Category Archives: Uncategorized

Garden Poem

Come Into the Garden

 

Come into the garden – come into the garden now

You can come, if you want to

It’s easy you don’t need to know how

All that you thought before was ok

The sugar-coated Disney lies

Why did you think that was the right way

To put veiled violence in bright animations before children’s eyes?

To fill them over and over again

With fears of silence and songs with no sense

With tales of bad boys and stifled exploration

It’s ok, you just thought there was no other way

It’s ok now, in the garden even you can play

 

We can give them new gifts of sweet excitation

When you run around in the garden you sometimes get dirty

When you leave your sterile house you sometimes feel the wind, free

It may seem unnerving but if you give in to the sensation

Behind all our strange cages of culture you can sense the ecstasy

And maybe you can find your own way

Maybe your way is the way of sugar-coated lies and lines between dreams and reality

In the garden you can see there are many ways

The children are choosing theirs every day

And you can choose for yourself nobody else

Nobody else but me can choose and I can choose for nobody but me

 

 

Gathering for Delicious Solutions – Join the People’s Party!

As the drizzle continues to spatter fitfully on the pavements, the grey sky reflecting from grey windows; the bare branches of the trees in Hyde Park waving in a rather dismal fashion, you would not necessarily expect that today London will see a hugely important gathering- a gathering to show that we as citizens of the world are willing to work together to protect and respect it. The gathering is a mirror of many others in cities throughout the globe, with the semi-focus (or excuse for a demonstration?) being Paris, the site of the 21st Conference of the Parties (1) – the largest international climate conference in the world.

Every year the ‘leaders’ of our countries meet at the Conference of the Parties, and every year numerous events are organised to show people’s opinion on the issues involved. The name of the demonstration in London today is the ‘People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs’ (2) and it will incorporate a hugely diverse section of British and international society, from Interfaith (3) to Frack Free (4), and with representation from all major UK political parties with the probably unsurprising exception of the Conservatives (5). Such variety is a fantastic opportunity to “showcase the breadth, diversity and creativity of the climate movement” (5).

Such showcasing is especially important in the wake of the French government’s somewhat counterintuitive decision to ban the planned sister demonstrations in Paris, under the pretext of “security concerns” (6). Though perhaps understandable, one plain message the ban seems to be sending is that the government does not want to listen to the people (7). Never mind. We can listen to each other…

I will be participating as part of the Food and Agriculture bloc with This is Rubbish (8), the Gleaning Network (9) and many others, and as part of my continuing efforts to turn around all previous perceptions of waste into ones of abundance, shall be merrily distributing intercepted apples to hungry gatherers along the way. As well as fruity treats we are planning to be marching with a ‘funky bluegrass band’; so even if you have never had any previous interest in the related issues, why not come along for a munch and a stomp?

The march starts at 1pm today, with the meeting point on Park Lane (nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner)(5). See you there!

References

  1. UNFCCC, 2015. ‘COP: What’s it all about?’ http://www.cop21paris.org/about/cop21 – retrieved 29/11/15
  2. Climate Justice Jobs, 2015. ‘About’. http://climatejusticejobs.org.uk/about/– retrieved 29/11/15
  3. World Jewish Relief, 2015. ‘Interfaith Event – People’s March’. Facebook, 29/11/15. https://www.facebook.com/events/1654130218200826/– retrieved 29/11/15
  4. People’s Climate March, 2015. ‘Frack Free Bloc @ the March’. Facebook, 29/1/15. https://www.facebook.com/events/907641779291656/– retrieved 29/11/15
  5. Climate Justice Jobs, 2015. ‘Blocs on the March’. http://climatejusticejobs.org.uk/blocs-on-the-march/– retrieved 29/11/15
  6. Prupis, N, 2015. ‘France Cancels Major Climate March, Groups Say they won’t be silenced’. Ecowatch, 19/11/15. http://ecowatch.com/2015/11/19/france-cancels-climate-march/– retrieved 29/11/15- retrieved 29/11/15
  7. Queally, J, 2015. ‘Groups Demand French President Lift Ban on Climate Proetsts and Marches’. Ecowatch, 27/11/15. http://ecowatch.com/2015/11/27/cop21-lift-ban-marches/ – retrieved 29/11/15
  8. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About TiR’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/– retrieved 29/11/15
  9. Feedback Global, 2015. ‘Gleaning Network’. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/ – retrieved 29/11/15

 

 

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

Come We Grow 2: Cultural Revolution Being Planted

Cultural Revolution Being Planted

Time to Grow! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Time to Grow! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Cultural Revolution Being Planted

This Friday, I shall be attending another outing of the May Project Gardens’ (ref) remarkable mix of hip-hop and permaculture ‘Come We Grow’, aimed at helping “educate and empower individuals to live a sustainable and affordable lifestyle” (2).

