Tag Archives: agriculture

A New Way to Say…

…How Stories Affect Our Minds, Culture and Relationships

Today’s world is full of issues, headlines which seem to demand our attention, problems which seem to call for us to solve them, all of the international confluence of human activity which seems to clash, sometimes messily, with our own unfocused day-to-day affairs.

Most of it seems unrelated: people want to build dams along the Mekong and different people to cross ‘sacred land’ with an oil pipeline; somewhere forests are being cut down and in many more places land is being slowly degraded with the blight of monoculture farming.  All of these and more global issues do actually have something in common, though. They are all part of our human culture, and as such, if we wish to change them the first thing we need to do is change the stories which are, whether we realise it consciously or not, the basis for much of our current action.

What Stories Are You Telling Yourself?

“It would not be too much to say”, said Joseph Campbell,

“That myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.” (1)

All of our conceptions of how to relate to each other – “Religions, philosophies, arts…prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.” (1)

Our “myths” – the stories of our culture, both conscious and subconscious – make up who we are: our personalities and our means of communicating with the rest of the world.  When they are helpful they can help us to express more of who we want to be, to “follow our bliss”. When they are not helpful they can underlie all of our problems and distort our perception of reality to the point where we are not even sure what is real anymore. In modern industrialised culture which is based on phonetic language we managed to create abstract concepts and thus artificially extract ourselves from the world around us. Are you still living that story? Do you really think it’s helpful to cut yourself away from the “potentized field of intelligence” (2) of all living things?

The Myths We Carry

We are all walking parts of myth, whether we realise it or not. Our psyches carry the stories of our ancestors and play the out in our own lives – creating situations we do not want, if we do not take control. Though many modern societies are now secular they are still based on Judeo-Christian mythology, much of which, as Campbell says, confuses a tribal god-figure with a world saviour. In the Bible, humans live in Eden until they are banished for committing original sin and even if we do not follow a faith based on this story we may still carry the feelings associated with it. These feelings could be guilt or shame about our bodies and natural impulses, or an idea that we do not belong in paradise, so anytime we find a pristine natural place, we need to change it in order to live in it. As I pointed out in my article Language and Permaculture part 2, (3)

“Some people think the word “Eden” comes from the Urgaritic base meaning “place that is well-watered throughout” (4). Toby Hemenway explores how the great deserts of what we now know as the Middle East used to be some of the most fertile places on Earth and it was only with the development of agriculture that the soil began eroding and water loss began to occur (5). In this sense the Garden of Eden story can be seen as an excuse for the development of agriculture and the subsequent effects of agriculture on the land being not something which we can control or are responsible for, but which are simply the punishments put on us by a vengeful tribal God-idea (1)”.

On a more physical level, the stories of our childhood and even of our time in our mothers’ womb are held within our bodies. This means that  if there are beliefs we want to change it may be as simple as moving or holding ourselves in a different way.

Why Are You Where You Are?

Mark Lakeman, founder of the City Repair Project (5) in Portland, Oregon, USA, tells this story:

“An indigenous man once said to me, he said,

Ha! You think that we are the ones that’ve been hurt, you’ve taken our land and we’ve been devastated‘ and he’s like  ‘Yeah it’s true we have a lot of problems but at least we know who we are, and you do not know your own story.

He said,

You don’t know what brought you to this place you’re at right now, you don’t know what it is you’re looking for, you say you wanna help the world but you don’t even know your own story within the continuum of all of these challenges…

He said, ‘So until you know where you’ve come from, the story of yourself in relation to your family, you don’t know what you’re capable of or even what your challenge is‘.” (7)

Starting Where We Are

My own roots are in the roots of the yarrow, the oak and rowan and birch, though my family now is scattered throughout many different types of ecosystem. The traditions of storytelling and generosity have been passed down to me from my mother, a giver, connector, and fun-lover. Skills and passion for designing systems have come from my father; healing and plant wisdom from my ancestors.


The concrete and tarmac of the city was my cradle and within it the green spaces which first started to call to us, my sister and I, that there is something more out there. My story is that of a refugee in their homeland and of a native in all parts of the world. Of learning to be sensitive to the feelings of my body and to come home into it more and more. Of trying to connect the deep compassion I felt for the humans, plants and animals ‘out there’ who I perceived as needing help with the raging silence within of my own disconnection between body, soul and energy; of experiencing the deep psychological fissures within the landscape of my soul first as mental illness, through a painful sensation to be numbed and buried, to a wrenching hallucination and out, as it were, the other side of the labyrinth seeing them now as scars of power, aids to my healing work.

