Tag Archives: permaculture

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.

DSC_1469

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.

IMG_3235

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)

References

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/

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Advancing in Permaculture: Ideas for Achieving Dreams!

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

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

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

Practicalities!

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

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

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

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

Live updates from the course to follow…

References

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

Seed Saving for Beginners

Now that spring is officially here and the balance of light has tipped towards days being longer than nights, many people are beginning to get our gardens ready for an abundant year.

One of the key parts of growing your own crops – whether for food, as companion plants or simply to look pretty – is saving seeds from your own varieties so that you can grow them again next year.

Seed saving is rewarding and very useful in terms of food security and helping plants become adapted and resilient. The techniques are pretty simple, and I have already written some basic seed saving tips here (1) which focus mainly on how to harvest seeds once you have produced them. But how do you get to the point where you have some seeds you believe are worth saving?

This Equinox, I was joined by a lovely (and coincidentally, all female) group of keen beginner seed savers at the Oasis Nature Garden (2) in Stockwell to explore some ways of growing crops to save seed. Below are the notes from my workshop.

If you were not at the workshop, hopefully the notes will still serve to inspire and guide you a little. If you feel like you need more, perhaps it’s worth considering attending a seed saving workshop of your own.

Introduction

The workshop was organised as part of the ‘Spring Re-skilling Workshop’ (ref) series run by the London Freedom Seed Bank (3). The aims of the London Freedom Seed Bank are to:

  1. Educate people to help them to save seeds properly through trainings into how to ensure biodiversity, quality and varietal purity
  2. Provide a community resource for people to utilise as a seed bank (3)

My workshop goes through the first point. After the workshop, participants could take home a variety of their choice from the Seed Bank, to grow and save seeds from which they can then pass back to the Seed Bank during the Autumn Harvest festival.

This is the workshop plan:

Workshop Plan - Design by Charlotte Haworth

Workshop Plan – Design by Charlotte Haworth

 

  1. Why save seed?

You may want to save seed to save money (so you don’t have to keep buying new seeds every year), to keep a variety which is not generally available, or to create an abundance of seeds which you can share with others. The Heritage Seed Library (4) – a great resource for any seed saver, and well worth a look – also gives these reasons why people might want to save seeds:

– To preserve a link with the past

– To assure a supply of a particular variety

– “Making a deliberate stand against current trends in the seed industry” *(we will go into more detail about this in section 2)

-To create surplus seed

– Because they have always done so….

– To stop genetic erosion and preserve biodiversity (5)

When we save seeds, we are taking our autonomy over what we are producing, preserving and consuming. It is important when we do this that we understand what open pollinated techniques are, and how they differ from commercial seed production techniques.

  1. The difference between Commercial and Open Pollinated

Most commercial seeds – whether they are for sale for farmers in the large-scale agriculture industry, or for home-growing gardeners, are produced specifically for ease of growing all crops more or less the same i.e. all of the crops will be suited to more or less the same environment, will need the same chemical inputs, and will crop at more or less the same time. For commercial growers who have to fulfil the demands of market quotas this is very useful (1). Indeed, in the EU it is illegal for seeds to be sold for commercial use which do not conform to strict criteria of “Distinctiveness, Uniformity and Stability” (1, 6).

F1

To this end, many commercial seeds are bred to conform to these standards. One method which has been discovered of creating seeds which produce crops that are distinctive, uniform and stable is to hybridise, or cross-breed, two different strains from the same family. The resulting offspring all contain the same genetic material and so all follow more or less identical growing patterns. This type of seed-breeding is known as “F1” as the seeds created are the “first filial” generation of the new variety.

Can you save seeds from F1 varieties?

As F1 varieties have two different parents, when you save seeds from them to plant the resulting offspring will revert to either one of the two parents, or a random mix of them. This means they will not grow “true to type”: you will not be able to save a particular variety from them as you cannot guarantee what characteristics the plants will have.

If you wish to create your own, new variety, saving seeds from F1 varieties may be a good place to start. Then you need to save seeds from numerous successive generations (at least four generations are needed to stabilise the variety), killing all of the plants which do not exhibit the varieties you are looking for, so that you can create a strain which is pure. This is the method which breeders use, but it involves a lot of trial and error, and sacrificing of plants which you will not be able to use for eating or other things. As such, saving seeds from F1 varieties is not suitable for anyone except those wishing to dedicate time and space to breeding new varieties.