Friday’s event, entitled ‘Awaken Your Eco Spirit’ and hosted by Passing Clouds (3) in Dalston, London, is specifically a fundraiser for a new course which will be held at the may Project Gardens site in Morden, South London, called “Food, Hip Hop, and the Green Economy” (2).

With such messages of cultural growth and exploration of sustainable lifestyles, it seems the perfect soil for the Abundance Garden seed-bomb workshop ‘Creating Explosives Together’, which I shall be facilitating on Friday.

What have seed bombs got to do with culture? How can making them help us explore our boundaries and maybe go beyond them? Or, put more simply, what are seedbombs and why would I want to go to a workshop about them?

For the answers to these questions you may just have to come along to the event. But to give you some idea beforehand, or for anyone who can’t make it this time, I shall give a few hints, pontifications and ideas below.

Why seed bombs?

                A seed bomb is a little ball of compost, clay, and (you guessed it) seeds, which is usually left to dry to create a hard sphere around the size of a large marble. The idea of seed bombs, at its most basic level, is to create the perfect environment for the seeds to germinate within the ball, so that wherever the ball is deposited, the seeds have a very good chance of growing just there.

Seed bombs are not an Abundance Garden invention; nor are they even a new idea. Apparently, Japanese farmers have been using seedbombs for centuries if not millennia, simply as a way of sowing seeds in their fields to give the crops more of a chance of survival.

They have been popularised in the West over the last few decades by, among others, ‘Natural Farming’ practitioner Masanobu Fukuoka, who, in The One Straw Revolution, speaks of “the ultimate goal of farming” as “not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings” (5).

Such recognition of our intimate relationship with growing things, not just to fulfil our survival needs but as an integral part of human culture, is key to the cultivation of a healthy future for humans and the planet. Human ‘growth’ has come to mean, in some circles, the utilisation of technology to narrow our sensory perception and unbalance the natural forces of which we are a part. Yet, as David Abram (1996) puts it,

“We are human only in contact and conviviality with what is not human” (6);

it is clear that there are many other ways of growing which are more true to our own nature – which can harmonise easily with all other organisms on earth if we let it.

One example of humans growing in healthier ways is the utilisation of seed bombs as part of ‘guerilla gardening’: the cultivation of land which does not necessarily ‘belong’ to you, or indeed anyone (gardening of industrial wasteland, for example). Seedbombs are perfect for this type of gardening as they require little effort and, if you choose your species of seeds carefully, little or no maintenance as the plants can take care of themselves.

Imagining New Ways

‘Come We Grow’ is about coming together to help to grow. When we do this we can recognise that perhaps there are some aspects of our culture which we wish not to take part in. we may want to go against that which has grown us. However, as Fukuoka puts it,

“I believe that even ‘returning-to-nature’ and anti pollution activities, no matter how commendable, are not moving toward a genuine solution if they are carried out solely in reaction to the over development of the present age.” (4)

It is not enough to go against that which we do not like; the important actions which we need to take are the creation and encouragement of whichever culture we wish to be a part of in an evolving world. Yet we have to start from where we are, and with the people, plants, animals, spirits and machines which are around us right now.

Though it may seem small and insignificant, a seedbomb can encapsulate all of this: the hope and delight of cultivating something new and surprising, yet rooted in the soil of our own present.

Come and explore for yourself, if you like.

References

  1. May Project Gardens, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://mayprojectgardens5.wix.com/may-project-gardens#!about_us/csgz – retrieved 21/5/15
  2. May Project Gardens, 2015. ‘Come We Grow: Awaken Your Eco-Spirit’ Event Description. https://www.facebook.com/events/385840414941697/
  3. Passing Clouds, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.passingclouds.org/about/
  4. Fukuoka, M, 1978. The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, translators Chris Pearce, Tsune Kurosawa and Larry Korn, Rodale Press.
  5. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous. Random House: New York

Farmhack Launch – Festival for All!