I come from a family of explorers; father, mother, sister and I living on 4 different continents. Mixing our fractured cultureless culture with the cultures of those we find around us; nourishing our own sense of who we are as a comparison to others. For me, remembering our roots is as important as learning from the new people and environments we find ourselves in and my sister helps me with this, as well as helping my deep, unshakeable sense of the world as being nowhere near as serious as people make out, and of life as something to be enjoyed. My sister, space-holder for people’s creative expression, fun-lover, giver and receiver of wisdom.

So many people have helped me on my journey to where I am now and one of my best guides has been and continues to be my true love and fellow adventurer, the sound healer, entheogenic escort, language magician, midnight explorer, uncompromiser, relentless clown, player of games and facilitator of sacred spaces within and without. Through him I have become connected to a whole new family, also communicators and storytellers, healers and space-holders, like my sister-in-law, constant reminder of the joy of playing, connector, healer, relisher of the drama of life.

I carry all of these stories within me, and I cannot change where I come from. What I can change is how I perceive my place in my family and in the wider ecosystem, as well as how I weave my own stories together. Only by doing this can I hope to improve any other part of the world.

As Lakeman put it,

“Any planetary repair has to be predicated on local action.” (7)

The way our global human society interacts now, it is not enough to submit to local myths. We are part of a new “creative mythology” as Joseph Campbell put it (1); a culture where every individual’s experience and their own personal quest is respected within the wider acknowledgement of our connection to the animals and plants around us and the cosmos as a whole. Where the mystical experience of our own joyous reality is not a fairytale to be forgotten or a status to be passed down by an authority figure, but an intimately self-discoverable sensation.

If we have the courage to start, then

We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path.


And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” (1)


1. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Chapter 1: Myth and Dream. Pantheon Books: New York City

2. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage: New York City

3. Haworth, C, 2016. ‘Language and Permaculture Part 2: Practical Ideas for How We Use Terminology’. Permaculture News, 22/12/16. http://permaculturenews.org/2016/12/22/language-permaculture-part-2-practical-ideas-use-terminology/

4. Online Etymology Dictionary, 2016. ‘Eden’. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Eden

5. Hemenway, T, 2010. ‘How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but not Civilization’. Talk given at Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, North Carolina, USA and uploaded 9/2/13 to Films For Action: http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/how-permaculture-can-save-humanity-and-the-earth-but-not-civilization/

6. City Repair Project, 2017. ‘Mission’. http://www.cityrepair.org/mission/

7. Lakeman, M, 2007. ‘City Repair – Permaculture for Urban Spaces’. Peak Moment TV, 2007. Available on Films for Action here: http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/city-repair-permaculture-for-urban-spaces/

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


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.



  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


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!


  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



Seeds of Halloween


Pumpkins - A Potent Symbol of Samhain and the seeds we are carrying within us. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Pumpkins – A Potent Symbol of Samhain and the seeds we are carrying within us. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

As we approach once more the mid-point between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, known by many modern cultures as ‘Halloween’ and by some pagan traditions as Samhain (pronounced ‘sa–ween’), the beginning of winter, it seems a fitting moment to be reflecting upon what we have been harvesting throughout the year, both physically and metaphorically.

Samhain, October 31st, is celebrated by some as one of the most important feasts of the year, being a time where it is said that any magic practised is more potent, when “spirits” can be easily felt, and when communication amongst ourselves is enhanced (1). Whatever your own personal opinion on this matter, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you probably feel at least some kind of tingling expectation – don’t you? –at the fresh chill beginning to paw at you in the morning air; at the scent of wood-smoke drifting through the trees, and the glorious red-gold-amber spectacle of gently dropping leaves.

It may be interesting for those living in Britain to note that although relatively few people in the British Isles still know the traditions of Samhain, the festival is ceebrated in Galicia, Northern Spain, as ‘Samaín’ – showing the strong cultural ties we share and the similarities in our symbologies.

Harvesting Seeds

Last week, an important step was taken for the co-ordination of growers in the UK and Ireland, as the Gaia Foundation (2) released their preliminary report on the feasibility of creating a UK and Ireland-wide seed programme, enabling increased communication, education and resource mapping throughout the UK and Republic of Ireland. The report shows that all involved feel that such a programme will be highly useful to help growers, farmers and co-operatives to network, and encourage wider participation amongst growers of all kinds in the seed-saving process (3).