If you simply wish to save seeds for use next year, it is definitely better to grow crops from Open Pollinated seeds.

Open Pollinated techniques

When seeds are Open Pollinated (sometimes shortened to OP), it means that they reproduce naturally. Seeds created using this technique are resilient, adaptable to numerous climatic and chemical changes and variable. The last characteristic is important to note as it means that when using OP seeds you need to actively preserve the varietal strain by making sure that they are not too variable.

  1. Life Cycle

This is a generalised, simplified version of the life cycle of a plant:

The Life Cycle - Design by Charlotte Haworth

The Life Cycle – Design by Charlotte Haworth

For most growers, especially commercial growers, they only reach the second stage and then cut the cycle short by harvesting all plants. Even if the plant is being grown for the seed as a crop, as with corn (zea mays) or fruits such as tomatoes (Solanum Lycopersicum) and peppers capsicum annuum), then chances are that if the seed is harvested and re-planted the plants will not grow true-to-type (see Section 2, above).

The growers then have to buy new seeds if they wish to continue growing the following year. This is very useful for commercial seed producers as they have a continuing customer base.

But how do the seeds keep being produced?

If you are interested in the life cycle, it is important to note that even with commercial seeds, someone somewhere is going through the whole life cycle – even if they are F1, they still need to keep producing parent plants for the hybridised seeds. However, the commercial life cycle looks more like this:

Life Cycle Interrupted - Design by Charlotte Haworth

Life Cycle Interrupted – Design by Charlotte Haworth

The seeds which are then available to the public will not be true to type when re-planted. When you look at who owns what in the commercial seed market (see for example seed co mind map) it is clear that there are only a few key companies. It is not in their short-term financial interests to preserve a wide variety of crops as these are more difficult to maintain, so they do not. Since the Second World War, we have lost an estimated 70% (7) of our food crop varieties.

Agropoly - Source: Philip H. Howard www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability (2009)

Agropoly – Source: Philip H. Howard http://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability (2009)

One more thing to note which may be of interest is that all of the major seed companies are also agrichemical companies so it is in their interest to produce seeds which rely on or are adapted to heavy use of e.g. fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. This is true even of seeds which are not F1 – they will still have been bred to be reliant on a ‘junk food’ diet.

What do points 1, 2 and 3 mean about saving seeds?

– It is important to save seeds if we wish to have greater nutritional choice, biodiversity and food security

– Seed saving is about creating a diversity of choices in terms of numbers of varieties available but at the same time is about keeping those varieties distinct to create more adaptability and resilience

So, when we are saving seeds, we need to be thinking about the wider picture of keeping many different varieties – some of which have been bred for hundreds or sometimes thousands of years – alive. However, on a practical, individual level, it is just as important to consider the importance of varietal purity and ensuring we keep our strains from mixing with others.

  1. Cross-pollinating and self-pollinating plants

To make our seed saving as easy as possible, we also have to be aware of some more distinctions.

Annuals, perennials and biennials

Many of our garden crops are annuals – this means that they naturally die after one growing season, so their seeds are produced at the end of that growing season.

Some examples of common annual crops include

– Tomatoes (Solanum Lycopersicum)

– Lettuce (Lactuca Sativa)

– Peas (Phaseolus Vulgaris)

– Peppers (Capsicum Annuum)*

*These are annual crops in temperate regions, though in the tropics/warm environments such as hothouses, can be grown as perennials.

Many of our garden crops are biennials – this means they take two years to complete their growing cycle, so you have to care for them for this long if you wish to harvest seed from them.

Some examples of biennial crops include

– Carrot (Daucus Carota subsp. Sativus)

– Parsnip (Pastinaca Sativa)

– Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Kohl Rabi (Brassica Oleracea)

– Beetroot and Chard (Beta Vulgaris)

Many of our garden crops are perennials – their life cycle lasts more than two years and it can be a number of years before they produce seeds.