Last weekend I attended a rather unusual festival. The venue was a large field and various other parts of a farm – nothing so unusual about that. The attendees stayed in tents, vans or caravans, and spent much of the evening gathered around a fire, singing together. Again, nothing particular un-festival-like about this behaviour. No, what was maybe slightly out of the ordinary (though becoming increasingly popular) was the nature of the event itself. The aim was to launch the UK version of Farmhack (1), which, though simple and brilliant in concept and practical application, may at first take a little explanation.

So, what’s a Farmhack?

Farmhack was created by North American organisation the Greenhorns (2), who were set up in 2007 by Severine von Tscharner Fleming to “recruit, promote and support the new generation of young farmers” (2). Inspired by this, the UK-based Landworkers Alliance (3) hosted the Farmhack UK launch, and have also this year created the Groundspring Network (4) , a kind of UK version of the Greenhorns specifically aimed at encouraging farming and growing of all kinds to those of a younger generation. When you look at figures such as the fact that the percentage of farmers in the UK aged under 35 is just 3% (4), such groups seem a breath of fresh air.

Farmhack in its physical form is a website which promotes, in a nutshell, ‘open source community for resilient farm tools’ (1). To understand why and how it does this, it is perhaps necessary to consider a little of the background of farming in the UK, where the average size of a farm is over 100 hectares (5). This statistic is indicative of the trend in this country towards large-scale, high-input intensive monoculture farming, which relies upon agrochemical companies in order to sustain the strain which such methods put on the environment and people.

For example, if a farmer decides to fill a field with only one crop instead of a mixture, they are putting the nutrient levels in the soil out of balance and so have to compensate by adding new chemical nutrients. Perhaps they need to kill off insects which may be harmful to their crops (insects whose predators, perhaps, have been depleted due to the effect of the aforementioned chemicals) and so they apply pesticides. If they wish to continue in this way they will benefit from crops which have been bred to withstand any ill affects which pesticides may produce in them and so they need to buy the seeds from such crops from the relevant seed company. Such a scenario, with a number of variations, is quite common and tends towards farmers being a part of a highly mechanised industry, in which there are particular products and machines recommended to use.

One of the ideas of Farmhack is to step away from this trend by encouraging technological innovations of any kind to be shared publicly through the online platform. These innovations are known as ‘hacks’. A ‘hack’ is defined as anything which creates a shortcut, or makes a task easier (6), and can be as complicated as a ‘record keeping and profitability tool’ (7) to a pain-free hammering method (8). Such tools do not have to be physical pieces of technology or machinery; ideas are just as potent. The key is that we are facilitating each other’s work by sharing the things we have found to be useful.

So what’s a farming festival like?

The venue of the Farmhack launch was Ruskin Mill (9) – a biodynamic farm and agricultural college made up of lush rolling hills and which has a beautiful, drinking-water spring on site, and which also boasts a number of intriguingly-designed sustainable buildings, including the field kitchen where most of the Farmhack action took place; a charming, snail-shell-shaped affair with a grass roof.

The Field Kitchen - a snail-shell house with grass roof. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Field Kitchen – a snail-shell house with grass roof. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

 

Like many festivals, Farmhack involved people coming together, sharing ideas, and dancing and singing. The Saturday night boasted a ceilidh and a fireshow from Topspin Circus (10) (11), as well as much unscheduled entertainment, mainly in the form of the sharing of old folk songs. For those who normally dwell in cities or have very modern lifestyles, this last was quite poignant. Our grandparents’ generation perhaps knew all the folk songs simply as a part of their culture; now we have to seek them out. The same goes for the ease with which one can connect with nature in such an environment; which is perhaps less easy in our ‘day-to-day’ lives.

Nevertheless, this only served to make the festival more special.

At Ruskin Mill's spring you can get fresh drinking water straight from the ground. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

At Ruskin Mill’s spring you can get fresh drinking water straight from the ground. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Another very significant aspect of the Farmhack was the feeling that everyone there could do whatever we liked. Over the course of the Saturday we were treated to a huge variety of workshops, from practical ones on use of work horses, blacksmithing and woodwork; to gardening tips such as making compost tea and biochar; and talks ranging from the high-tech (how to use the Farmhack website and related apps) to the very simple (such as food groups and how to make food distribution simpler). My favourite part of the workshops was the participatory aspect; though the people running them were clearly very knowledgeable in their field, the inclusive assumption that everyone could have a go was very encouraging in terms of exploring these things for ourselves.

Having a go at welding. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Having a go at welding. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Learning how to blacksmith. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Learning how to blacksmith. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Connecting and reflecting

                Though Farmhack, the Landworkers Alliance and the Greenhorns are providing alternatives to high-input, intensive farming, which, since farming is connected to everything else, means they are also encouraging alternatives to trading, money or other currencies, food systems and living situations, they still recognise that farming is an important industry and that farmers should be getting recognition and appreciation for what they do. It is just that when farming is done holistically with an emphasis on community – of people, animals and nature – it is perhaps much easier to celebrate as we can all experience how beneficial it is. This appreciation was apparent in the community feeling at the festival; the shared food which was locally sourced and by all appearances lovingly prepared, and the encouraging atmosphere of the whole event. On the last day we had an ‘Open Circle’ to discuss the event and any ideas we had come up with. Each person who had an idea for a new direction to take Farmhack in was given their own ‘hack’, and mini discussion groups formed to talk about potential actions for each of these new ideas. you could join one ‘hack’ which interested you particularly, or float amongst the groups, which then feed back to the gathering at large to create a coherent list of new ‘hacktions’.

Another of the fascinating buildings at the farm. Photo by David Ashwanden

Another of the fascinating buildings at the farm. Photo by David Ashwanden

 

This spirit of ‘anyone can do it’ is really the essence of the Farmhack spirit. Whatever hack you have, if you can feel it will help others, why not go ahead and add it to the website?

As I continue in my pursuit of practical sustainability and connection to the world around me, I feel sure Farmhack will come in useful this goes for the online aspect, but also, and for me, perhaps more crucially, the importance of gathering together in person to share our ideas, our skills, and our songs. The Farmhack gathering was a fantastic example of this; I hope to see many more such gatherings in the near future.

References

  1. Farmhack, 2015. ‘Home’. http://www.farmhack.org/home/ – retrieved 22/4/15
  2. The Greenhorns, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.thegreenhorns.net/category/about/aboutus/– retrieved 22/4/15
  3. The Landworkers Alliance, 2015. ‘Organisation’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/organisation/– retrieved 22/4/15
  4. The Landworkers Alliance, 2015. ‘Groundspring Network’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/2014/09/groundspring-network/ – retrieved 22/4/15
  5. Harvey, D, and UK Food Group, 2006. EuropAfrica Project: CAP’s impact on productive structures and family-based agriculture in Europe. UK Case Study’. UK Food Group: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.ukfg.org.uk/UK_CAP_casestudy.pdf – retrieved 22/4/15
  6. Grey, R, 2015. Workshop on how to use Farmhack. Farmhack UK Launch, Ruskin Mill, 18/4/15.
  7. Bill, 2015. ‘Record keeping and profitability/ Efficiency Analysis Tool’. Farmhack, 2015. http://www.farmhack.org/tools/record-keeping-and-profitabilityefficiency-analysis-tool – retrieved 22/4/15
  8. Robingrey, 2015. ‘Nail holder with peg’. http://www.farmhack.org/tools/nail-holder-peg – retrieved 22/4/15
  9. Ruskin Mill Trust, 2015. ‘Ruskin Mill College Tour’. http://rmt.org/ruskin_mill_college_tour/ – retrieved 22/4/15
  10. Topspin Circus, 2014. ‘Home’. http://topspincircus.wix.com/topspin– retrieved 22/4/15
  11. Freya Pleya, 2015. ‘About’. https://freyapleya.wordpress.com/about/– retrieved 22/4/15

 

Orchards without Borders: Exploring Diversity and Culture

 

Enjoying the beauty of our food growing. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Enjoying the beauty of our food growing. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

With reports showing that industrialised farming contributes to more than 10 % of climate change (see for example 1), that conventional farming is highly inefficient and actually more costly than small-scale multi-input agriculture (see for example 2) and even the UN insisting that our food systems need to change drastically if we expect to be able to feed ourselves and our families in the future (3), it seems increasingly clear that we need to change the way in which we obtain and consume our food.

How?

For some, this begins at a personal level: a great way to gain more food autonomy is to begin growing your own food. With this comes the need to learn about growing methods as well, crucially, learning about how to propagate your food varieties; otherwise you may have gained autonomy on one part of your food but you are still dependent on the large seed corporations to produce it in the first place. For more on this see my article ‘Seedy Issues’ here.

For others, the change is more political; with a diverse range of campaigns from Beyond GM (4) to the Campaign for Seed Sovereignty (5) raising awareness and influencing political opinion on the complex web of rules, regulations and trade agreements which affect our food, whether we are aware of them or not.

Another angle to come at it is the health angle, and your body’s need to have access to a diverse range of nutrients. Even if you have no interest at all in gardening or in politics you may be concerned over what food you eat and how it will affect your health.

Linking the issues

It can be seen that all of the issues mentioned are interrelated. When trying to create a healthy and happy life, it is important that we choose the right food for us. This means that the more resilient and healthy our food systems are, the happier we can be. Occasionally, laws, trends and regulations can come in the way of this: from the ‘norm’ of supermarkets only accepting a tiny proportion of the food varieties available (see for example 6) to dying arts such as seed saving and fruit tree grafting causing a deficit in our ability to produce good food (see for example 7).

A key aspect of improving our own and others’ ability to have access to healthy and sustainable food is to utilise what skills and knowledge are out there and create connections which can be more beneficial to ourselves and our environment than the complex web of logistics which so often characterises our internationalised food systems. It is with this in mind that I participated in the project Orchards Without Borders last month.

Orchards without Borders: trees which please

                The project (9) is a cultural exchange between England and France (and hopefully further afield) to help provide education, information and holistic interest in orchards and their uses. Set up by the Brighton Permaculture Trust (10) and Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (11) on the English side and Collines Normandy CPIE (12) in France and funded partly by Interreg (13), the part in which I participated was a study trip to Normandy where we visited both organic and non-organic orchards, taught orchard-related lessons in a French school, learned about how to make traditional products such as pastries, cider and pate de fruits. A healthy amount of actual tree planting was also involved.

Setting off

We travelled by car and ferry from Brighton to Normandy. On the ship on the way there we saw what could have been surmised as a good omen; a taster of how the rest of the trip would go.

Rainbow from teh ship - a good omen. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Rainbow from the ship – a good omen. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Once in France we found warm welcomes wherever we went. One thing which was particularly pleasing was how celebratory every meal we had appeared. I am not sure if this is due to French culture in general or just the people we were with, but it was highly satisfying experiencing the joy of shared food with people we had just met. From many years of working to engender enthusiasm in the pure celebration and joy which can be present in every single mouthful of food which we eat, it seems that if we are to make a cultural switch in which we create more sustainable food systems which benefit both us and the planet, this cannot be possible if we do not appreciate food in the first place (see for example 13).

Something which goes along nicely with appreciation of eating food is appreciation of what goes into food. As part of the trip we learned about traditional Norman ways to use apples, including a session in a real French bakery where we were taught how to make a number of Norman baked delights.

Making apple pastries in the boulangerie. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Making apple pastries in the boulangerie. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

And learning how to make traditional Norman tarte. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

And learning how to make traditional Norman tarte. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also learned how to make pâte de fruits, a kind of sugary, fruity paste which is dried in order to preserve the good nutrition in the fruit and make a tasty sweet which is kind of healthy (if you are ok with having half as much sugar as fruit) for the winter. As far as I am aware there is not really a direct English equivalent, though we do have a very ancient tradition from long before sugar was introduced to the British Isles of making a kind of dried fruit leather (for more on this see 14). Our teacher, Josine, told how in some parts of Normandy the tradition is so important that there are whole festivals devoted to the making of this sticky delicacy. She mentioned one place, Vire, where the mixture is made in a giant cauldron which is stirred by the townspeople for hours on end while they sing traditional songs.

Though our cauldron was not that large I still had a go.