Such a task has many perspectives and is not necessarily simple, especially when you take into account (as the report does) the difference between ‘organic’ (not using chemical products) and ‘certified organic’ (with a designation from a body such as the Soil Association) and the pros and cons of F1 hybrid seeds, and whether or not it is useful to produce them along with Open pollinated (OP) seeds (3).

Nevertheless, the report is clear on the fact that growers, campaigners, farmers and other interested seedy people throughout the land believe that a network can help to break the hold of multinational companies on the seed market who are contributing to a loss of agro-biodiversity, and instead encourage a community of commercial growers who are interested not only in short-term profit, but in regeneration of land, soil and ecosystem preservation, and genetic diversity.

Nurturing our Networks

For the next 6 weeks we shall be living in increasing darkness as the sun shines for less and less each day, culminating in the shortest day of Yule or Winter Solstice on the night of December 21st. It is a time traditionally for gathering around the fire and telling stories; imagining new beginnings and preparing for the return of the sun. In our modern societies such connotations are perhaps little more than metaphors, but they can be powerful ones even so.

Whether you are planning some pumpkin carving, a spooky party, a magical ritual or simply a normal Saturday night, Samhain seems an apt time to deepen connections amongst family and friends, and to begin new ones.

Whatever seeds we have at this time, if we nurture them now, they will grow strong once their time comes. There’s no need to hurry, though; the time of darkness is also a time for patience.

Happy Samhain…


If you wish to see the full report, please feel free to request it from me using the ‘Contact’ page.


  1. Sentier, E, 2014. Trees of the Goddess: A New Way of Working with the Ogham. Shaman Pathways: Gloucestershire, UK.
  2. Gaia Foundation, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/about-us – retrieved 17/10/15
  3. Strong, H, 2015. ‘Developing a Robust, Accessible and Diverse Organic Seed System in the UK and Ireland: Feasibility Study Report’. Gaia Foundation: October 2015

Exotic Excess at the Harvest Stomp

All photos by Alan Husband.

The Exotic Excess Cafe. Photo by Alan Husband.

The Exotic Excess Cafe. Photo by Alan Husband.

The poet William Blake said “the thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest” (1). If he was right, then the visitors to the Exotic Excess Café at Groundwork (2)’s Harvest Stomp Festival (3) this Autumn Equinox are now very well provisioned. The Café, run by community interest group This is Rubbish (TiR) (4), was perhaps inaptly named as we were not selling anything but giving away huge amounts of surplus fruit and vegetables. As the autumn sun shone down on the tightly trimmed grass of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London, we could hardly move for interested and thankful visitors and happy festival-goers.

Thankful receivers bearing our plentiful harvest. Photo by Alan Husband.

Thankful receivers bearing our plentiful harvest. Photo by Alan Husband.

A Modern Harvest

The festival had many diverse stalls, from bee-keeping demonstrations with honey harvests to vegetable competitions for home-grown harvests. At the Exotic Excess café, however, we were focussing on a slightly different kind of harvest. As an estimated 36% of the food purchased in the UK goes to waste before it even reaches the consumer (5), there is a huge potential to intercept this and re-direct it to people who need food. As I have already explored through my work with the Gleaning Network (6) and the Food Waste Collective (7), there are a number of different strategies already operative in the UK for how to do this.

A key aspect of any food redistribution work is (unsurprisingly) sourcing the food and then finding hungry people to give it to. Perhaps of equal importance is the way in which we perceive and react to our food. If we show appreciation and thankfulness we are probably more likely to give value to the stuff we eat and see it as a worthy substance that should be used carefully and responsibly, rather than as a commodity. One fantastic way of doing this is to have a celebration! So that’s exactly what we did…

Talking about the Food

As we currently produce around enough food in the world to feed 12bn people (7). This coupled with the estimated 30 – 50% of food which is wasted annually on a global scale (9) shows starkly that food scarcity is an illusion and better organisation of food systems is necessary.

However, if we confront people with only facts such as those stated above, there is a chance of creating feelings of anger and/or helplessness. We prefer to inspire – which is why we have Exotic Hostesses serving up intercepted food on silver trays, and encourage communal eating in shared appreciation with a finale of a giant Salad Toss – where we entice members of the public to aid in creating a salad so large it has to be tossed in a tarpaulin.

Preparing Fruity Sticks, and for the Great Salad. Photo by Alan Husband.

Preparing Fruity Sticks, and for the Great Salad. Photo by Alan Husband.

Fruity Sticks and Salad Tosses

When I participated in the Exotic Excess Café last July at the Waterloo Food Festival (10) the predominant food stuffs we had intercepted was bananas, apples, peaches, grapes, oranges…In other words, fruit, fruit and more fruit. This year, we had many more vegetables to redistribute, including numerous packets of rocket and crates of lettuce, as well as carrots, courgettes and peppers. Thus the Salad was a savoury one, but we still had many many fruits to distribute, which we did in the form of make-your-own Fruity Sticks (a hit with the younger visitors) as well as inviting passersby to collect from our “shop” – actually, freely available produce for anyone to take and consume.

Who Could Resist? Photo by Alan Husband.

Who Could Resist? Photo by Alan Husband.

A Glimpse of Abundance. Photo by Alan Husband.

A Glimpse of Abundance. Photo by Alan Husband.

Excess to no Excess

At many food surplus events I have worked at, we have excess food at the end which it is a puzzle what to know to do with. I still have some kilograms of dried corn left from last September’s sweetcorn glean (11), waiting to be polenta-ed; and we were definitely far from taking all of the corn which was going to waste on that day.

However, the vibrant volunteers, along with the warmth of the day and the irresistibility of taking free food (especially when it’s been sprinkled with edible glitter) meant that the event was a great success. Once the festival-goers had got over any confusion or even suspicion about why we were not asking for money, most took to the idea with pleasure. So when we began gathering people for the grand finale, the Great Salad Toss, we ended up with quite a crowd of about twenty to take on the noble role of holding the tarpaulin while the salad ingredients were poured in.

Helping the Sultan to entice people to give a toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

Helping the Sultan to entice people to give a toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

Salad tossing can be a tricky business, and with such a giant salad it has to be seen as a precise art. Luckily we had This is Rubbish’s Sultan overseeing affairs, and the tossing went smoothly with much enjoyment from the crowd.

A perfect toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

A perfect toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

What’s Next?

All feedback I received on the day was positive, and we collected many ‘food waste pledges’ from people inspired to take personal, practical steps towards reducing food waste in their own lives. There will probably be more Exotic Excess Cafés to follow – check out the TiR website (4) for more information – yet ideally, we shouldn’t have to run such events at all, if we all begin using food in a responsible and respectful way.

To this end TiR have many other projects including the brand newly launched ‘Stop the Rot’ (12) campaign, aimed at influencing government and industry to introduce new ways of dealing with food which will reduce the amount of waste in the UK. In order to be effective the campaign needs as much publicity from the British public as possible, so feel free to spread the word. Even if you do not feel you wish to place your energy into national politics, remember that all government action is ultimately decided by what the citizens of a country do – or don’t do.

All change begins at a personal level, and in this time of harvest it is worth noting the abundance around us and perhaps changing our perceptions to envision and act towards a more fruitful future.


  1. Blake, W, 1790 -93. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Bodleian Library: Oxford (Re-printed 2011).
  2. Groundwork, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.groundwork.org.uk/Pages/Category/about-us-uk – retrieved 2/10/15
  3. Groundwork London, 2015. ‘The Harvest Stomp’, Project Dirt Events. http://www.projectdirt.com/apps/event/37931/– retrieved 2/10/15
  4. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  5. WRAP, 2015. Estimates of Food and Packaging Waste in the UK Grocery Retail and Hospitality Supply Chains. http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/UK%20Estimates%20February%2015%20%28FINAL%29.pdf – retrieved 2/10/15
  6. Feedback Global UK, 2015. Gleaning Network. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/– retrieved 2/10/15
  7. Hanover Action for Sustainable Living, 2015. ‘The Food Waste Collective’. http://www.hasl.org.uk/food-waste.html – retrieved 2/10/15
  8. De Schutter, O, 2013. ‘Report on Right to Food’. United Nations General Assembly: Geneva
  9. Institute of Mechanical Engineers 2010. ‘Waste Not Want Not’. IMechE: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0 – retrieved 10/9/15
  10. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Exotic Excess, Lower Marsh Market, Waterloo’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/event/july-2014-exotic-excess-lower-marsh-market-waterloo/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  11. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Gleaning First-Hand’. Abundance Garden, 3/11/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/gleaning-first-hand/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  12. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Stop the Rot’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/project/stoptherot/– retrieved 2/10/15


All photos by Alan Husband. Want to see more of the day? His Flickr album is here: Harvest Stomp on flickr.

Kosmicare: Cosmic Care at Festivals helping to create positive societal change – Part 1

Last weekend we witnessed a highly significant event as the shadow of our planet passed over the Moon. This as a visible phenomenon is impressive enough without having any idea what it could mean; but theories also abound about the significance of the Lunar Eclipse with regards to human psychology. One such theory (1) is that it is evocative of psychologist Carl Jung’s idea of the “shadow self” (2). Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that last weekend also saw the manifestation of Goa Cream Festival, the first event held to raise funds entirely for Kosmicare UK (3), a voluntary organisation devoted to helping people at festivals who are experiencing psychological difficulties. As may be imagined, this involves a huge diversity of activity, much of which can arguably be applied not only in the context of a festival but in society at large as well.

What is Kosmicare?

Kosmicare UK is a group providing welfare for those at festivals who may be experiencing psychological difficulties, or who are feeling lost, uncomfortable or unhappy. The group is specifically set up to “focus on support for people having difficult drug related experiences and work alongside traditional first aid providers to relieve strain by providing specialised care” (3); as there are a huge range of situations involving drugs where the user may require care and attention, yet to only give them medical attention may miss out on treating their true need, as well as placing unnecessary work on medically trained professionals who are better equipped to deal with physical or straightforward mental symptoms. Modelled on Kosmicare, the pioneer project set up at Boom Festival in 2002 (4), the organisation works closely with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Substances (MAPS) (5) as well as many other individuals from medical, artistic and academic backgrounds (3).

Psychedelic First Aid

The type of help provided by Kosmicare is difficult to put into words, as the welfare comes not only from the volunteers but from the spaces which Kosmicare create at festivals, and from the atmosphere encouraged. There is usually a large bell tent, decorated in a peaceful manner, full of cushions, duvets and blankets and kept as a quiet and contemplative space for those in need of it. As well as this there is a less quiet but just as comfortable space for more conversational relaxation. Then there is the fire encircled with seats, which is kept burning throughout the hours of darkness, every night of the festival. This last space was especially important at Goa Cream, held as it was in the last week of September in the Worcestershire hills.

The spaces created by Kosmicare are important not only as physical places but as components of the atmosphere engendered by them. Kosmicare is at its heart a “tribe”; the volunteers generally sleep close to or in the Kosmicare area, cook and eat together, and provide support for each other as well as the personal support given to each visitor to Kosmicare. Festivals are designed for people to have fun and all Kosmicare volunteers I have met understand that we are here to have a good time; though we have allocated shifts, caring never feels like work, and carers who are not on shift regularly hang around the area as the atmosphere is so friendly.

This tribal, familiar attitude is reflected in the open-minded and welcoming nature of the volunteers and in the acceptance that whatever substance someone has ingested, and whatever kind of time they may be having, there can still be an opportunity for personal growth and positivity. This can be seen as especially important with any kind of entheogens, which as the Kosmicare website puts it,
“have played a pivotal role in the spiritual practices of ancient cultures for millennia, and historically were taken in a tribal context with the support of the tribe and a shaman.” (3)

Though such experiences may be terrifying at times, the support element means that whatever happens during the ritual or trip, there are experienced people around who can help to some extent.

Symbols and Symptons

Ritual tribal practises have what could be seen as an added safety element in that they generally involve metaphors and significant stories which are familiar to all in the tribe and whose meanings have both been thoroughly explored and are not taken literally. For example, the peyote rituals of the Wixaritari people involve a carefully ritualised pilgrimage to the place where the peyote cactus grows, during which the participants take on roles of specific significant deities and pass a number of sacred spaces (6).

Such attention to and sacralising of the natural non-human environment, as well as metaphors to explain or narrate human events, are common throughout human history and have been remarked upon by many scholars as involving the same symbols regardless of where or when the culture may be creating them – for more on this see for example Campbell (1949) (7) and Abram (1986) (8). The interesting thing about this similarity in themes and metaphors is that even if individuals in a culture do not have defining metaphors of their own, their psychology will spontaneously produce them (7); prompting Jung to term our shared ideas of symbols as the “collective unconscious” (9).

How can we deal with such symbols in as useful and mutually beneficial a way as possible? For some ideas, keep checking this blog for Part 2!

1.    Astrostyle, 2015. ‘Solar and Lunar Eclipses’. http://astrostyle.com/learn-astrology/solar-and-lunar-eclipses/
2.   Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
3.  Kosmicare UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
4.  Boom Festival, 2014. ‘Kosmicare’. http://www.boomfestival.org/boom2014/boomguide/kosmicare/
5.  MAPS, 2015. ‘Mission’. https://www.maps.org/about/mission
6.  Alfredo López Austin : Tamoanchan, Tlalocan. U Pr of Co, 1997.
7.    Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon: New York City
8.    Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage Books: New York City
9.   Jung, C, 1953. Collected Works vol. 7, “The Structure of the Unconscious” (1916), 437–507. (pp. 263–292).

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!


  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:
  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

On travel and diversity

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

Finding land

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

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

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

Have land – now what to do?

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

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

The issue of time

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

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

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

Travelling farms

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

Nomadic landworkers

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


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

ORFC: Looking Back and Ahead

This month’s Oxford Real Farming Conference (1) managed to bring together so many different groups and ideas that, at least for me, it is all still taking some time to take it all in. The Conference has sparked many vital conversations which are already crystallising into actions, and inspired in various ways.

The Conference - helping people connect like mycelium spreading...Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Conference – helping people connect like mycelium spreading…Photo by Charlotte Haworth

What is ‘Real’?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Conference for me was the whole idea of ‘Real Farming’: easily something which could possibly lead into some far-out existential questions, if those attending the event were not so down to earth. The Conference was originally organised in part as an ‘alternative’ to the Oxford farming Conference, held at the same time and even on the same street, though from the beginning the organisers, Graham Harvey (now of Pasture Promise TV) (2), Colin Tudge and Ruth West (founders of Campaign for Real Farming) (3) have made it clear that the event is about practical solutions; “to ask what the world really needs, and what’s possible, and to show what really can be done” (1).

Over the course of the two days many different questions were posed about just what we are providing an alternative to; or even if the Conference could now be seen as such. Who is it who sees ‘conventional’ or ‘normal’ farming as that which involves high-external-input of fossil fuels and agrochemicals; stripping the earth of nutrients and farmers of stability and connection to the land; creating huge wasteful chains of logistics which end up with up to 50% of all food grown being thrown away before it even reaches the shops (4)? As mentioned previously, the UN has recognised that these systems are unsustainable and need to be changed (5); a widely-reported scientific study last year by Dr Jill Edmondson and Professor Nigel Dunnett claims that UK soils have only “100 harvests left” before the soils are so stripped of nutrients that they can no longer support agriculture (6); and partly in recognition of this, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has declared 2015 as the ‘International Year of Soils’ (7) to try to raise awareness of the importance of creating new faring methods.

These are not exactly isolated or niche recognition of the fact that farming can be so much more sustainable than it is. Yet during the Conference, Ben Raskin of the Soil Association commented that in a discussion he was present in the House of Lords recently, someone commented that the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) “aren’t interested in agriculture” (8).


If agriculture is not of interest to the Department responsible for the environment and food, on which agriculture has a fairly large impact, and of rural affairs, of which agriculture is a part of more or less by definition, it does seem to beg the question of what (if anything) the British government thinks will provide our food in future. Musing on this is probably a futile exercise, however, and it is much more useful to look to where support for real farming is present. One thing which provided another clue as to the more mainstream leaning of the Conference was the venue itself which was the splendidly opulent “venetian palace”, as one delegate called it, which is Oxford Town Hall. So even if central government has no interest in agriculture, it is clear that at least one local government does.

I have to admit it was rather surreal wandering around the carven, fluted halls of the building, passing groups of muddy-booted delegates who were partially obscuring the huge glass cases of official memorabilia, including a giant, golden (not sure if it was real solid gold) mayoral mace. In many ways it was rather fitting that many of the discussions held in the Assembly Room which touched upon the idea that the land is being unnecessarily damaged at the cost of our own health that of the planet were overlooked by a rather sombre, if not downright disturbing, oil painting of the Rape of the Sabines. Possibly more disturbing was the display case proudly exhibiting a ceremonial painted truncheon. I am grateful to Oxford City Council for hosting the Conference, and feel they have a right to do what they like with their building, but cannot help feeling that the citizens of a town which showcases an object whose only purpose is to instil pain and intimidation may need to question their symbols somewhat.

Incongruence makes Wholeness?

Such incongruences were, in a way, present throughout the whole Conference: a sign that healthy debate was going on, as I rarely heard anyone claim to have the whole answer or solution. Indeed, quite the opposite: during one discussion, with the panel from the Square Meal Report (9) when a man commented that the only thing we have to do is “buy organic food and tell everyone else to do the same”, all members of the panel gently deflected this dogmatic approach, with comments such as Mike Clarke, CEO of the RSPB (10) who pointed out that it is better to “keep an open mind” and think about “what do we collectively need to achieve together?”

These sentiments were echoed by many over the two days. Rachel Harries of the Soil Association (11) was chairing a session, ‘Local Authorities and Access to Land’, which went over all of the different ways in which one can go about reclaiming disused land in a legal manner, and showcased two community groups, Organiclea (12) and Sutton Community Farm (13), who have done just this. During the session we learned that as part of UK law all citizens have the right to “reclaim land” which is unused, disused or vacant, by applying to the Secretary of State to do so (14).

Such illuminations (I had not heard of this right before) help to eradicate the idea of “us and them” which, as pointed out by the fact that we were being hosted by the Council, was already rather hazy. It was made clear that though we cannot simply write off local authorities as unhelpful organisations, since they are, after all, made up of people too, it can happen that these people sometimes get “adversarial” when it comes to the crucial question of land. With statistics like the fact that 70% of the land in the UK is owned by just 1% of the population (15), it becomes clear that the more people who are trying to find different ways around these the better.

Coming Together

The Landworkers’ Alliance (16) were present in one room for the whole two days, as part of the ‘New Generation, New Ideas’ strand (17) of the Conference. However, their influence did not stop in the town hall: they also organised a folk concert and ceilidh at the Jam Factory bar (18) on the evening of the first night of the conference. Though this may seem like a small part of the proceedings, for me it represented a significant point. Most people present at the conference are in some way involved in practical projects and though there were many academics I got the feeling that the majority (including myself!) found spending hours and hours sitting, listening and talking a slight strain. The ceilidh provided a space to release some tension and engage in communication which is after all of a deeper kind; that of dancing around with a roomful of total strangers. This energy could even be seen to be carried on into the Conference on the following day. I noticed that, in comparison with the talks I had attended the day before, all the talks on the Wednesday involved more free-flowing conversation, and people seemed more confident with each other and inclined to speak their minds. This could be simply that we had got to know each other by talking; but I feel the dancing was also a big part of it.

Springing up from the Ground

Much of the conference revolved around practical techniques you can engage in if you are already growing, such as seed saving from Ben Raskin, and Kate McEvoy from Real Seeds (19) and soil care from Dr Elaine Ingham of the Soil Food Web (20), and how to influence policy change from and the Landworkers’ Alliance (16) and others. One of the most interesting sessions for me, as a landless landworker, however, was one organised by the newly set-up Groundspring Network (21), the “entrant-level wing” of the Landworkers’ Alliance, designed to help those who wish to begin growing by supporting them and sharing ideas, methods and forums (21). The session focussed on the “rural-urban divide” in the UK which can be seen as putting off existing farmers from changing, and those wishing to get involved in farming to make the jump; when only 3% of farmers here are under the age of 35 (20), addressing the factors surrounding this seem pretty important.

The Groundspring Network are helping people to start growing, as well as linking novices with farmers who can act as ‘mentors’, and providing forums and spaces for new growers to share their experiences. The network is not the only one of its kind; there are many other such organisations in the UK and worldwide designed to help ‘bridge the gap’ between what is often seen as ‘farming’ rural and ‘non-farming’ urban; such as the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (22), Farmstart (23) (24) and Reclaim the Fields (25). One new (to the UK) forum being set up is Farmhack (26), already successful in the USA and Canada and which will be officially launched in this country on the weekend of 18 and 19 April (27), with practical workshops, shared food, and fine entertainment: since the event is organised by the Landworkers’ Alliance there will, of course, be a ceilidh, and Topspin Circus (28) shall be contributing mesmeric fire-spinning.

The Importance of Group activities

One of the most exciting things the Conference represented was a networking opportunity for people from a huge diversity of different perspectives: organic, biodynamic, permaculture, ‘pasture power’, low-carbon farming, agroecology; people who work in academia, in the food industry, in campaigning, growing, or decision-making; in wildlife-protection groups and food banks. All coming together shows the recognition that farming is not just about what happens in the fields; as the Square Meal report (9) points out, it affects our health, the health of the planet, the way our jobs are structured, and wildlife and biodiversity. The conversations which have sprung out of the Conference all point to a hopeful future, where we can work together to create more resilient, sustainable and affordable food systems beneficial to humans, animals and the planet. Not to be underestimated as well are the things which went unsaid; the feelings of connection and of support from one another.

This feeling was shared not just by me; as I found out at the Closing Plenary, which was basically a quarter of an hour of thanks being given to all present, especially the hosts, volunteers and sponsors. This is of course an important part of any event, though it began to feel somewhat strained as it kept dragging on. Then Jyoti Fernandes from the New Generation, New Ideas (17) was asked to stand up and speak. We prepared again for another thank-you speech. Instead, she scanned the crowd, locating Robin Grey, the man who had been providing folk-song entertainment for us the previous night, and insisting he come up on stage to lead the whole hall in a group singalong. Such an activity is perhaps not very common in this country anymore (outside of churches and other community groups) so it’s possible that some people in the crowd felt slightly embarrassed at this suggestion. Nevertheless, the power could be felt, no matter how silly it may seem, as we were led in the song which some of us had learnt the previous night, introduced as “the new national anthem, when the revolution comes”:

“Sing John Ball, and tell it to them all

Long be the day that is dawning,

I’ll crow like a cock and I’ll carol like a lark

For the light that’s coming in the morning.” (29)

Who John Ball is, or why he is an important part of this, is a tale for another story. What can be noted now is the importance of such joining activities in helping to create the better world we know is possible and easily achievable. If we are to spread such hope to others perhaps a good way is through interactions such as song and dance; which can appeal to many people at once without having to engage their intellectual (and thus possibly confrontational) mindset. A few days after the conference, I happened to mention to a (non-farming) friend the scientific study which predicts that our soils are so damaged that we only have “100 harvests left” (6). My friend shrugged, and with a laugh, commented, “oh well, at least that’s one hundred years of harvests!”

Such an attitude, though admirable in its optimism, is perhaps symptomatic of the lack of understanding and connection that can be seen in many in our society. Events such as the Real Farming Conference are helping to rebuild the connection, and lead the way to a place where we all care about farming and how it is done because we recognise that it is integral to our lives.


  1. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  2. Pasture Promise TV, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.pasturepromise.tv/video.php?section=About – retrieved 18/1/15
  3. Campaign for Real Farming, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/about/ – retrieved 18/1/15
  4. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2012. ‘Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not’. IMechE: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0
  5. 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
  6. Withnall, A, 2014. “Britain has only 100 harvests left in its farm soil as scientists warn of growing ‘agricultural crisis’”. Independent, 20/10/14.
  7. FAO, 2015. ‘International Year of Soils’. http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  8. Raskin, B, 2015. Comment during ‘The Rural/Urban Divide’ Session, Groundspring Network. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 7/1/15
  9. Food Research Collaboration, 2014. The Square Meal Report: A Fair and Square Deal for Farming, People, Wildlife and Public Health. Food Research Collaboration: London. Available as a PDF here: http://foodresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/squaremealfinalpdf-1.pdf – retrieved 18/1/15
  10. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 2015. ‘What We Do: Overview’. http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/ – retrieved 18/1/15
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  14. UK Government Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012 (updated 2014). ‘Community Right to Reclaim Land’. https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/giving-people-more-power-over-what-happens-in-their-neighbourhood/supporting-pages/community-right-to-reclaim-land – retrieved 06/01/15
  15. UK Land Directory, 2015. ‘Land Usage in the UK’. http://www.uklanddirectory.org.uk/land-usage.asp– retrieved 18/1/15
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  26. Farmhack, 2015. ‘Home’. http://farmhack.net/home/ retrieved 18/1/15
  27. Landworkers’ Alliance, 2015. ‘Farmhack’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/farmhack/ retrieved 18/1/15
  28. Topspin Circus, 2013. ‘About Us’. http://topspincircus.wix.com/topspin#!about/c10fk retrieved 18/1/15
  29. Soundclick, 2015. ‘Lyrics: John Ball’. http://www.soundclick.com/bands/_music_lyrics.cfm?bandid=45728&songID=4135061&keepThis=true&TB_iframe=true&height=530&width=530 – retrieved 18/1/15

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.


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  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
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