We’ve begun work on an audio book version of Pollinating Change!
It’s been several years since we published Pollinating Change – The Buzz Tour, and an audio book has been in mind for all that time but it’s finally begun. We’ll initially be releasing the chapters one at a time for you to listen to for free online and then you’ll be able to buy the whole book. We’ve recorded about a quarter of the 34 chapters so far and aim to start releasing them this winter.
The ZAD (Zone A Defendre or Zone to Defend) in France is variously described as an occupation, a no-go area of radical militants, a resistance community, and the proposed second airport for Nantes. During my first visit to La ZAD I explored some of the reasons that people have made this beautiful place their home.
Cycling or driving into La ZAD you may be unaware that you have entered it but after a time you may come to a signpost which no longer has a place name, but instead has ‘ZAD’ spray painted pointing in each direction. Or you may come across a road with artistic barricades, a burnt out car with plants growing through it, or damaged tarmac. Whilst now, all is peaceful farmland, gardens and communities of hand-built houses, it’s clear that something big happened here a few years ago. If you want to orientate yourself and begin to explore this special place, the best place to start is La Rolandiere.
The approximately 1600 Ha of the zone is a place of creativity and independence, of living on the margins and finding a way to make it work. People build knowing that in the future the police and airport will try to tear it down, to build an airport next to another one which is only at 30% capacity. Some of the farms use machinery whilst others use only hand tools. Some choose the way they live for ideological reasons and others out of necessity. Police don’t visit the zone, but there seems little or no crime – people leave their doors unlocked and one woman told me that social disputes are discussed quickly (and at length). You won’t find a supermarket, but you can still buy your food. You can buy local vegetables, bread made with flour from La ZAD, or patisseries made with butter from the zone. If you need clothes you can go to one of the ‘free shops’ or ‘swap shops’ where unwanted clothes and objects have been carefully hung and stacked, waiting to be found by a new owner. On a Friday you can read La ZAD news about what’s been happening and upcoming events, and attend the no-market. The no-market is where people donate things and other people pay what they feel for them. The money is then used as a community fund. One of the functions of the weekly resident’s meeting is to decide on the spending of the community fund.
Each weekly resident’s meeting is attended by around 50 residents and can take anything from one hour to four, including times of silence. “I hated them at first,” Koen from Rolandiere told me, “I was really frustrated, but now I really like them. You have to get used to it, it’s a very different meeting style, it can feel very slow and like nothing has been decided. But it is important. The silences give space for people who would not normally speak to say something. And decisions can be revoked later in extreme cases if people were not present.”
To finish the week off, after building, farming or making, you can find residents swimming in the large beautiful lake (it is warm and wonderful, I checked) and playing on the salvaged pedal-lo. Yep, don’t ask, I have NO idea how they got that one.
I’ll be posting more blogs about La ZAD over the next few months as I revisit, but in the meantime you can find out more from their website.
In Hulme Community Garden Centre in Manchester I wander in the sun amongst vegetables, families and education projects to meet Helen. Helen was one of the founders of MERCi (see A hive of possibilities) and founders of Kindling. I asked her what had lead her to become so active and to create these groups.
Kindling in Manchester runs practical projects to increase food sustainability and campaign for social change. Their projects include FarmStart which is an incubator farm to help new growers get started and scale up, Forgotten Fields a project about the history of Manchester’s food growing, as well as organising many events and resources to support local growers.
It’s comforting when things you love are stable, and in Stroud it was mostly the things that hadn’t changed which caused a contented smile on my lips.
The shop Made in Stroud is still thriving (but with a few more awards), still selling locally made goods and making positive influences everyday.
The Stroud Valley’s Project is still promoting conservation and offering educational courses. They recently ran a scything workshop after seeing it done wrong on Poldark! Scything is less damaging to the environment than mowing and also helps you to easily leave rare species. The day I visited they were about to run a bat ecology course and head out with bat detectors.
Those creating positive change in Stroud had a higher average age than people I met in other towns, and had been in the town for longer. As Julie, the fundraising manager for Stroud Valleys Project says, “Who would want to move once you’ve landed here?” The town has a more stable, developed feel to the community than other places I visit. In the Stroud Valley’s Project office they have a reciprocal arrangement for work or rent with the Car Club and Transition Stroud. Transition Stroud have been running open eco-home event and open garden tours with about 1000 house visits. A new addition by Transition Stroud at the back of a closed pub is a pop-up “rain garden” to make efficient use of rainwater runoff from roofs. So simple it makes you wonder why on earth we normally pipe it all down the drain.
Stroud Against the Cuts has had a great turnout at its events and Stroud Co has become a thriving hub for selling home grown food surplus.
It feels like there are lots of people steadily making improvements in Stroud and the cumulative effect of that over many years is to have made a very special place and a very special community.
To return to projects and visit people again has a wonderful relaxing deja vu. The memories from last year are often so clear – the places and people having been captured in my notebook, on camera and as unusual special memories. So to see the progress at the community garden in Dursley was a lovely experience. Last year the garden was a concrete pad with rubble, and a whole series of dreams and diagrams.
Now there are planter boxes made from recycled crates, a shed, a polytunnel, fruit trees, flower beds and poles for a performance stage area to be built.
Vanessa has some fascinating insights about bees. A natural beekeeper for many years, Vanessa focuses on the natural ecology and well being of the bees and encourages not just honeybees but many other species including solitary bees. She does not prevent her honeybees from swarming as she views it as an important part of their life cycle for maintaining their health. Instead she anticipates where bees may swarm to and provides lots of baited hives for them to move to.
When a swarm leaves a hive, interestingly they take almost no varroa mites with them. When bees are stressed by the use of chemicals, frequent hive opening or being fed sugar syrup instead of eating their own honey, they can become unhealthy and susceptible to disease. When they do get ill the hive can become dirty and attract varroa mites. Vanessa’s latest hive, a sun hive, is intended to mimic the natural preferred habitat for honeybees.
“Bees like to be up high,” Vanessa told me, “if you see a swarm naturally they’ll almost always be much higher up in a tree where it’s less damp, rather than on the ground for our convenience.” Then there is the shape – honeybees prefer round spaces and the queen will naturally gravitate towards the top of the hive, so the sun hive allows that to happen by not using a queen excluder.
“If you make a bee hotel with cardboard tubes for solitary bees, they like it to be somewhere fairly shaded and not too damp,” said Vanessa. “The thing to remember is that this is where eggs will be.”
Vanessa was dismayed that beekeeping clothing on the market is very expensive and made in sweatshops so she also now runs a business, Buzz, selling beekeeping supplies which she has carefully sourced herself.
A year on from when I first interviewed the Avalon Community Energy (ACE) group, they’ve made some great progress. Their proposal for a local renewable energy park now has a site, which will have an anaerobic digester, and this weekend they launched their share offer so local people can now invest in the project. Starting with solar panels, the group will be gradually expanding and installing different renewable technologies and food production so that they compliment each other and form a resilient and diverse range of energy generation for the local area.
As part of the future plans for ACE, the group is considering aquaponics so I joined Maddy from ACE on a tour of bioaqua farm, where co-founder Antonio was generous enough to share his time and advice with us. I asked Antonio about the difference in nutrient content between hydroponics (plants in a water based system) and aquaponics where the plant nutrients in the water system come from fish which are farmed on the site.
Scotswood Natural Community Garden sits within one of the most deprived areas in Newcastle. They frequently suffer vandalism and theft yet for twenty years they have relentlessly worked to alter the course of peoples lives in Scotswood for the better. The vegetables get dug up, they replant them, the solar panel gets stolen, they lock things away out of hours, but all the time the garden grows, groups come, and lives are changed.
Walking around the two and a half acre site with permaculture gardens, a pond, bee hives, shelters and woodland it’s incredible to learn that originally it was a bare grass playing field. Over the decades the series of people involved with the land have created, enhanced and maintained a beautiful heart of energy for the community, despite all the flow of sadness around. Children, unemployed and refugees have all found another choice here, a flow going in a different direction that they have a chance to join.
It takes a lot of energy and strength to maintain a course against a bigger flow. The path that all those involved with at Scotswood have carved over the years is truly beautiful. Long may it flow.
The Nuttery at The National Trust’s Washington Old Hall south of Gateshead was a fantastic discovery that brightened my day. Amongst the nut orchard are wildflowers, bee hives, a pond, education projects and wonderful people. Amazingly the garden and Nuttery are free to visit, so if you are anywhere nearby it’s a great place to restore your energy with peace and beauty. I spoke with the gardener Ellaine and some of the volunteers about the Nuttery and how they came to be involved.
The weather changed a few days before I got to Darlington, there’s a chill in the air that won’t go, so I know there’s not long on the walk left now. Clervaux Bakery and Cafe was a fantastic refuge from the feelings of autumn, with it’s sunny atrium. The social enterprise cafe has homemade food and a social conscience to warm your heart, providing work experience for vulnerable young adults.
The cafe is partnered with the wider work of The Clervaux Trust, with some of the profits going to support the trust. Clervaux Trust has a 100 acre farm which it uses to give young people land and craft experience, selling veges through a delivery box scheme and crafts at the Darlingtron cafe. When bees fly they have to rest and snack at flowers, which is why it’s so important to have a wide variety of flowers all over the countryside that flower at different times. My sincere thanks to this beautiful flower for its shelter and food 🙂
The heritage campaign for West Bank Park has included funding bids, business mentors, public meetings, research and even celebrity endorsements. The Friends of West Bank Park and have worked to restore and preserve many parts of the park, and now the West Bank Heritage Project hopes to revive the heritage of the park and its legacy as a central part of the community.
With government cuts, the council presented residents in York with the lose-lose scenario that either parks, libraries or swimming pools would take cuts first. West Bank Park in Acum lost much of it’s funding and began to be left unlocked at night. Nearby residents conserned about the future of the park began to launch a campaign to build support for it.
One model that inspired the West Bank group is the successful Rowntree Park in York. The park has a library and cafe at its centre that attracts a lot of visitors to use the park as somewhere to meet and socialise.
When I came across Clements Hall they were running a Food and Fun event where older or isolated residents can enjoy a meal and a chat. The hall was renovated several years ago by the council following a campaign by residents and now offers many different community events and a lot of local people volunteer to keep it going. The hall was originally owned by the nearby St Clements Church where Edible York have created a public vegetable garden.
When asking ‘what should we visit in Nottingham?’ many people mentioned the Sumac center.
The center is a member of the Radical Routes cooperative network and has become an increasingly important part of the community. The events, activities and facilities provide the space for people to make positive changes. The popular Peoples Kitchen night was happening when we arrived. Volunteers cook up a feast and people can come and eat a delicious two course meal for just £3.50! The money raised is then donated to a good cause. This feast was in aid of the free English lessons that are offered to women at the Sumac Center.
We got chatting to a fantastic couple over dinner and the hours flew by, I can’t think of a better way to enhance your community and have a wonderful night. Thank you so much to all the volunteers who gave their time to the benefit of all.
Last week I did a two day Introduction to Permaculture course, and like everyone else I’ve met so far, LOVED IT! The wholesome and positive ideas that permaculture presents are a great way to build a stronger happier future and as you hear them, you find yourself going “well of course… yes that’s obvious… why didn’t I think that before!”. Permaculture comes from permanent agriculture and is a way of thinking and designing to live in a sustainable way and regenerate land and people.
Hannah Thorogood has been teaching permaculture for 10 years and for the last three years has been creating her home on land in Lincolnshire. The Inkpot was originally a conventionally pesticide sprayed rapeseed field which was then sown with one type of grass. In the years since Hannah and her family bought the land it has been transformed with a variety of grasses, wildflowers, new trees and vegetables. Building up the health of the land is a gradual process and it’s not finished yet.
We are working on a 20 year vision for the land and our decisions need to follow 7 generational thinking – it needs to be a ‘good’ decision for the next 7 generations.
When most governments only think a few years ahead permaculture is a radically different perspective. So what are the ethics of permaculture?
Care for the Earth
Care of people
Setting limits to population and consumption – fair share
All sounds good so far, so what are the principles from which to work?
Work with nature not against it
The problem is the solution – those dandelions? Eat them.
Make the least change for the greatest possible effect
The yield of a system is limited by your imagination
Everything gardens, every species has an effect on it’s environment. Need to weed and till the land? Chickens can do that.
Bringing a system back to balance requires slow small changes so sometimes you might just be observing and doing nothing. There is a hierarchy of intervention that permaculture describes, so you only move down the list if the first options do not work.
Do nothing and observe
Biological intervention using plants and animals
Mechanical or physical intervention
Chemical as a last resort
In permaculture everything comes back to soil, that’s the real wealth. Your account can be in the black as much as you like but everything come back to the soil.
When designing a system there are 12 design principles to help guide you, and each can be applied to a human system as well as a land one. Have a think through the implications for a community if they started to live their lives with these principles in mind, it’s a nice image.
Use edges and value the marginal
Observe and interact
Use and value renewable resources and services
Design from patterns to details (e.g. use the patterns of nature for guidance)
Catch and store energy (I love the idea of how could we store the positive energy of people)
Obtain a yeild
Creatively use and respond to change
Integrate rather than segregate
Produce no waste
Apply self regulation and accept feedback
Use and value diversity
Use small and slow solutions
As with any overall principles when you start to see them applied things get really interesting. A two day course has given me a taster, but the positive message of permaculture is one that I delight in seeing put into practice. It’s a journey not a destination and I look forward to meeting more people on this beautiful journey.
St Ann’s Allotment in Nottingham is one of the few remaining Victorian hedged allotments, which means that unlike a normal allotment, each plot is private with a hedge around it. Known as detached city gardens, the 600 plots create a huge variety of uses, and looking through the keyholes of the different coloured and shaped gates there is a sense of expectation – what will you find next?
One of the things I found was Eco Works where they run community events and host groups such as Framework, who work with vulnerable adults. Eco works run a vege box scheme and help people connect with the land to promote health and equality.
The heritage allotments were nearly demolished for housing in the 1990’s after years of dereliction, but when some of the plot holders discovered the council’s intention they launched a campaign to get the allotments listed heritage status. Forming STAA Ltd they ere able to get the allotments Grade II listing and fundraise for their restoration. With help from heritage lottery funding, they have turned the fate of the site around. Looking at the place no and all the community good that is coming out of it is a powerful reminder that if ordinary people do not act to preserve and protect their communities, it will not happen. If we want a better future we have to create it.
Heeley City Farm has the varied and cute farm animals that the word ‘farm’ might conjurer in your mind, but it also has an eco home where they are demonstrating renewable energy technologies. First, a few cute animals, because what is life without a little awwwwww.
Within the demonstration home there are solar thermal water heaters, underground heat source pumps, wool insulation and light tubes. ‘Solar thermal water heaters’ is the simple beauty of using the sun to heat black pipes filled with water, saving energy without any complex technology. Underground heat source pumps work by pumping water through pipes in the ground to extract and concentrate the heat.
Veggies is a vegan catering and campaign social enterprise based in Nottingham that provides delicious food at events like Glastonbury whilst promoting a better future for the environment and people. I spoke with Chris about their work and what it means to him to be vegan.
There have been quite a few community owned businesses during the tour so far, and I love it every time we find one. Rocklands Community Shop is a wonderful example. The way a community business works is that shares are sold to members of the community, local people staff it and often will volunteer there too. I’ve seen community pubs, a wind turbine and shops but really there’s no reason why you couldn’t use the business model for all sorts of things, whatever the community needs. The great advantage is that the money spent in the shop stays in the community. Normally when you shop at a chain store a large chunk of the money leaves the community to be paid to the head office and on to the parent company, gradually bleeding the resources from the town. If you buy at somewhere like Starbucks or Amazon almost all the money leaves your community and goes to the US, thus avoiding paying any UK tax. Community businesses are a great way to help each other stay strong.
After an Open Farm Sunday, Julie was frazzled. Over 1000 people had come to view and enjoy Cavick House Farm and it’s animals, yet when I came seeking shelter for the night she kindly let me camp, and in the morning shared their story with me.
In the outskirts of Dereham I visited Nick, a farmer and conservation enthusiast. In the course of our chats he told me about dozens of plants and insects. The range of plants on the land was clearly a great joy and interest for him, and it was wonderful to have him as my guide.
We realised during our practice walk through Oxford that it is packed with people taking action to protect the environment. We spoke to Rupert Griffin about his achievements in getting more local food available in Oxford.
Rupert now runs his own business providing local apple juice and honey.
You know when you smile at a stranger and they smile back, then you smile more, and there’s a shared moment. Those are the moments I wait for but strangely there was only an average of 10% smile return rate through Oxford. One man surprised me by cycling back to me to thank me for smiling at him and it made my day. Just keep smiling people, sometimes they smile back. 🙂
Bristol feels like a fantastic hub of activity towards positive cultural change but one of the most noticeable aspects is the food production. Next year will see Bristol become the European Green Capital, the first UK city to receive this award! This reflects the large amount of work and many vibrant projects that are going on in Bristol. There would not be space here to tell you even a fraction of what they are up to, but I would like to do is share some of the wonderful local food production I have discovered during the time here.
Walking through Bristol I’ve been struck by the number of allotments, they are big and also well used. The city also boasts city farms and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens which supports groups all over the country. If you have a community garden or city farm, or are interested in establishing one, they can provide support and advice. St. Werbergs City Farm was a wonderful place to visit with animals, growing areas, a cafe and playground.
I loved the beautiful cafe in a Gaudi style, and met some wonderful people there!
Becky volunteers at the farm and shared how she came to get involved.
Around St. Werbergs is a large area of allotments.
I also checked out part of Eastside Root Community Garden. The successful project has a limited lifespan as the railway station is being redeveloped so the group used the space in the intervening time.