Some examples of perennial crops include

– Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

– Globe Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)

– Blackcurrant (Ribes Nigrum)

– Gooseberry (Ribes Grossularia)

*Strawberries, though a perennial shrub, can be disregarded when it comes to seed saving as all cultivated strawberries are produced using hybridisation (of Fragaria x Ananassa) and therefore will not produce true-to-type offspring. Most crops grown in this way are clones.

Reproduction

In order to reproduce and create seeds, plants need to reproduce using flowers which have both male and female parts which need to exchange pollen for reproduction to happen(this is true for the majority of plants, and all relevant food crops). This pollen exchange can happen by wind, insects or other menas. With flowers, it is important to note two further distinctions, the difference between self-pollinating and cross-pollinating plants.

Self-pollinating

            Plants which are self-pollinating can reproduce with themselves i.e. they . These plants are also known as self-fertile.

Flowers which have the capacity for self-pollination have the male and female parts in the same flower. These flowers are known as perfect flowers.

 

Cross-pollinating

Plants which are cross-pollinating have male and female parts in separate flowers; sometimes on the same plant and sometimes on different plants. These are known as imperfect flowers.

Cross-pollinating plants have the capacity to cross-breed with any other variety in that species. For some crops, this is a huge variety; for example, your broccoli seeds can cross-breed not only with other broccoli varieties but also with any other variety in the same family (brassica oleracea) – this includes cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts and swede!

So which plants are easiest to save seeds from?

As a beginner seed saver, or an experienced seed saver who wants to ensure the best success possible, the easiest plants to save seeds from are going to be annual crops (so that you only have one growing season before you can harvest the seeds) which are self-fertile (so that there is less risk of cross-pollination).

Great! So, er…how do I know which ones these are?

Though the botany of perfect and imperfect flowers is quite simple, it may not be possible to tell whether a plant is self-pollinating just from looking at it. These pictures are all of plants which are self-pollinating:

Phaseolus Lunatus (Lima Bean) - Drawn by Charlotte Haworth

Phaseolus Lunatus (Lima Bean) – Drawn by Charlotte Haworth

Lactuca Sativa (Lettuce) - Drawn by Charlotte Haworth

Lactuca Sativa (Lettuce) – Drawn by Charlotte Haworth

Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) - Drawn by Charlotte Haworth

Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) – Drawn by Charlotte Haworth

As you can see, the flowers are variable in shape, colour, number of petals etc. Therefore it is useful to look up whichever crop you are planning to grow to make sure it is self-pollinating. Two useful resources are the Plants for a Future database, and the HSL guidelines, which also go into more detail about the biological aspects.

  1. Seed Saving from Self-pollinating plants

Even with self-pollinating plants, cross-pollination can still be an issue, so it may be best to only grow one variety from every family you plan to save seed from.

Rogueing

      When you are growing plants for seed, you have to be prepared to sacrifice some of the plants in order to ensure varietal purity and high-quality seed. You need to keep an eye on your plants, and if any of them seem to be exhibiting characteristics which are not typical of the strain, you need to take them out and kill them before they begin flowering. The same is true of any plants which are not as strong or healthy as the others.

This practice is known as “rogueing” and it needs to be factored in to your planting plan. However many plants you want to end up with, you need to plant more to take into account the ones you may have to get rid of. The HSL guidelines go into more detail on amounts for specific species.

Some self-fertile annual varieties and tips on saving seeds from them

All of these crops are self-pollinating annuals:

– Broad Beans (Vicia Faba)

– French Beans (Phaseolus Vulgaris)*

– Lettuce (Lactuca Sativa)

– Lima Bean (Phaseolus Lunatus)

– Pea (Pisum Sativum)

– Peanut (Arachis Hypogaea)

– Pepper – Sweet and Chili (Capsicum Anuum)

– Runner Beans (Phaseolus Coccineus)*

– Tomato (Solanum Lycopersicum)

 

I will go into detail here about one variety, the Tomato (Solanum Lycopersicum) – a very easy plant to save seeds from and recommended by many as the first to try.

For detailed guidlines on the others check out the HSL guidelines.

All tomatoes are self-fertile, with 3 exceptions:

– Solanum pimpinellifolium (currant tomato) – generally thought of as the wild ancestor of the tomato.

– Potato-leaved varieties of tomato of which there are at least 400. Some examples include: Brandywine True Black and Cherokee Purple.

If unsure, you can check out www.tatianastomatobase.com (8) which has a comprehensive list of varieties

– Double Blossom Beefsteak

If your tomatoes are not one of these three exceptions then you can grow more than 1 variety at a time

– When growing for seed, bear in mind that different varieties produce different amounts of seeds and it is not always the case that the bigger the fruit the more seeds.

– The seeds are inside the fruit. Best way to harvest the seeds is to allow the fruit to ripen on the plant. Make sure the fruits you are harvesting seeds from are fully mature – even though firm tomatoes are good to eat, the seeds will not be ready until the fruit is fully ripe.

Saving – Use the fermentation method. I go into detail about how to do this here: Seed Saving Part 2 (1).

Tomato seeds need to be fermented in order to ensure viability because of the coating around each seed which inhibits germination. Fermentation also destroys seed-borne diseases.

– One thing to mention is that when using the fermentation method you need to check the seeds in the water every day and strain the water and bad seeds out as soon as the mould appears, as if you leave it too long, they may start to sprout!

Storage: Make sure you dry the seeds properly in a well-ventilated, dry space. HSL recommends a plate or sheet of glass, if you have one lying around. Then store them in a packet with the date and variety written clearly on it.

– Tomato seeds can be viable for up to 6 years when stored correctly.

References

1. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Seed Saving, part 2: Practical ways to save seed’.  https://permaculturenews.org/2014/11/14/seed-saving-part-2-practical-ways-to-save-seed// – retrieved 28/3/15

  1. Oasis, 2014. ‘Oasis Play: Nature Garden’. http://oasisplay.org.uk/come-and-play/nature-garden/ – retrieved 28/3/15
  2. London Freedom Seed Bank, 2014. ‘About Us’. https://londonfreedomseedbank.wordpress.com/about/ – retrieved 28/3/15
  3. Garden Organic, 2015. ‘Heritage Seed Library Seed Saving Guidelines’. http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/seed-saving-guidelines– retrieved 28/3/15
  4. Garden Organic, 2015. ‘Heritage Seed Library Seed Saving Guidelines: Why save Seed?’ Available as a PDF here: http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/sites/www.gardenorganic.org.uk/files/resources/hsl/1_WhySaveSeed.pdf – retrieved 28/3/15
  5. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Seed Saving part 1: Seedy Issues’. Permaculture News, 18/10/14. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/10/18/seed-saving-part-1-seedy-issues/ – retrieved 28/3/15
  6. Bifurcated Carrots, 2007. ‘Biodiversity Begins at Home’. http://bifurcatedcarrots.eu/2007/10/biodiversity-begins-at-home/ – retrieved 28/3/15
  7. Tatiana’s Tomato Base, 2015. ‘Main Page’. http://tatianastomatobase.com/wiki/Main_Page – retrieved 28/3/15

 

Oxford Real Farming Conference: Inviting Real Ideas for Real Sustainability

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

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

Farming and feeding

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

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

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

Learning

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

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

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

Real farming, real people!

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

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

References

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

The Biodiversity Web and How we can Re-Thread It

From a cursory glance into your local shop or most media outlets, it could seem that the trend of high-input, intensive farming – wherein monoculture-grown crops which are bought at low prices then transported to be sold at high prices or, in many cases, thrown away or left in the fields to rot – is the norm of today’s world (see for example 1). This has many problems, not least that this type of farming is in no way sustainable and the systems surrounding it involves an estimated 30 – 50% (1.2 – 22 billion tonnes) of food being wasted annually, before it even reaches a human stomach (2).

The factors surrounding such inefficiencies are many, but luckily, they are not the only way. Low-input, efficient and sustainable farming has been practised by many groups for centuries if not millennia (see for example 3); and though recent decades have seen the rise of large machinery, disregard for biodiversity and ecology and factory-farmed animals and crops (see for example 3), concepts such as sustainability and biodiversity are gradually becoming popular once more. Key names of the sustainable design movement of the past thirty years include Masanobu Fukuoka who recommends very low-input agricultural techniques such as ‘No-dig Farming’ (4) and use of seed bombs (see for example 5); and Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who coined the term ‘Permaculture’ and the principles with which one can use such a design style in practice (see for example 6, 7).

The Web of Biodiversity - visible in many places if you know where to look. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Web of Biodiversity – visible in many places if you know where to look. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Caring for our world: not just for the minority!

These names, though well-known to people already interested in sustainable growing, may be completely unheard of to most of the public, including, probably, many farmers who are utilising what could be called ‘Permaculture’ or ‘Natural Farming’ simply through their own recognition of the holistic nature of the world and their respect for this while maintaining awareness of how to use the energies around them to create enough resources for themselves. Even in the world of what could be called ‘conventional’ farming, however, such ideas are permeating. In 2013 the UN Conference on Trade and Development published a report, entitled Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now (8). This is not a bunch of alternative thinkers or unconnected-to-the mainstream farmers; but the UN, an internationally recognised and (more or less) respected organisation.  The report recommends

“A rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.” (9)

This shift would not be possible without a fundamental reappraisal of our relationship with our environment. We need to consider what has been coined the ‘true cost’ (10) of farming; not just the price of the crop itself, which is in any case subject to the tides of the international market, but the cost to the environment of what is going into the farming. Philip Lymbery and Isabel Oakeshott, co-authors of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat (11) refer to studies (see for example 12) which show that when looked at in this holistic way it is clear that as well as the environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity caused by high-input monoculture and factory farming, it is in fact less efficient – indeed, farmers actually lose money by utilising such methods -and worse for our health. For more details on this, see my report here (13)

When these factors are taken into account, it seems impossible to take the words of groups such as Syngenta and Bayer, who claim that large-scale agriculture with high use of chemicals in necessary for crop production (see for example 14), with much serious credence.

The joys of having many fruit varieties! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The joys of having many fruit varieties! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

A Different Way…

There are, indeed, many groups who are experimenting with other ways of farming which take into account animal, environmental and social welfare, without forgetting the welfare of the farmers themselves. The shift is, in many ways, a subtle one and involves us all starting to look at things from a holistic perspective. We can all be conscious of the ‘web’ of biodiversity which surrounds us and connects to us; whether we are designing a farm, a home-scale garden or simply our week’s activities. As we all eat food, regardless of whether or not we have access to land for production, so somewhere we are all affecting the way in which that food is grown. One of the simplest ways in which we can become more aware of how to help create beneficial connections is just becoming aware of the different factors involved. From many years of involvement in practical projects for sustainable living I feel that these factors can be split into the following main categories:

  • Seed sovereignty – The need for autonomy and diversity of seed choice in order to create more sustainable and secure food systems
  • Critical Education – Passing on of key skills in growing, such as seed saving and sustainable, regenerative or holistic farming (otherwise known as permaculture, agro-ecology and any number of indigenous terms); but also other key skills to help society to become regenerative and sustainable, such as effective communication methods and social designs (for more on this see for example 14)
  • Food sovereignty – Linked to seed sovereignty, this involves re-integration of food networks into locally autonomous ones, and re-distribution of food surplus in the short term leading to self-regenerating food systems which create zero or very little waste in the long term. On a personal level, putting this strand into practice can be as simple as getting involved with your local vegbox scheme or food re-distribution group.
  • Networking- Creating links between different groups and individuals for mutual benefit and to avoid duplication and waste

These three come under the broad theme which it is probably prudent to remember, and which has many names though I am calling it:

Culture of Biodiversity –The need to recognise, appreciate and celebrate the need for biodiversity to benefit the heath of the planet and of ourselves, and to strive to improve this at all levels.

This can apply to many aspects of life, whether it is a diversity of currencies, such as supplementing one’s salary with work-exchange, use of LETS (15) and CSA credits (16) and local currencies; of people, such as exploration of the rich mixture of cultures which is available to us; and of plants, such as use of heirloom seeds and trees or buying odd varieties of vegetables to encourage preservation of different genes, and collection and cultivation of rare or forgotten plants which still may be of key use to us as a society.

The above list is by no means exhaustive but it seems that when we take into account the importance of seed sovereignty, critical education, food sovereignty and networking along with the broad theme of a culture of biodiversity we can begin truly cultivating a sustainable world.

Real farming

  With this in mind, it is refreshing to find so many groups who are already working towards these things. At seed level, we have events such as the Great Seed Festival (16) and Seedy Sunday (17) and the newly set up South West Seed Saver’s Co-op (18) and the Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Co-op (19) (BPBSC), as well as the London Freedom Seed Bank (20), Open Pollinated Seed (21) and the Heritage Seed Library (23) who are promoting seed saving of heritage varieties.

From seed to fruit; with groups such as the Brighton Permaculture Trust (24) who can plant a heritage-variety orchard for you, and who are involved in the Orchards Without Borders cross-cultural exchange project (25) (26).

For education there are innumerable campaigns and organisations out there to hep you to decide for yourself what is right, from the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (27) to Beyond GM (28) or Compassion in World Farming (29), as well as actual education establishments such as the Schumacher College (30), the Centre for Agro-ecology, Water and Resilience (31) and online resources such as those offered by the Soil Food Web (32). One downside to such establishments is the somewhat exclusive cost of many of the courses on offer, though this may begin to change as our culture begins to shift away from dependence on solely money as a currency, or as people become more autonomous with food and shelter and so have more money available for other things.

In terms of promoting a culture of biodiversity there are a number of groups such as the Permaculture Association of Britain (33), who promote permaculture in practice through the Diploma programme and the LAND Permaculture Demonstration Network, and the Gaia Foundation (34), which amongst other things is encouraging indigenous growing practices to promote biodiversity.

With such a wealth of actions going on from such a diverse range of groups, suddenly the future seems altogether more hopeful. Yet it is when we come together that our actions can really come alive, and that is where the networking side of things comes in.

Next week, I shall be attending an event which brings together many of the above-mentioned groups and individuals, as well as a whole host more; the Oxford Real Farming Conference (35). partly set up as an “antidote to the official Oxford Farming Conference” but mainly as a place for people to engage with positive actions and solutions, “to ask what the world really needs, and what’s possible, and to show what really can be done” (35), the Conference is now in its 6th year, with over 550 delegates planning to swoop upon Oxford this coming Tuesday.

Conference Networking

This year’s ORFC focusses on four main strands of alternative farming:

Farming Outside the Box: “fresh ideas and vibrant discussions at an event designed by farmers for farmers” (36)

Digging Deep: “economic and political trends that are shaping farming –– and at the deep ideas, of morality and science, that form the zeitgeist and underpin all our attitudes and actions” (37)

New Generation, New Ideas: “farmers and of everyone else who completes the food chain – bakers, butchers, distributors, retailers” (38)

Nuts and Bolts: “in depth discussion of all aspects of real farming” (39)

Each strand features speakers and there are also practical workshops for those who wish to get really in-depth.

The Oxford Real Farming Conference is just one of many examples of the power of networking, and I shall be reporting from it this Tuesday and Wednesday, 6 and 7 January 2015. Check this blog for inside information on all things Real (farming)!

References

  1. Collapse of Industrial Civilization, 2014. ‘Monoculture: Food Variety Tree’. http://collapseofindustrialcivilization.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/food-variety-tree-754.gif – retrieved 4/01/15
  2. Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 2013. “Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not”. Institution of Mechanical Engineers: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0 – retrieved 4/01/15
  3. Kirschenmann, F, 2004. ‘A Brief History of Sustainable Agriculture’. The Networker: Volume 9, No. 2. Science and Environmental health Network: Iowa. Available online here: http://www.sehn.org/Volume_9-2.html#a2 – retrieved 4/01/15
  4. Fukuoka, M, 1985. The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy. Bookventure: Online
  5. Bones, J, 1995. “On a Green Mountain: Interview with Masanobu Fukuoka, Sensei of Natural Farming”. Wildness Rus, 1995. Archived content. Available as an internet archive here: http://web.archive.org/web/20051224120427/http://www.seedballs.com/gmmfpa.html – retrieved 4/01/15
  6. Mollison, B, 1988. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. Tagari Publications: Tasmania
  7. Holmgren, D, 2011. Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. Permanent Publications: The Sustainability Centre, Hampshire
  8. 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 4/01/15
  9. UNCTAD, 2013. ‘Key Messages’. 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 4/01/15
  10. Lamberley, P and Oakeshott, I, 2014. Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. Bloomsbury: London
  11. Emily S Cassidy et al, 2013. Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034015. “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare”. University of Minnesota: Minneapolis
  12. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Meat Industry and Ideas for What We Can Do About It’. Permaculture News, 15/04/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/04/15/meat-industry-ideas-can/ -retrieved 4/01/15
  13. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Scientific Research Condemns Neonicotinoid Pesticides: What More Will it Take?’ Permaculture News, 17/07/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/07/17/scientific-research-condemns-neonicotinoid-pesticides-will-take/ -retrieved 4/01/15
  14. Macnamara, L, 2012. People and Permaculture: Caring and Designing for Ourselves, each Other and the Planet. Permanent Publications: The Sustainability Centre, Hampshire
  15. Letslink UK, 2014. ‘Welcome! So what are LETS?’ http://www.letslinkuk.net -retrieved 4/01/15
  16. Soil Association, 2014. ‘Community Supported Agriculture’. http://www.soilassociation.org/communitysupportedagriculture – retrieved 4/01/15
  17. Great Seed Festival, 2014. ‘The Great Seed Festival: Celebrating the Seeds that Feed Us’. http://www.greatseedfestival.co.uk – retrieved 4/01/15
  18. Seedy Sunday, 2014. ‘Seedy Sunday Brighton’. http://seedysunday.org – – retrieved 4/01/15
  19. Land Worker’s Alliance, 2014. ‘South West Seed Saver’s Coop’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/south-west-seed-savers-cooperative/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  20. Biodynamic Association, 2014. ‘Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Co-op’. http://www.biodynamic.org.uk/farming-amp-gardening/seeds/biodynamic-plant-breeding-and-seed-co-operative.html – retrieved 21/12/14
  21. London Freedom Seed Bank, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://londonfreedomseedbank.wordpress.com/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  22. Open Pollinated Seed, 2014. ‘Introduction’. http://www.open-pollinated-seeds.org.uk/open-pollinated-seeds/Introduction.html  – retrieved 21/12/14
  23. Garden Organic, 2014. ‘What is the HSL?’ http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl – retrieved 21/12/14
  24. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2014. ‘Home’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk – retrieved 04/01/15
  25. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2014. ‘Orchards Without Borders’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/orchards/withoutborders – retrieved 04/01/15
  26. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Orchards Without Borders: Exploring Biodiversity and Culture’. Abundance Garden, 11/12/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/orchards-without-borders-exploring-diversity-and-culture/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  27. Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, 2014. ‘About’. http://bhfood.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  28. Beyond GM, 2014. ‘Beyond GM’. http://beyond-gm.org/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  29. CIWF, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.ciwf.org.uk/about-us/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  30. Schumacher College, 2014. ‘About Us’. https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/about – retrieved 04/01/15
  31. Coventry University, 2014. ‘Centre for Agro-Ecology, Water and Resilience’. http://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/areas-of-research/agroecology-water-resilience/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  32. Soil Food Web, Inc: Dr Elaine Ingham, 2014. ‘Homepage’. http://www.soilfoodweb.com – retrieved 04/01/15
  33. Permaculture Association, 2014. ‘Our Work’. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/our-work -retrieved 04/01/15
  34. Gaia Foundation, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/about-us – retrieved 21/12/14
  35. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  36. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘Farming Outside the Box’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/farming-outside-the-box/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  37. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘Digging Deep’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/digging-deep/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  38. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘New Generation, New Ideas’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/new-generation-new-ideas/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  39. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘Nuts & Bolts’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/seminars-and-technical/ retrieved 04/01/15

Orchards without Borders: Exploring Diversity and Culture

 

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

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

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

How?

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

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

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

Linking the issues

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

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

Orchards without Borders: trees which please

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

Setting off

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

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

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

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

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

Making apple pastries in the boulangerie. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Making apple pastries in the boulangerie. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Stirring the cauldron. Photo by Stephan Gehrels

Stirring the cauldron. Photo by Stephan Gehrels

Fruity Issues

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

Orchards are Alive! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Orchards are Alive! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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

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

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

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

References

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

Growing Halloween

Come We Grow

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

What is Come We Grow?

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

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

Celebrations of Growing

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

Halloween

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

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

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

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

Welcome

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

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

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

Hip hop permaculture

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

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

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

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

References

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

The Eight Festivals in the Wheel of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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