Stirring the cauldron. Photo by Stephan Gehrels

Stirring the cauldron. Photo by Stephan Gehrels

Fruity Issues

Throughout the trip, one thing which kept resurfacing as a key issue was the importance of diversity; both in our orchards and beyond. Whilst teaching eight, nine and ten-year-old children we used the newly invented ‘Orchards are Alive’ magnetic board to help illustrate the huge range of creatures and plants which are present in a healthy orchard from season to season. We visited one eating-apple orchard where they grew around thirty different varieties of apple. This diversity of life is important to keep the ecosystem in balance, but also to produce healthier fruit. Indeed, most apple varieties need at least one other type present in order to achieve pollination, and some need two (15). Pollination itself is done by insects such as wasps and bees (17) so if there is too much pesticide you are creating more work for yourself as you will endanger the creatures which will make the fruit for you.

Orchards are Alive! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Orchards are Alive! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Caring for orchards means caring for not just some fruit trees but the intricate web of which they are a part. There are some aspects of the web which it may be necessary to discourage; for example, any apple grower I have ever met cannot say the word ‘vole’ without a distinctly sour look – but as long as you respect the holistic nature of it then balance can be achieved, rather than simply encouraging a monoculture where ultimately you are creating a lot more work and less nutrition.

Once you start realising how important diversity is to growing fruit, it can be extrapolated outwards to include – well, everything. All plants need to reproduce in some way and most of our food plants use insects to do this. Many plants also have sympathetic relationships with each other or produce by-products which can be used by others; this mutually beneficial effect cannot be achieved if you strive to just grow one thing in one place.

The same goes for own bodies, whether we are aware of it or not. The more diverse our range of nutrients is the healthier we are; with supermarket trends towards selling only a few varieties of food this is being thrown off balance. Indeed, there appear to be a number of trends which actively discourage diversity; from the EU’s regulations on seed adaptability and resilience (see for example 17) to border controls limiting the diversity of our own human population.

Orchards without Borders is helping to redress this balance by celebrating the diversity we have and cultivating more. We brought back a number of Norman varieties of apple to grow in Sussex, and there are some Sussex apples mingling in Norman orchards. Perhaps you do not have any fruit trees to hand to swap; but there are probably a number of ways in which you can encourage biodiversity in your own life.

References

  1. Gilbert, N, 2012. ‘One-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture’. Nature, 31/10/12. http://www.nature.com/news/one-third-of-our-greenhouse-gas-emissions-come-from-agriculture-1.11708 – retrieved 11/12/14
  2. Oakshotte, I, and Lamberley, P, 2014. Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. Bloomsbury: London
  3. UNCTAD, 2013. Wake Up Before it’s too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now. UNCTAD: Geneva. Available as a PDF here: http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf – retrieved 11/12/14
  4. Beyond GM, 2014. ‘Home’. http://beyond-gm.org/ – – retrieved 11/12/14
  5. Campaign for Seed Sovereignty, 2014. ‘Seed Sovereignty’. http://www.seed-sovereignty.org/EN/ – retrieved 11/12/14
  6. Bifurcated Carrots, 2007. ‘Biodiversity Begins at Home’. http://bifurcatedcarrots.eu/2007/10/biodiversity-begins-at-home/ – retrieved 11/12/14
  7. Soil Association, 2014. ‘Ben Raskin’s Seedy Weekend’. http://www.soilassociation.org/news/newsstory/articleid/7458/ben-raskin-s-seedy-weekend – retrieved 11/12/14
  8. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2014. ‘Normandy Partnership: Orchards without Borders’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/orchards/withoutborders – retrieved 29/11/14
  9. Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, 2014. ‘About’. http://bhfood.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 29/11/14
  10. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2014. ‘Who We Are’. http://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/about
  11. Collines Normandes, 2014. ‘Le CPIE’. http://www.cpie61.fr/ – retrieved 11/12/14
  12. North West Europe Programme, 2014. ‘Interreg’. https://www.nweurope.eu/ – retrieved 29/11/14
  13. Pretty, J, 2002. Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature. Routledge: London
  14. Mears, R, 2013. Wild Food. Episode 2: ‘Wild Food and Foraging’. BBC: London. Excerpt available on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZbGRWO8wnU – retrieved 11/12/14
  15. Law, B, 2014. Woodsman: Living in a wood in the 21st Century. William Collins: New York
  16. Plants For a Future, 2014. ‘Malus Domestica’. http://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Malus+domestica – retrieved 11/12/14
  17. Sheil, S, 2013. ‘Seeds and other Plant Reproductive Material: Towards new EU Rules’. European Parliament, 10/06/13. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/bibliotheque/briefing/2013/130547/LDM_BRI%282013%29130547_REV1_EN.pdf – retrieved 11/12/14

On Seed Festivals and their Importance

It may seem as though a festival devoted to seeds would only be of interest to gardeners; but this would not be taking into account the vast number of issues surrounding seeds in our world today (see my article here for more). Indeed, as it is no exaggeration to say that everything we use comes from seeds, then if seeds begin to be controlled, modified or restricted, these become issues for everyone. With these issues in mind I participated in the Great Seed Festival (1) at the Garden Museum (2), London, to find representation from a wide diversity of groups and projects, all with seeds as their common interest.

The Garden Museum used to be a church and provided a beautiful backdrop to the issues being explored.

Stained glass and food sovereignty: a beautiful combination

Stained glass and food sovereignty: a beautiful combination

The Garden Museum garden

The Garden Museum garden

 

Sowing seeds of awareness

                The festival – the first of its kind in the UK (3) – is organised by the Gaia Foundation (4), who put on a number of events and publish numerous reports in their work to help “local communities to secure land, seed, food and water sovereignty” (4). At the Gaia Foundation stall was some interesting literature about their work in Colombia and a representative from one of the networks which farmers have put into place for seed sovereignty in that country. As well as this, the stall featured some interactive explorations into African grains; sacks of which you could plunge your hands into in order to literally get a feel for the seeds.

The interactive aspect of the festival, indeed, was quite high, ensuring that a celebratory and interesting atmosphere prevailed throughout. Just a few examples were the bread baking demonstrations put on by Dusty Knuckle bakery (5), seedbomb workshops by Josie Jeffery (7) and chocolate making workshops by Rococo Chocolates (8) which meant that there was plenty to make (and taste!); if you wanted to know more about compost you could check out Capital Growth (8), and Ben Raskin (9) was present to help shed light on the sometimes tortuous legal world of seeds.

There was representation on the stalls from a wide variety of organisations. Caring about seeds, in many ways, has to go along with caring about your food. If you value eating food as a celebratory experience which can be valued and considered carefully according to impact on your body and on the world around you (and, if you wish to be a healthy person in a healthy world, this seems a fairly good idea), then you will probably at some point begin wondering about where the food you eat comes from. Perhaps you reside in a country where labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is not mandatory, such as the USA (10), in which case you may become concerned about the effects which GMOs may have on you or your environment. Even in the EU there are many ways in which GMOs can make it into our food, such as in animal feed which then becomes your milk, cheese and eggs (11); and which may well concern you. To help address these concerns the GM Free Me (12) campaign was on hand.

The Slow Food (13) organisation highlights awareness of seasonal produce and provides education on how people can best celebrate their food.

Slow Food's 'Ark of Taste'.

Slow Food’s ‘Ark of Taste’.

 

Also present was some heirloom wheat, available to get really up close with if you wish.

Interactive heirloom wheat

Interactive heirloom wheat

 

I was volunteering with the Heritage Seed Library (HSL) (14), who collect varieties of thousands of different strains of vegetables and sell or swap the seeds in order to encourage more biodiversity in food. This is important as we have lost around 70% of food varieties since World War Two (15) (for more on this see my article here).

Swapping Seeds

Through the entire day the seed table was bustling; many people brought their own seeds to exchange and we received a huge amount of interest from a variety of age groups. This is always encouraging to see; at some seed saving events I have been to the average age has been veering around the 60 mark, and although I’m sure this has a lot to say about wisdom and knowledge, it does not necessarily bode well for future generations of seed saving. Luckily, the HSL table at the Great Seed Festival went against this trend.

IMG_2523

Just a small selection of the seeds up for exchange

I learnt a lot about the best ways of storing seeds – HSL recommend kilner jars with hermetically sealing lids, and a cool dry place to keep them with a faint current of air. It was also a highly encouraging and inspirational experience meeting so many fellow seed enthusiasts, and being able to share with them, even with such a small gesture.

Seed swapping is a very ancient way of keeping seeds viable; I learnt from the HSL of an old English tradition where you as a grower would post a selection of your saved seeds to a fellow grower who lives at least twenty miles away. This grower would in turn send a selection of their seeds to another one who lives twenty miles away from them; and so on, in a circle, meaning that every year you also receive a selection of seeds from a grower who lives at least twenty miles away from you (16).

The idea of this, apparently, was that you could grow the other people’s seeds for them, making them more adaptable and diverse, just in case something were to happen with their crop which meant that they could not keep their seeds safe. As you were passing the seeds around in a circle of growers, as well, then eventually your own seeds would make it back to you, seven or so generations on. The variety may well have changed in that time and this was seen as a beneficial way to preserve biodiversity and stability of food varieties.

It seems there has never been a better time to engage in actions such as these. With reports such the UN’s ‘Wake Up Before it’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now’ (17) showing that the need for efficient and diverse (rather than high-input and monocultural) farming is no longer a niche idea being touted by hippies and indigenous groups, but is being pushed by international pan-governmental organisations, it seems only fitting that we all begin contributing to feeding abundant change.

Seeds of change

The organisations mentioned in this post represent just a small selection of those present at the Festival, which is not to asy they were the best, simply that they were the ones I managed to encounter. If you missed the festival but are still interested in who was involved, you can look at the programme here.

Seed saving and swapping seems to me to be an excellent way of helping facilitate more stable food systems and resilience in agriculture and gardening in general. It is therefore with great enthusiasm that I shall be helping out with the organisation of the UK’s largest seed swap event, Seedy Sunday in Brighton. The event, held on the first Sunday of February, brings together a variety of different seed-related groups and a seed-swap table for people to come and exchange seeds. In this respect it is very similar to the Great Seed Festival, and I fully expect the atmosphere to be just as inspirational, educational, and (of course) celebrational.

References

  1. Great Seed Festival, 2014. ‘Great Seed Festival’. http://www.greatseedfestival.co.uk/ – retrieved 11/11/14
  2. Garden Museum, 2014. ‘Home’. http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/ – retrieved 11/11/14
  3. Rhoades, Hal, 2014. ‘The Great Seed Festival: Helping Save Colombia’s Indigenous Seeds’. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/blog/gsf_saving_colombias_seeds – retrieved 11/11/14
  4. The Gaia Foundation, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/about-us – retrieved 11/11/14
  5. The Dusty Knuckle Bakery, 2014. ‘The Dusty Knuckle Bakery’. http://thedustyknucklebakery.blogspot.co.uk/ – retrieved 11/11/14
  6. The Seedbomb Laboratory, 2014. ‘Welcome to the seedbomb laboratory’. http://www.theseedbomblaboratory.com/ – retrieved 11/11/14
  7. Rococo Chocolates, 2014. ‘Rococo Chocolates’. http://www.rococochocolates.com/ – retrieved 11/11/14
  8. Capital Growth, 2014. ‘London’s Food Growing Network’, http://www.capitalgrowth.org/ retrieved 11/11/14
  9. Ben Raskin, 2014. ‘About Me’. http://benraskin.com/aboutme.htm – retrieved 11/11/14
  10. Byrne et al, 2014. ‘Labeling of Gentetically Modified Foods’. Colorado State University, 10/14. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09371.html – retrieved 11/11/14
  11. GMO Compass, 2014. ‘Genetic Engineering: Feeding the EU’s Livestock’. http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/grocery_shopping/processed_foods/153.animal_feed_genetic_engineering.html – retrieved 11/11/14
  12. GM Free Me, 2014. ‘GM Free Me: Put Yourself on the Map’. http://www.gmfreeme.org/ retrieved 11/11/14
  13. Slow Food, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.slowfood.org.uk/about/about/ – retrieved 11/11/14
  14. Garden Organic, 2014. ‘What is the Heritage Seed Library?’ http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl – retrieved 11/11/14
  15. Bifurcated Carrots, 2007. ‘Biodiversity Begins at Home’. http://www.bifurcatedcarrots.eu/2007/10/biodiversity-begins-at-home – retrieved 09/10/14
  16. Cunningham, Sally, 2014. Seed Saving Course. Garden House, Brighton, 18/10/14
  17. UN Conference on Trade and Development, 2013. ‘Wake Up Before it’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now’. UNCTAD: Geneva. Available as PDF here: http://unctad.org/en/publicationslibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf