Jesus ‘dies’, every church dedicates one section as the ‘tomb’ and is open all night for people to visit to meditate on the death. The tombs vary in imagery but all have flowers and many which I visited had not a human being in the centre but a golden sunshine.

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To me this suggests the recognition of the metaphor which Jesus Christ represents as the sunshine returning to the earth after the ‘death’ of winter. In English, ‘Pascua’ is known as ‘Easter’, a word which stems from the ancient Germano-British Goddess of the spring, Ostara or Eostre (3). Every year, she brings the sunshine back after the death of winter, and life can continue another round. In many myths it is said that Ostara’s gifts of the golden lights of dawn are carried by bounding rabbits or hares (see for example 4), which could otherwise be known as Ostara bunnies (Easter bunnies?)

Ostara is a very old Goddess who has been compared to as the equivalent of Persephone, who in the Ancient Greek tradition descends into the underworld every winter to be reborn in Spring (see for example 5, 6). Many modern practising pagans celebrate her return to the Earth as part of the Wiccan calendar (7), placing the time of celebration around the time of the Spring Equinox.

Another notable celebration which happens at the time of the Equinox is the Feast of San Giuseppe. In Salento and possibly elsewhere in South Italy there is a legend that San Giuseppe once averted a famine (as far as I can tell the legend stems from Sicily) (8). This could be the roots of the Feast. Whatever the reason for it, it is clear that the people of Salento know how to celebrate this important time. In churches and community centres all over the region, offerings are made for San Giuseppe and other saints (I suppose he’s a generous guy and wants to share) in sumptuous arrangements which are quite breathtaking to regard.

 

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The Feast is not only for the Saints, however. Huge amounts of food are cooked and served to all who come to visit the offerings, regardless of faith or of anything else. The important thing is sharing the meal. Such recognition of the importance and sacredness of this often overlooked substance – the food that we eat – is quite moving.

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The Equinox is the day when, for the first time since before the winter, the hours of darkness and light are of equal length and the world begins tipping towards one or the other. Whatever your faith or beliefs, this changing of the light is directly observable with the senses. In the Northern Hemisphere it means the return of light and life to the Earth. You may not believe in Jesus, Ostara, Perspehone or anyone else, but if you believe in yourself you could use the evidence of your senses to celebrate the coming warmth and life.

As Joseph Campbell has said, “People ask me sometimes ‘what rituals can we have?’ You’ve got the rituals only you’re not meditating on them. When you eat a meal that’s a ritual, just realise what you’re doing. When you consort with your friends that’s a ritual, just think what you’re doing. When you beget a child or give birth to a child – what more do you want?!” (6)

We have opportunities to celebrate the abundance of life all the time. The coming of spring can be seen as a fantastic reason to gather together, eat, drink and be merry. So happy sacred spring time, wherever you are and whatever you prefer to do!

References

  1. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books: New York City
  2.  Living Language, 2014. ‘Easter and Passover: Different holidays with a shared etymology’. Living Language, 15/4/14. http://www.livinglanguage.com/blog/2014/04/15/easter-and-passover-different-holidays-with-a-shared-etymology/
  3. Watkins 2006 [2000]: 2021.
  4. Elton (1882:408)
  5. Theoi Project, 2016. ‘Persephone’. http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Persephone.html
  6. Joseph Campbell, 1996, quoted in ‘The Mystical Life’. Mythos Series, Episode 5. Athena Studios: San Francisco, USA.
  7. Cusack, Carole M. (2008). “The Return of the Goddess: Mythology, Witchcraft and Feminist Spirituality” as published in Pizza, Murphy. Lewis, James R. (Editors). Handbook of Contemporary Paganism. Brill Publishers: Netherlands
  8.  Caffety, K, 2003. St Joseph Altars. Pelican: Louisiana, USA.

 

 

 

Taste in the Community

There are many ways to go about getting to know a place. You can spend prolonged amounts of time there, you can walk around and look at different views, speak with locals and hear what they say, breathe the air and sense the scents therein. Perhaps one of the most profound ways of getting becoming familiar with an area, however, is to use your sense of taste by trying the food from there. This sense of familiarity may well be what makes wild foraging still a popular activity, even in regions where it has become more popular to harvest your food from the local supermarket than from the forest or rocks of your home.

Salento Sea2. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Salento Sea. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Yet perhaps this is precisely why the allure of wild food collection remains. Even if you have lived somewhere for many years, if not your entire life, you can suddenly and very strongly gain a whole new perspective on the place once you put the food you have gathered from its habitat onto your tongue. Many folk tales and fairy stories speak of the binding power of food; “if you eat food in fairyland…you will never be able to return to the human world”(1). What we ingest is constantly changing us fundamentally, connecting us to the place where it comes from. Such a connection can be even more charged with potency if it is a direct link it is between you and the land from which the food came.

What better way, then, to get to know the land which I have just relocated to than to attend a foraging session and wild food lunch? Less than 1 week after arriving in my new home in Salento, Italy, this is exactly what I stumbled upon. Organised by local groups Sapori Autentici di Comunita (SAC) (Authentic Flavours of the Community) (2), part of Cooperativa Terrarossa (3), along with Salento Bike Tour (4), the event consisted of a guided bike ride around the area to check out the local plants and find which ones are edible. Many of the edible plant specimens were then laid out in a room of the Palazzo Baronale of Tiggiano, with their names in the local dialect, a language which apparently differs to that spoken in the nearby town. More helpful for me was the fact that the plants’ Italian and, most crucially, Latin names were also recorded. However, I appreciate the fact that the dialect-names were the largest on the labels, as knowing what the locals call a plant is by far the most useful information for you if you actually wish to share food with them.

Food sharing was the next activity of the day. It was fitting that the  event was held in what was historically a Baron’s palace, for it was certainly a palatial feast. If the maxim about eating food of the fairies also applies to Salento, I may never leave this place – though I’m not sure I’ll mind. We experienced many local ways to cook the plants, much of them totally new to me and all very tasty. One surprise was the use of Crithmum Maritimum (local name “ripilli”), which in Britain is known as rock samphire and with which, having lived next to the sea in England for many years, I am pretty familiar. I have used it often as a herb to flavour sauces or as a garnish.

~Rock Samphire or Ripili

Rock Samphire, Crithmum Maritimum, or Ripili. All the green parts of the plant are edible raw or cooked – though tastier cooked. The seed pods are also edible. Rock samphire is rich in Vitamin C. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

In Salento they treat this little succulent maritime plant not as a herb but as a vegetable in its own right, cooking it with garlic and olive oil in a way which fully brings out the flavour of the samphire without overpowering one’s taste-buds.  Needless to say, I am eager for the recipe, though I suppose I’ll have to wait for one of SAC’s cookery demonstrations for this.

It seems I won’t have to wait long. As well as organising such foraging tours, the group run demonstrations of local skills and recipes, and events focussed on local fruit and nut varieties, much like the work I was engaged in with Orchards Without Borders (see for example 5).

Below is a documentation of the wild edibles which can be found in this area at this time of year (late winter/early spring). The climate here is maritime – Salento is a long spit of land which extends out from the main part of Italy into the Ionian and Adriatic sea like the stiletto heel of the Italian boot, and wherever you are in the region you will probably not be more than around 40km from the sea. As well as this the main plant life is Mediterranean, though as mentioned I have already found some species which are familiar from colder climes, and so even if you live in quite a different setting you still may find this selection of edibles of use to you as you go about foraging in your own home.

Rock Samphire in its natural habitat. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Rock Samphire in its natural habitat. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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The beach at Tricase Porto. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

It is always advisable to be cautious when trying new food for the first time, especially when you have never heard of it before. If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably best to avoid trying it until you’ve found out, though this should probably also apply to any new ingredient you find on a packets of food from your local supermarket (for more on this subject, see 6). But it’s ok! – exploring new tastes is very easy. Even if you do not have an equivalent group to SAC in your local area, there are many fantastic online resources which can help. One of my favourites is Ken Fern’s plant database Plants for a Future (7) on which you can search plant uses, including edible and medicinal.

Whether you find any of the same species as listed here or not, may your foraging be fruitful and your wild food explorations exciting. Even if you live in the middle of a city, you may well be surprised to find what food is growing just under your feet, once you activate the senses to discover it…

Sonchus oleraceus, known in English as Sowthistle

Sonchus Oleraceus, whose English names include Sowthistle. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), stem (cooked), young root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Foeniculum vulgare, known in English as Fennel. Edible Leaves, roots, flowers, seeds. Digestive

Foeniculum vulgare, known in English as Fennel. Edible Leaves, roots, flowers, seeds. Digestive. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Papaver Rhoeas, known in English as Common Poppy. Edible leaves when cooked, flowers, tasty seeds

Papaver Rhoeas, known in English as Common Poppy. Edible leaves (cooked), flowers, tasty seeds. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Smyrnium olusatrum, known in English as Alexanders. Edible leaves.

Smyrnium olusatrum, known in English as Alexanders. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), flowers (raw or cooked), stem (cooked), root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Asparagus Acutifolia, known in English as Wild Asparagus. Edible shoots

Asparagus Acutifolia, known in English as Wild Asparagus. Edible shoots (raw or cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Shoots of wild asparagus, freshly picked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Shoots of wild asparagus, freshly picked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Sinapis Alba, known in English as White Mustard. Edible leaves, flowers

Sinapis Alba, known in English as White Mustard. Edible leaves, flowers. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Brunias Erucago, known in English as Corn Rocket. Edible leaves (cooked)

Brunias Erucago, known in English as Corn Rocket. Edible leaves (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Cichorium intybus, known in English as Chicory. Edible leaves, root (cooked)

Cichorium intybus, known in English as Chicory. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Rumex Crispus, known in English as Curly or Yellow Dock. Edible leaves

Rumex Crispus, known in English as Curly Dock. Edible leaves (raw or cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Borago Officinalis, known in English as Borage. Leaves edible raw or cooked, flowers edible fresh or dried in tea

Borago Officinalis, known in English as Borage. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), flowers (fresh or dried in tea). Medicinal effects include euphoria-inducing (from the flower tea). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Urospermum picroides, known in English as Prickly Goldenfleece

Urospermum picroides, known in English as Prickly Goldenfleece. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Picris Echioides, known in English as Bristly Ox-Tongue. Leaves edible raw (bitter) and cooked

Picris Echioides, known in English as Bristly Ox-Tongue. Edible leaves raw (bitter) and cooked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

 

References 

  1. Lamborn-Wilson, P, 1999. Ploughing the Clouds: The Search for Irish Soma. City Lights: Monroe, Oregon.
  2. Sapori Autentici di Comunita, 2016. Sapori del SAC. Facebook, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/SaporidelSAC – retrieved 12/3/15
  3. Cooperativa Terrarossa, 2016. ‘Chi Siamo [Who we Are]’. http://www.cooperativaterrarossa.org/chi-siamo/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  4. Salento Bike Tour, 2016. ‘Home’. http://www.salentobiketour.it/en/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  5. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Orchards Without Borders: Exploring Diversity and Culture’. Abundance Garden, 11/12/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/orchards-without-borders-exploring-diversity-and-culture/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  6. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Importance of Eating Food’. Permaculture News, 25/9/14. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/09/26/importance-eating-food/  – retrieved 12/3/15
  7. Plants for a Future, 2016. ‘About Us’. http://pfaf.org/user/AboutUs.aspx  – retrieved 12/3/15

 

Advancing in Permaculture: Ideas for Achieving Dreams!

Permaculture: a small word with huge reverberations. Though the term was first coined in the 1970s (1), many of the principles and ethics are as old as human society—from being conscious of the world around us as inclusive of, rather than separate from, us, to the idea that nature is our best teacher and one of the best ways to expand our own education is to observe and interact with what is going on around us.

How we accomplish the practicalities of these ideas is as varied as there are people in interested in permaculture. This is one of the beauties of the system, as the only limit to what you can achieve using permaculture design is your own imagination. Many use permaculture to design gardens or farms (see for example 2); yet the design principles can also be applied to building (see for example 3), social systems (see for example 4) and even one’s own finances (see for example 5).

Yet this wide range of applications can also occasionally be a little overwhelming. How to use permaculture to focus in on what we really want to be achieving?

Practicalities!

It is partly with this in mind that I shall be participating next week in the Permaculture Advanced Design Course at the Casina Settarte (6) in Ostuni, South Italy. The five-day course, running from 4-8 December and facilitated by long-time practitioners Andrea Lo Presti and Giuseppe Sannicandro, is aimed at honing the skills of those already practised at permaculture design who are looking to improve and perhaps refine how to best work with their passions.

The skills which we shall be refining include specifics such as drawing to scale and using computer software in the design process, as well as more general communicational resources such as building bioregional networks and communicating with one’s clients (7).

All this in sunny Puglia in a project which was set up in 1993 in order to “create a context where people can find inspiration tuning with the nature” (8). Casina Settarte is a site for permaculture, as well as for art, and has hosted a number of workshops throughout the years including contact improvisation, yoga, various dance forms and singing (8). Next year, they shall be hosting a festival combining our connection to nature with our connection to our artistic passions called ‘Tuning into Nature’ (8).

Intrigued by all of this? The Advanced Permaculture Design Course still has places left, so if you fancy five days of inspiration in a gorgeous setting you might want to check out Casina Settarte’s website!

Live updates from the course to follow…

References

  1. Grayson, R, 2007. ‘A Short and Incomplete History of Permaculture’. Pacific Edge, 26/7/2007. http://pacific-edge.info/2007/07/a-short-and-incomplete-history-of-permaculture/
  2. Hemenway, 2009. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Chelsea green: New York
  3. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2015. ‘Eco-Build Courses’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/courses/ecobuild
  4. Macnamara, L, 2012. People and Permaculture: Caring and Designing for Ourselves, Each Other and the Planet. Permanent Publications: Hampshire
  5. Murray, H, 2009. ‘02. Economics- designing more sustainable personal finances’. https://hedvigmurray.wordpress.com/permaculture-diploma/economics-my-personal-finances/
  6. Casina Settarte, 2015. ‘Mission’. http://www.casinasettarte.org/wordpress/?page_id=1343&lang=en
  7. Casina Settarte, 2015. ‘Permaculture Advanced Design Course’. http://www.casinasettarte.org/wordpress/?ai1ec_event=permaculture-advanced-design-course&lang=en
  8. Casina Settarte, 2015. ‘History’. http://www.casinasettarte.org/wordpress/?page_id=991&lang=e

Springtime Sowing at Seedy Sunday

This past week we have gone through a key moment in the solar calendar as the balance of light begins to tip inexorably towards more light and less dark. Many traditions celebrate this time as one of the “quarter days” in between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The exact date changes depending on where the sun is but is usually celebrated (by those who still pay attention to these things) between the 1st and 3rd of February. The festival, known most commonly as Imbolc – pronounced “ee-molk” – is a recognition of the changing of the seasons; a time when life begins returning after the winter months, and when the ground begins to warm up sufficiently for seeds to be planted.

It is fitting, then, that the first Sunday of February every year sees the return of the UK’s largest seed swap, Seedy Sunday (1), held this year on Sunday 1st February in its usual location of the Brighton Corn Exchange. Seed swapping is an important way to help you to grow more and stronger varieties, and to help to preserve genetics of existing varieties as more than one person will plant them.

The Seed Swap table. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Seed Swap table. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Er…why don’t I just go to the garden centre?

When you save seeds from your crops using open-pollinated methods you are preserving the variety of plant – be it flower, vegetable or other crop – and thus ensuring that the plant’s genes can continue to the next generation. By doing this you make the variety more stable and also you create a seed which is adapted to whichever environment you have grown it in, so you know it will do well there. However, being open pollinated, the seed will also easily adapt to other environments.

If you are a grower but you do not save seeds you will have to keep buying new seeds from a commercial company. There are very few commercial seeds available which have been produced using open pollinated methods; indeed, under EU regulations, it is currently illegal to sell such seeds without registering them for ‘Distinctiveness, Uniformity and Stability’ (2) and proving that the variety is ‘commercially viable’ (3). As open pollinated seeds are usually non-uniform and adaptable this is usually not possible; so the vast majority of commercial seeds which are available to buy will have been produced using other methods, usually hybridisation.

Such techniques are fantastic for producing a clear strain of crops which will all crop at more or less the same time and which need a specific environment to grow in, hence their popularity with farmers growing on a large, intensive scale. However, when you grow crops from hybridised seeds it is very difficult to save seeds successively from them, as the offspring of the plants will revert to either one or other of the parent genes and your seeds will not be true to type. If you want it to be worth planting your seeds – and even on a small, home scale it is still important that you utilise your energy and resources efficiently and effectively – there is little point in planting seeds which have been produced from a hybrid parent, as you have no idea how they will turn out. This, conveniently for the commercial seed companies, means that you have to keep going back to them for your seeds year on year. So seed swapping is beneficial even for no other reason than financially. For more on why it may be a good idea to save seeds, as well as practical ways to get the best from your saved seeds, please see my articles here and here .

This way for seeds! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

This way for seeds! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Brilliant! So how does it work?

One of the main ideas of Seedy Sunday is to create not only a space for people to come and exchange seeds, but to encourage education on issues around seed saving and exchanging, as well as creating links and networks with different groups from around Brighton and even further afield. The Corn Exchange (part of Brighton Dome) is a vast hall, almost ample for the number of different organisations who came along – although this year the event is growing so much that we had to have a few stalls in the foyer and cafe. On entering the Corn Exchange one is greeted immediately by a large barrow, alluringly spilling vegetables, from Barcombe Nurseries (3); then, after purchasing your ticket, which sets you back three pounds, you walk between light-bedecked twinkling trees – very appropriate for Imbolc as a time of celebration of light – and into the hall itself.

Lights in trees greet the attendees. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Lights in trees greet the attendees. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Greeted by Abundance. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Greeted by Abundance. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

What to do?

This year we hosted around 54 different groups, from commercial sellers such as Infinity Foods (our main sponsor) (4) and Foodshed (5) to charities such as RSPB Brighton (6) and Sussex Wildlife Trust (7); gardening groups such as Craven Vale and Whitehawk Allotment Society and Moulsecoomb Forest Garden (8); as well as exciting organisations involved in work to help people become more aware of food, seeds, and their role in gaining the most from them such as Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (9) and Brighton Permaculture Trust (10). All these, as well as campaigns like Beyond GM (11), and then organisations who may be more expected at a seed swap event: people selling plants and seeds such as Pennard Plants (12) and Special Branch Tree Nursery (13).

Along with the stall-holders came a whole host of activities; things to make, such as Seed Freedom’s (14) seedbombs, things to see, such as the numerous plant varieties on sale, and even taste, such as the recipes being demonstrated by the Community Chef (15), and the large selection of honeys on the Blackman Bee farm (16) stall. Children’s activities were also on offer from the Slow Food UK (17) stall and Infinity Foods Cafe (18) were set up in the corner for anyone fancying a breather. And a breather may well be necessary; having weaved your way with fascination amongst the numerous stall holders, you still have not yet come to the helpfully signposted Seed Swap table itself.

On arriving at the Seed Swap table, first thing to do is hand over your own home-saved seeds – if you have any. In previous years the Seed Swap has accepted pretty much anything which people bring, though we have decided to become stricter on which seeds are allowed at the Swap as we realised that some are not worth swapping. For example, commercial and other seeds from hybridised plants have much less value as they will only produce one crop whereas open-pollinated seeds can theoretically be re-grown every year. If you have not saved any seeds, you can still participate in the seed swap; all seed packets are given away for a donation so even first-time growers can get started.

Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Learn, save…celebrate!

As well as the seed swapping aspect, a key part of what makes Seedy Sunday special are the talks, helping to raise awareness of issues around seeds and seed saving, and enabling people to broaden their education on such matters. This year the ‘star speaker’ was a lady from the television – oh yes, we even have celebrities! Her name is Christine Walkden and she participated in a ‘Q&A’ session on gardening tips with Steve Bustin, this year’s chair of the Seedy Sunday Committee.

For those less star-struck but still thirsting for knowledge, we had talks on how to save seeds successfully from Pat Childerhouse and growing seed potatoes from Chris Smith of Pennard Plants (12). There was also a screening of some film clips from an upcoming film on seed saving – ‘From Seed to Seed’ (13) – by Nicholas Bell and Martina Widmer.

As mentioned on the Seedy Sunday programme, the whole event has recently been under threat by the proposed, though currently politically dead, EU regulation on Plant Reproductive Material (14). Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of seed campaigns across Europe as a reaction to the legislation, with the result that, dire as the consequences of the regulation would have been in terms of biodiversity of our ecosystems and freedom of our people, it at least encouraged many more people who were otherwise unaware of such issues to take an interest in them. For more on the proposed regulation, you can see my article from last year here and a more up-to-date one here.

Though the PRM regulation is politically dead for now, the laws of the United Kingdom and indeed of Europe and much of the rest of the world are still far from accommodating when it comes to seed saving on anything less than an intensive industrial scale, and to discuss these issues we had Ben Raskin from the Soil Association with a talk entitled ‘Why does the European Union keep trying to interfere with our seeds and what can we do about it?’

Such issues are important to maintain an awareness of if we wish to keep saving and exchanging seeds. Of equal importance, however, is the celebration of these activities as a celebration of life itself. That Seedy Sunday is held at the same time as Imbolc is no accident: this is the time when life begins returning, symbolically and also physically. I heard many Seedy Sunday-ers commenting throughout the day that they feel as though they are just beginning to wake up after spending the wintertime ‘almost asleep’: such feelings are characteristic not only because of the grim damp greyness which is the British winter but simply as a manifestation of the cycle of life. For many who attend Seedy Sunday the day is just as much a social occasion as it is for business; and to add to the air of festivity we had the Acabella choir singing periodically throughout the day, with a capella songs about plants, trees and growing.

Even the Corn Exchange decor can be seen as fitting to the event. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Even the Corn Exchange decor can be seen as fitting to the event. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Spring’s coming

So begins a new season: seeds, singing and socialising. Now is the time to start planting the seeds we have gained; both physically in the garden, and metaphorically as well. I trust all who attended Seedy Sunday this year had a thoroughly enjoyable day; any who missed it, why not consider attending next year, or, if you do not live in Brighton, finding your own local seed swap event. If there are none in your area, you may wish to consider starting one. Why not? Seedy Sunday may be the largest seed swap in the country but the whole thing is organised by a committee of just nine people, (including the newest member, me) who are all volunteers. If we can do it, you can as well!

References

  1. Seedy Sunday, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://seedysunday.org/category/about
  2. Raskin, Ben, 2014. “Using a Chainsaw to Crack a Nut”. Soil Association: Bristol. Available online here:
    https://www.soilassociation.org/blogs/latestblog/article/792/using-a-chainsaw-to-crack-a-nut
  3. Barcombe Nurseries, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.barcombenurseries.co.uk/about.html
  4. Infinity Foods Wholesale, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.infinityfoodswholesale.co.uk/about/
  5. Foodshed, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.foodshedbrighton.com/about.html
  6. RSPB Brighton, 2015. ‘District Local Group: Brighton’. http://www.rspb.org.uk/groups/brighton
  7. Sussex Wildlife Trust, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/about/index.htm
  8. Moulsecoomb Forest Garden, 2015. ‘About the Project’. http://www.seedybusiness.org/about.shtml
  9. Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, 2015. ‘About’. http://bhfood.org.uk/about/
  10. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2015. ‘About’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/about
  11. Beyond GM, 2015. ‘Beyond GM’. http://beyond-gm.org/
  12. Pennard Plants, 2015. ‘Growing the Dream’. https://pennardplants.com/
  13. Special Branch Tree Nursery, 2015. ‘Local Origin and Why it Matters’.http://www.specialbranchtrees.org.uk/why-local-origin.html
  14. Seed Freedom, 2015. ‘Home’. http://www.seedfreedom.net/
  15. Community Chef, 2015. ‘About’. http://communitychef.org.uk/about/
  16. Blackman Bee Farm, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.blackmanbeefarm.co.uk/about-us.html
  17. Slow Food UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.slowfood.org.uk/about/about/
  18. Infinity Foods Kitchen, 2015. ‘About’. http://infinityfoodskitchen.co.uk/about/
  19. Bell, N, 2013. ‘From Seed to Seed: an educational film on the production of seeds’. Civique Forum, 19/4/2013. http://www.forumcivique.org/de/artikel/seed-seed-educational-film-production-seeds
  20. Community Plant Variety Office, 2015. ‘Draft New Plant Reproductive Material Law’. http://www.cpvo.europa.eu/main/es/home/news/press-releases-and-communications/228-draft-new-eu-plant-reproductive-material-law

ORFC Day One: Planting Seeds

Today saw the planting of many seeds at Oxford Real Farming Conference (1), some of which are already beginning to sprout (if the metaphor can be stretched so far)…

The Conference began with a recognition of the importance of soil, something which surprisingly few farmers care for the health of (see for example 2), considering that without soil we would not have any farms. In the wake of the overturning of the proposed Soil Framework Directive (2) last year, there is growing concern that we need to be paying more attention to this most fundamental of things, to the extent that this year, 2015, has been declared the Year of Soils by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (3). To show this importance the first speaker in the Main Hall was world-renowned soil biologist and educator Dr Elaine Ingham (4), who flew in especially from California to attend.

From soil to seeds in the Land Worker’s Alliance area: a lively discussion of EU seed law, ‘Pathways to Seed Sovereignty’ with the Soil Association’s Ben Raskin, Kate McEvoy from Real Seeds, Peter Brown from the Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Cooperative (5) and Dan Burston and Ashley Wheeler from the South West Seed Saver’s Co-op (6), was followed by a read-out of the LWA’s manifesto for policy change.

In terms of food, and linking all of these issues to actually how to get the public to change their eating habits, we had a very interesting public discussion, chaired by Vicki Hird of Friends of the Earth (7) with a panel from the Square Meal Report: Tim Lang (professor of Food Policy at City University), Dan Crossley (Food Ethics Council), Rob Macklin (National Trust), Mike Clarke (RSPB) and Philip Lymbery (Compassion in World Farming). The discussion began with a summary of what the Square Meal Report is: a report highlighting the need for “a fair and square deal for farming, people, wildlife and public health”. After a brief introduction from each of the panel, the floor was thrown open and ideas, stories and concerns began coming thick and fast. How to persuade people to buy ethical, healthy food when they cannot afford it? Who do we need to concentrate on: policy makers? Corporations? Local councils? Ourselves? Responses were wild and, as is usually the case in these discussions, many more questions were raised than we had time to discuss. One overarching theme I gathered, however, was the importance of keeping one’s integrity while allowing others to keep theirs as well. As Mike Clarke put it quite succinctly, “we need to keep an open mind…and ask questions”.

The ‘New Science of GMOs’ session run by Lawrence Woodward of Beyond GM (8) and Michael Antoniou of King’s College London, was so popular that the 80-seated capacity room was filled up with people sitting, standing and squeezing. An interesting sign of the growing level of concern about GMOs, perhaps.

In the technology department we had a discussion of ‘Appropriate Technologies’ which was very informative, though unfortunately some of the technology involved in the session managed to fail entirely; as they were supposed to be linking via Skype with Dorn Cox of Farmhack (9), a new open source community resource for farmers and growers to take control of tools and growing techniques into their own and communities’ hands; but could not get the internet to work. Nevertheless, we did get treated to Farmhack’s promo video and heard about the UK 2015 Farmhack gathering which will be happening on 15 and 16 April.

Along with these were sessions on flooding, a criticism on climate smart agriculture, a discussion of the concerns raised by TTIP when it comes to food and farming, a presentation on mental health in farming communities, and much much more, along with tasty locally-sourced food (we were told) and a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere. Tonight the Land Worker’s Alliance are organising food and musical entertainment, and the conference continues tomorrow.

References

  1. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  2. Monbiot, G, 2014. ‘The farming lobby has wrecked efforts to defend our soil’. Guardian, 5/6/2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/jun/05/the-farming-lobby-has-wrecked-efforts-to-defend-our-soil – retrieved 06/01/15
  3. FAO, 2015. ‘International Year of Soils’. http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  4. Soil Food Web, Inc: Dr Elaine Ingham, 2014. ‘Homepage’. http://www.soilfoodweb.com – retrieved 04/01/15
  5. Biodynamic Association, 2015. ‘Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Cooperative’. http://www.biodynamic.org.uk/farming-amp-gardening/seeds/biodynamic-plant-breeding-and-seed-co-operative/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  6. Land Worker’s Alliance, 2014. South West Seed Saver’s Co-op. https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=south+west+seed+savers+co+op&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=gDisVN-hGsm4Ud-2g6gL – retrieved 06/01/15
  7. Friends of the Earth, 2014. ‘About’. http://www.foe.co.uk/– retrieved 06/01/15
  8. Beyond GM, 2015. ‘Beyond GM’. http://beyond-gm.org/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  9. Farmhack, 2015. ‘Home’. http://farmhack.net/home/ – retrieved 06/01/15

 

Oxford Real Farming Conference: Inviting Real Ideas for Real Sustainability

Tomorrow morning – well, in a few hours! – sees the beginning of the 6th annual Oxford Real Farming Conference (1), a two-day event packed with talks, seminars and hands-on workshops to bring together a diverse range of people; from seed savers to dairy farmers, permaculture researchers to biodynamic enthusiasts, and keen academics to keen revolutionaries; to talk about how we can change our farming methods to create more sustainable and possibly even regenerative food systems.

Why such a diverse range of people to talk about just one subject: farming? For those of you who may think that farming is just something which happens in fields far away from you, it might be beneficial to broaden your viewpoint. Farming, indeed, can be seen as one of the key aspects of our society: for it is how we source the vast majority of our food, and so the way in which the land is farmed should be something in which we all have an interest and input.

Farming and feeding

In spite of its vast global importance in terms of preserving the human population, many farming practices which are very common today are highly detrimental to the earth, wildlife, and indeed humans as well. The criticisms and concerns are myriad (see for example 2, 3); but the conference is not really focussed on the negative. Rather, the four-stranded two-day programme aims to provide insight into how farming can be done sustainably, and show “who, right now, in Britain and the world at large, is truly farming and marketing and cooking in ways that the world really needs, and others can emulate” (1).

As farming is such a fundamental part of our society it affects every other part. In high-external-input, high-yield intensive farming, this almost inevitably means the comingling of chemicals and petroleum products with the production of food and other use-crops (see for example 4). So interlinked are the two that four of the largest seed companies in the world, who control 49% of the global seed production market, are also chemical companies: Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer (5). Bayer and Syngenta are also pharmaceutical businesses, showing how the linking of food and drugs, an ancient practice which goes back to the first times we began noticing how different herbs have different effects (6, 7) are now both synonymous, in much big business, with chemicals.

The way in which we farm reflects upon the whole of society and the ideas being hinted at in tomorrow and Wednesday’s programme suggest a shift not only in how we grow things, but how we interact as a culture. There are many alternatives to those propagated by the seed-chemical-pharmaceutical companies, so much so, indeed, that it feels only a matter of people becoming aware of them.

Learning

The Conference promises to be a fantastic opportunity for learning, with academic presentations from representatives from educational institutions the Schumacher College (8) and the Centre for Agro-ecology, Water and Resilience (9), as well as the Permaculture Association (10), who run the UK Permaculture Diploma Programme (11) and whose director, Andy Goldring, shall be giving a presentation on Wednesday on permaculture research in the UK, along with Julia Wright, Jay Abrahams and Federico Filipi.

For those perhaps not so interested in academic pursuits there will be interactive workshops on soil evaluation by Bruce Balls and on a number of different market optimisation strategies by various inspirational speakers.

Then if all of this is just not quite enough for the vehement enthusiasm which you have managed to cultivate by now, there are also some fairly radical or hands-on sessions, including an interactive discussion on the rural-urban divide led by Ed Hamer of the Landworkers’ Alliance (12), a planning meeting for the Food Sovereignty UK 2015 Gathering (13) and, perhaps most intriguingly of all if you are interested in these issues but are wondering how, as a landless person, you can become practically involved, a session on how to work with local UK authorities to gain access to land for community use, chaired by Rachel Harries of the Soil Association (14).

Real farming, real people!

The abovementioned are just a fraction of the intriguing and, I fully expect, inspiring talks and sessions which are on offer over the next two days. The networking opportunities are also quite inspirational; as the more we connect and create networks with like-minded people at events such as these, the stronger we can become. To this end the Gaia Foundation (15) and numerous seed organisations from around the UK shall be supporting the coming together of any interested delegates and attendees at another meeting in February (in time for this year’s growing season) expIoring which groups exist in this country who are engaged in seed saving, education and sharing.

For the next forty-eight hours I shall be reporting from the conference: watch this space for updates.

References

  1. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  2. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Meat Industry and Ideas for What We Can Do About It’. Permaculture News, 15/04/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/04/15/meat-industry-ideas-can/ -retrieved 4/01/15
  3. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Scientific Research Condemns Neonicotinoid Chemicals: What More Will It Take?’ Permaculture News, 17/7/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/07/17/scientific-research-condemns-neonicotinoid-pesticides-will-take/ – retrieved 6/01/15
  4. UNCTAD, 2013. Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. UNCTAD: Geneva. Available as a PDF here: http://unctad.org/en/publicationslibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf – retrieved 04/1/15
  5. GM Watch, 2014. ‘The world’s top 10 seed companies: who owns Nature?’ http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/10558-the-worlds-top-ten-seed-companies-who-owns-nature – retrieved 05/1/15
  6. Nunn, John (2002). Ancient Egyptian Medicine. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 151. ISBN978-0-8061-3504-5
  7. Robson, Barry & Baek, O.K. (2009). The Engines of Hippocrates: From the Dawn of Medicine to Medical and Pharmaceutical Informatics. John Wiley & Sons.
  8. Schumacher College, 2014. ‘About Us’. https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/about – retrieved 04/01/15
  9. Coventry University, 2014. ‘Centre for Agro-Ecology, Water and Resilience’. http://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/areas-of-research/agroecology-water-resilience/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  10. Permaculture Association, 2014. ‘Our Work’. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/our-work -retrieved 04/01/15
  11. Permaculture Association, 2014. ‘Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design’. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/diploma – retrieved 06/01/15
  12. Land Workers Alliance, 2014. ‘Who We Are’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/organisation/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  13. Food Sovereignty Now, 2014. ‘National Gathering 2015’. http://foodsovereigntynow.org.uk/ukfoodsov/national-gathering-2015/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  14. Soil Association, 2014. ‘What Is Organic?’ http://www.soilassociation.org/whatisorganic – retrieved 06/01/15
  15. Gaia Foundation, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/about-us – retrieved 06/01/15

Happy Giving Thanks Time

 

Last week saw the celebration, observed in the USA and by many others around the world as well, of Thanksgiving: a festival to observe the importance of giving thanks for one’s food, marked usually with a feast, presumably as with extra food we can be extra grateful.

The festival has its roots in the end of harvest celebrations of many Native American tribes and indeed most cultures around the world, who would usually hold feasts at this time of year to thank the earth and the plants and animals for providing for them, and continuing to provide for them (see for example 1). This seems an important thing to remember and to celebrate, although it should not necessarily be only once a year. While it is appropriate to be aware of the changing of the seasons and give thanks for autumn’s abundance in preparation for the cold scarcity of winter, food is something which most of us eat every day, so why should we not celebrate this at every mouthful?

Changing attitudes

Perhaps one reason why there is currently so much food waste in the world is that many in our modern culture are forgetting this key fact: that food is something we can be joyous about, and not only at thanksgiving. If this is forgotten, then the celebration may as well not have happened. In a way it is nice that the Thanksgiving festival is still acknowledged in a culture which could be seen from some angles to be rather shallow and unfeeling. However, when we look at statistics like the fact that every year, American families throw away around one third of perfectly good food (2), or that every Thanksgiving the food waste figures raise drastically (2), then it seems that we have a little way to go before we can really be said to be giving thanks.

In 2012 a report estimated that every Thanksgiving, “$282 million worth of perfectly edible meat will be wasted, enough to feed each American household in the country 11 additional servings” (3).

This phenomenon does not relate only to food; and it is not characteristic of only the USA either. In the UK in 2012 again (for some reason I cannot find more recent figures; hopefully a sign we are getting less wasteful?) a report estimated that over Christmas we throw away 2m turkeys, 5m Christmas puddings and 74m mince pies (4).

Such figures seem to suggest that we need a little more encouragement of being thankful, because after all, as Dana Gunders of environmental research group the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out, “part of being thankful is not wasting food” (2).

Abundance!

Many people are doing something to facilitate this change in attitude. Last week saw the Brighton-based Food Waste Collective’s winter food re-distribution event, ‘Good Food for Good Causes’, during which time we repacked and redistributed just under 2 tonnes of donated food to around 30 charities and community groups from all over the city. The event was our first in the Brighton Open Market, which turned out to be a fantastically public venue and a good site for showcasing the Food Waste Collective to members of the public, as well as helping raise awareness of our partners, such as Plan Zheroes (5), The Gleaning Network (6), Food Warriors (7) and The Real Junk Food Project (8).

This latter group are just launching in Brighton and their aim is to create a full-time café which uses only surplus food to cook tasty and cheap meals for anyone who cares to come by. I went along to help out at their first ever event, where they were catering for Theatre Uncut’s (9) series of plays on themes of social change. The first night of the Theatre Uncut shows was last Thursday which as it happens was also Thanksgiving. As we served out around 100 delicious servings of surplus dinner, the theatre-goers really had something to be grateful for. Less food waste in the city and more food available; something we can all say thanks to!

For more on the Food Waste Collective events, check out my article here. Photos are available to view on David Ashwanden’s page here.

                An important way in which we can help to bring this message to the public is through participative education. Talking to people and finding out their perspective as well as sharing ours is much more effective than telling them what to do, and it was with this in mind that I helped out with a Love Food Hate Waste stall outside a supermarket in Brighton and Hove, during which time we shared tips on cutting down on festive waste as well as listening to others’ feelings on these issues.

A question of logistics

The Real Junk Food Project’s launch was so successful that on the first night we managed to serve out all the food that was cooked that day. A great response, but one which elicited mild panic, as we were doing the catering for the same event on Friday evening as well. This is where the idea of abundance suddenly got really interesting. Around four or five core food-finders put out various feelers, using mainly social media and connections as well as contacting donors who we already knew about. No one was expecting to get enough food for Friday’s event.

So it was somewhat of a surprise when it came to the end of Friday night and the theatre-goers began rolling out of the venue (an old market, as it happened), protesting that they could not possibly take any more soup. We had managed to collect not only enough food to feed everyone; we had plenty to spare and more besides!

While this was in itself a thing to be celebrated, swift action needed to be taken before we became the very thing which the Real Junk Food Project was set up to alleviate: wasters. But who would take around thirty servings of hot soup on a Friday night? Homeless shelters and refuge centres were quickly contacted; with the replies that cooked food could not be accepted as it is difficult to tell what is in it. For some moments, then, we were stumped; until one volunteer had the bright idea of calling some friends who lived nearby and asking them to bring Tupperware. In this way we managed to shift most of the surplus; the remainder making its way to street people we met on the way home, as well as to our own freezers.

Thanksgiving: all year round

The experience with The Real Junk Food Project showed how, when one trusts in abundance, it can proliferate, sometimes a little too wildly. With a little ingenuity (and a lot of plastic containers!), however, it seems possible to always utilise what we have, and to share in the celebration of the abundance of our world.

Right now we are living in times of great excess; this should not necessarily be a cause for concern. When the excess is used correctly and respectfully, we can turn waste into something wonderful. Of course, it would be better if we if not create so much waste in the first place, and perhaps as we become more aware of the significance of what we eat this will surely lessen.

References

  1. Harvest Festival, 2014. ‘Harvest Festivals from around the world’. http://www.harvestfestivals.net/harvestfestivals.htm – retrieved 1/12/14
  2. Smith, M, 2012. ‘Here’s how much food you’re going to waste on Thanksgiving’. Vice News, 26/11/14. https://news.vice.com/article/heres-how-much-food-youre-going-to-waste-on-thanksgiving – retrieved 1/12/14
  3. Zerbe, L, 2012. ‘The worst turkey statistic ever’. Rodale News, 16/11/12. http://www.rodalenews.com/food-waste-facts – retrieved 1/12/14
  4. Smithers, R, 2012. ‘It’s time to cut the obscene amount of Christmas waste’. Guardian, 20/12/12. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/dec/20/obscene-amount-christmas-food-waste – retrieved 1/12/14
  5. Plan Zheroes, 2014. ‘The Idea’. http://www.planzheroes.org/ – retrieved 1/12/14
  6. Feedbback UK, 2014. ‘Gleaning Network’. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/ – retrieved 1/12/14
  7. Facebook, 2014. ‘Food Warriors!!’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/foodwarriors/?fref=ts – retrieved 1/12/14
  8. Facebook, 2014. ‘The Real Junk Food Project Brighton’. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Real-Junk-Food-Project-Brighton/246123485595051?fref=ts – retrieved 1/12/14
  9. Brighton Theatre Uncut, 2014. ‘About’. https://brightontheatreuncut.wordpress.com/ – retrieved 1/12/14

Growing Halloween

Come We Grow

Last Friday, the 31st of October, saw the marking of a number of occasions. The date has special significance for a number of cultures anyway, and not just for connotations of plastic masks, glow-in-the-dark teeth and threatening (or is it cajoling?) your neighbours for sweets. On top of this, it was also the day of Come We Grow, which I had the pleasure of being involved in.

What is Come We Grow?

                Last week’s event, held at the Wheatsheaf Hall in Vauxhall, South London, was celebrating the release of ‘Fear of a Green Planet’, the new EP from KMT. He is the co-founder of the May Project Gardens in Morden, which combine an interesting mix of permaculture garden and community and music studio where people from all walks of life can go and record.

KMT (his artist name: he introduced himself to me as KMT Ian) seems to have equally strong roots in both hip-hop rap and permaculture. An example of how these perhaps sometimes seemingly incongruous themes come together is KMT’s ‘bling’: from a distance, a large, chunky silver necklace such as may be fashionable among trendy rappers (though I won’t pretend to know about these things). As you get closer, however, it becomes clear that the necklace has been made up of recycled ring-pull tabs.

Celebrations of Growing

                The workshop I was running at Come We Grow focusses on our identification with culture, and indeed what it means to be a part of an existing or emerging culture. In line with this, the subject of Halloween came up; and we explored the significance of this celebration as seen by the people present. To help facilitate discussions we had a pumpkin with us, which got participants talking of carving and of fancy dress. We ended up exploring the idea that many Halloween traditions which are common now in UK culture are based on commercial gain rather than actual cultural ties. When asked if anyone knew of any deeper Halloween traditions no one could say. I was quite surprised at this, though it could have been that simply people were getting tired. I decided to share my reasons for celebrating this date, which I shall summarise here too.

Halloween

                Halloween is a later name for one of the eight important pagan celebrations held throughout the year. Each are chosen according to how much light there is rather than a particular numbered day. At the longest and shortest days we have, respectively, the Summer and Winter Solstices, and in between these, when the day and night become equal in length, are the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. Then in between each of these days are four more celebrations, “cross-quarter” days in the middle of the others, when change is in the air and, as many traditions believe, the world of magic and of spirits is closer to our own.

These four ‘in between’ festivals can be seen as the most potent times of year, and though pagan and Celtic traditions have been somewhat forgotten in this country, are still celebrated by people nowadays, though possibly as more of a revival than a continuation, since so much of our traditions were totally lost. The eight festivals are listed at the bottom of this article with the “cross-quarterly”, or (as some feel) more magical, ones, in bold, and the one which corresponds to Halloween is known as Samhain (pronounced “sa-ween”).

For me, Halloween is about the celebration of this time of change, of the light and dark in their eternal dance, and the seasons turning towards the chill of winter. Though I have found the Pagan calendar to be of use in my own personal celebration-marking, I am by no means exclusively bound by it and have researched many other traditions of this day too, taking from them the meanings which suit me. In some cultures this is a time for honouring the dead, such as with the Mexican celebration of El Dia de Los Muertos (see for example 2), and I feel this is important not just for remembering whichever friends or relatives you know who have passed on, but also with a consideration of your ancestors and all those who have gone before you, and what they have given to you.

It certainly made an interesting accompaniment to the seedbomb making, which was the actual practical aim of my workshop. Even our younger friends, who let’s face it were only really there to play with mud and clay, seemed vaguely interested in our Halloween explorations.

Welcome

                Later on, as the night truly began drawing in and the faint flutter of otherworldy beings to flick in and out of our peripheral hearing (well ok, it may have been the kettle boiling in the cafe), we witnessed the Welcoming Ceremony of the evening. In order to give the attendants a proper welcome, Come We Grow actually had a Shamanic Celebrant to help us all get into the right mood. Aama Sade Shepneki (2), the Celebrant, has a grace and presence which is quite notable, even when she is not speaking. When she began the ceremony, playing a djembe to raise everyone’s energy levels, there was more than one person present with goosepimples.

She also mentioned the importance of Samhain and how, as she puts it, “the veil is thinner” at this time of year. She says it is a time for drawing in our energy and storing up our reserves in preparation for the cold season; a synchronicity with my explorations of the symbolism of the pumpkin and all of the good food which it represents. She says it is also a time for reflection on what we have achieved and meditation on what we are planning.

For anyone who may, too, have been trying to start something new over the past couple of weeks and been repeatedly flummoxed by it, these seem helpful words to remember.

Hip hop permaculture

Following the Welcome, KMT gave an introduction by singing one of his rap songs; a history of the May Project Gardens. The chorus is “planting little seeds every day/ watching the world just change” (3) and as he wandered around the hall he gave out actual seeds to accompany the song.

Having a keen interest in both music and permaculture, it was inspiring to see such heartfelt and passionate art being performed right in front of me. I suppose I lost interest a little in combining my two hobbies after hearing some of the tepidly whimsical songs which have come out related to permaculture. KMT has helped to reignite that interest. It is so clear now: just because we care about the planet and about each other, doesn’t mean we also can’t make music with raw energy and soul.

Another key benefit of the musical aspect of May Project Gardens is that it can help foster connections with so many more people than a simple permaculture project. Many people have never heard of permaculture but a lot of people, especially in South London, have heard of hip hop. Perhaps they come to the May Project just to make music, which is fine. But maybe while they are there they get a tour of the gardens, and end up deciding to help out there, or to recreate some or other aspect of the gardens in their own lives.

All in all, a highly inspirational event, and I look forward to participating in future Growing celebrations.

References

  1. UNESCO, 2014. ‘Indigenous Festivity Dedicated to the Dead’. http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/RL/00054 – retrieved 09/11/14
  2. Tree Circle Ceremonies, 2014. ‘About’. http://www.treecircleceremonies.co.uk/ – retrieved 09/11/14
  3. KMT Freedom Teacher, 2014. ‘Little Seeds’. http://kmtfreedomteacher.bandcamp.com/track/little-seeds – retrieved 09/11/14

The Eight Festivals in the Wheel of the Year

The festivals have different names according to different traditions but I am familiar with their Gaelic names (so good luck saying them correctly because I don’t think I do):

– Midwinter or Winter Solstice – around December 21st. shortest day of the year

Imbolc – pronounced “i-molk” – around February 2nd. In between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox

– Ostara or Spring Equinox – around 21 March. New Year – days become longer than nights

Beltane – pronounced “bel-tain” – around May 1st. In between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice

– Midsummer or Sumer Solstice – around June 21st. longest day of the year

Lammas or Lughnasadh – pronounced “lu-na-sa” – around August 2nd. Traditionally beginning of harvest; in between Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox

– Mabon or Autumn Equinox – around September 21st. Nights become longer than days

Samhain – pronounced “sa-ween” – around October 31st. in between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice