Tag Archives: biodiversity

Taste in the Community

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

Salento Sea2. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Salento Sea. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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

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

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

~Rock Samphire or Ripili

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

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

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

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

Rock Samphire in its natural habitat. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Rock Samphire in its natural habitat. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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The beach at Tricase Porto. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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

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

Sonchus oleraceus, known in English as Sowthistle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Urospermum picroides, known in English as Prickly Goldenfleece

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

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

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

 

References 

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

 

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Seeds of Halloween

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…

Notes

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

References

  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

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.

Space
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!

References
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).

Sacred Spaces

All photos by David Ashwanden

A lot of the time, one hears tales of natural landscapes being destroyed: flourishing, paradisal ecosystems interrupted to make way for what generally seems to be a poor exchange: a bit of petroleum, perhaps; a shopping centre, or even a parking lot.

Raising awareness of such operations is important, and the question of whether or not a particular piece of land should be developed often seems even more pertinent when the land in question has a deep cultural or spiritual significance. Yet it seems equally important to explore how we relate to such events, and the extent to which we understand our own impact on sacred spaces.

Mt. Bromo

Saving Space

It seems for every environmentally-destructive operation there is a reaction against such destruction. One example is Greenpeace’s Stop the Tar Sands campaign (1), whose focus is on the destruction of Athabasca, the ancestral homeland of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (2). Though Athabasca is in modern day Canada, the campaign is based in the UK; a recognition that in our increasingly interconnected world we can have an affect on things seemingly far away from us. Another example of this is the case of Quemado. Quemado is a mountain in Mexico which is currently the home of a community of Wixarikas (known in Spanish as Huichol), who have one of the oldest unbroken pagan traditions in the world (3) – i.e. they are still practicing more or less the same rituals which they have practised for thousands of years, rather than is the case with many earth-worshipping traditions, which have been revived after being lost (see for example 4). Quemado has recently come to the attention of some people in the UK, as the Wixarikas’ homeland is being threatened by plans from the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp and Real Bonanza (6), who both wish to dig up the mountain in order to extract silver from it. This article (5) reports on how the Wixarika used to inhabit the Wirikuta Desert, a place which still remains holy to them and to which they still continue to make a month-long pilgrimage each year in order to harvest the sacred plants which grow there.

The definition of holy

It seems clear that there are many better things which could happen to Quemado Mountain than to be turned into one more habitat-destroying and inefficient mine; and it is admirable that people are taking up the cry of those whose homes are threatened by such entities as the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp. One thing that seems as though it could be seen from a slightly different perspective, however, is the article’s pointing out the fact that Quemado is a holy mountain – so even more reason for it to be respected. Yet the article itself points out that the Wixarika only live in El Quemado now because they moved there to escape various waves of colonialism in Mexico; “conquistadors, missionaries, slavers, settlers, ranchers, and the murderous Catholic fundamentalists, Los Cristeros”; and even consumer-capitalism (5). Their ancestral holy place is the desert to which they travel every year for the sacred mescalito or peyote (Lophophora Williamsii) harvest. This is not to say that El Quemado is not holy or should not be respected; but rather to throw into question the whole idea of how to define what is holy anyway. the article seems to imply respect for the Wixarika’s homeland as a sacred space; yet the website it is published on is a UK-based one, far away from the mountain in question and the culture which is being held up as admirable; one whose people have “pure open hearts, extreme honesty, zero bullshit, a genuine spiritual focus, utter reverence for Nature, and who exist in a permanent and instantly tangible magical reality” (5).

Perhaps one way in which we can truly learn from such a culture is to bring this kind of thinking into our own lives. The mountain was not holy before the Wixarikas moved onto it; what does this say about mountains? What does it say about the places where you live?

Making Sense of Where we Are

It is of great importance to respect the world in which we live, and if anyone feels they see an imbalance which they wish to set right, they should try to change it. But any change we attempt to make “out there” is going to be severely reduced if we do not look at how we can create more harmony and balance in our own lives. Where you live, is there a place which is generally worshipped? Does your culture make a pilgrimage to somewhere special?

Chances are, if you live somewhere like the UK then your immediate answer to such questions would be “no”. Yet it is worth thinking into this a little. Perhaps you do not feel a particular pull from the place you live; but why do you live there? Maybe there are no places deemed “special” by your country, race, belief system, town, village or even friends which you relate to – but isn’t there somewhere which you find special? This could be anywhere; from the particular way your room feels when you sit in that chair at a certain time of day, to the notable majesty of the tree you pass on your way to work every day. If there are special places in your life which you like to visit, take a moment to consider what makes them attractive to you. Perhaps it is that you can relax there; that you feel a sense of beauty or peace, or you can come together with friends or family and so feel more connected and integrated.

It's amazing what you can find that is special. Photo by David Ashwanden

It’s amazing what you can find that is special. Photo by David Ashwanden

The examples of what such places could be are as many as there are people. It is worth recognising, however, that if you have somewhere which evokes any of those feelings in you, this could also be defined as “holy”. That doesn’t mean that you need to start a religion about it; merely that it commands your respect, and therefore, perhaps, it can help you feel more respect towards yourself and by extension, to everyone else.

Feeling the connection

That you can make your own life more magical by respecting your immediate environment still extends to the rest of the world. Yet rather than following campaigns whose stated aim is the prohibition of something – such as stopping the tar sands – it may be more helpful to look at what we can create. In choosing to sacred-ise the world around us we can help to engender a culture of mutual appreciation. For example, rather than trying to decry the silver companies, which after all are made up of humans who almost all probably believe they are doing the right thing, it may be more beneficial to look at how your own activities fit into the proposed mine. Silver is used a lot for jewellery and decorations; but much more of it is used to create electronic equipment such as phones and laptops (6). Perhaps by choosing to reduce the demand for silver, by using recycled electronic goods and opting for products such as Fairphone (7) over brand-new goods, we can show that the silver mine is not only destructive to the ecosystems around it and to the Wixarika culture, but it is itself irrelevant.

Mt. Arjuna

Making Sacred Spaces

Your holy place could be anywhere; from the local nightclub where you never fail to let loose and have fun with your friends, to that quiet bend in the river under the cliffs where you sit alone, undisturbed by all except the occasional passing sheep. The key thing about the Wixarikas is that they made the Quemado Mountain holy when they began living there. They show their respect to and appreciation for the mountain in countless ways. One admirable thing which humans have is the ability to change our environment. When done carelessly and without thought this leads to such clear ecological disasters as the Athabasca Oil Sands and the Canadian First Majestic Silver Corp’s plans for El Quemado. Yet when done with conscientious respect it is marvellous what we can create.

Feel like you don't have your own 'sacred space'? Maybe you can create one...Photo by David Ashwanden

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

References

  1. Greenpeace, 2015. ‘Stop theTar Sands’. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/stop-the-tar-sands/

  2. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.acfn.com/#!about/c1enr

  3. Stacy B. Schaefer, Peter T. Furst, People of the peyote: Huichol Indian history, religion & survival. UNM Press, 1998. p. 236

  4. Bonewits, I, 1979/2007. “Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso- and Neo”. http://www.neopagan.net/PaganDefs.html

  5. Psychic Deli, 2013. “Occupy Quemado: Holy Mountain or Holey Mountain?” Psychedelic Press, 1/3/13. http://psypressuk.com/2013/03/01/occupy-quemado-holy-mountain-or-holey-mountain/

  6. Lewis, Dr J, 2012. “Huichol Indians Protest Silver Mining Plan at Sacred Mountains”. Silverseek, 23/2/12

  7. Ferre, E.C, 2015. “The Many Uses of Silver”. http://geology.com/articles/uses-of-silver/

  8. Fairphone, 2015. “About Us”.www.fairphone.com/story

Springtime Sowing at Seedy Sunday

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

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

The Seed Swap table. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Seed Swap table. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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

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

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

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

This way for seeds! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

This way for seeds! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Brilliant! So how does it work?

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

Lights in trees greet the attendees. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Lights in trees greet the attendees. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Greeted by Abundance. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Greeted by Abundance. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

What to do?

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

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

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

Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Learn, save…celebrate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring’s coming

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

References

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

On travel and diversity

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

Finding land

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

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

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

Have land – now what to do?

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

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

The issue of time

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

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

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

Travelling farms

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

Nomadic landworkers

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

References

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