Visiting the permaculture garden at Tapley Park is a beautiful experience not just because it looks great but because the layers of fruit trees, shrubs and other plants strengthen and add to each other so that they grow better together. The word permaculture come from permanent agriculture, a way of farming that works with the ecosystem rather than in conflict with it. By combining species and not using artificial fertilizers or pesticides, farmers are able to get food whilst building soil and increasing biodiversity. We’ll see a lot more of these ideas during the tour!
Visiting Tapley Park near Instow would be a treat anyway, but meeting Hector Christie is a delight. His enthusiasm for people, the environment, highland cattle, playing football and mischief can’t help but make you warm to him. For several years Hector’s battle has been against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Hector explains to me that the safety concerns regarding GMOs also extends to the system within which they are used. Often the reason for modifying the organism is to make it resistant to a pesticide so that stronger pesticides can be used to remove weeds. The best selling pesticide Roundup is made by agrochemical company Monsanto. The active ingredient glyphosate is safety tested, but the final product is not, yet other ingredients in the product called adjuvants break down the cell walls to enable the glyphosate to enter and kill it. This means that the final product behaves differently to what is safety tested. Following the public outcry in the UK about GMOs they were rejected by many food stores, but they have been quietly creeping into our food. There is no requirement to label them and most of us are unaware. Hector is organising a national demonstration against GMOs later this month on May 20th and demonstrations are taking place all over the country.
Then on May the 24th there will be an international day of demonstrations and marches against Monsanto to Get Monsanto Out.
A couple of days ago I was walking through the woods when I came accross a beautiful shire horse, all harnessed up. It turned out that he was being used to drag Sitka Spruce trees out from the wood to increase bidiversity and for use in a biomass boiler! The man conducting the operation was John Williams who was well aware of the value of maintaining traditional practices.
We’ll have more of a use for these horses as fossil fuels decline with peak oil.
You can see the horse in action here.
Then just yesterday I met Jonathan who runs a gorgeous B&B called Higher Bidicott Farm, where he farms with horses and has done all his life! He trains around three working horses a month for other people so that they can be used on other farms too.
By accident I stumbled accross E & TVR. These mysterious letters signify the Exeter and Teign Valley Railway. A railway that was dismantled not because it was unprofitable or because it was unused, but as part of a government policy which happened decades before I was born. Colin Burges has made it his lifes passion to campaign for a reinstatement of railways, especially those that are largely still intact. He sees a future where cars are off the road and people and goods are back on the rails.
The E&TVR visitors center is a whimsical and sometimes darkly funny look at his love of the railway and desire for a more environmentally conscious transport policy – the thing that caught my eye was a crushed car labelled “The only green car”! I spent the night in the beautiful minature railway car, Tadpole, which was lovingly made by Colin and normally sleeps children whilst adults often book the larger Toad. As well as the restored line, loading yard, and information hut there is also a small rail car that children can take rides in. Located next to a beautiful river, it’s a very peaceful spot.
If you are nearby I would heartily recommend learning from the displays and from the very knowledgeable Colin himself. I give you fair warning though, don’t expect an ‘easy ride’ if you arrive by car! 🙂
Acorns learning at Oakwood Denbury is an outdoor leaning center run by a family. Steph and I arrived to find an outdoor fire, a long table with food and friends celebrating with their children. I won’t tell you too much about the center but rather invite you to go and experience it. With food growing and an equal weight on emotional literacy as well as numeracy. Sharona one of the founders shared this with us:
We’re all on a journey as humans. I really felt alone but now there’s a feeling that we’re in this mass community.
The site certainly had a rocky journey getting going because of difficulties getting planning permission, despite the fantastic work they do. But they recieved nearly a hundred letters of support including from Satish Kumar and Schumacher College. Steve tells me:
We’re still putting our head above the parapet just by being here. People have been frightened by it.
Looking at the beautiful wooden teaching huts, the growing plants and the circle of wooden stools the madness of such fear is apparent.
Embercombe is located near High Ashton and is more about your inner transformation than the practical skills you will learn, although there are sustainable skills to explore. The large site runs a wide range of programs for different groups and ages and through their volunteer program people come to live on the site for several months and change their lives. I spoke with the founder Mac about those who come to Embercombe. More information will be in the final documentary after the tour. The key emphasis has been on the inner changes to enable people to act, which in these times has now become so important.
Speaking with some of the volunteers it’s clear that their time here has been amazing ,challenging and life changing.
It’s really good at opening your eyes to what you do and who you are.
A place where you can really BE, with genuine people who reflect you back.
The first days in Totnes have been incredible, pictures and videos will be up soon but here’s a taster of this amazing town.
These days Totnes is usually best know as the home of Transition – a process for moving your community towards a positive future away from fossil fuels. Transition Network now includes groups around the world and their website is a fantastic resource of “how to”s and inspiration.
Oddly the first thing I noticed on the way to Steph Bradley’s beautiful cottage are that the verges in the areas around Totnes have a wider range of plant species than I’m used to – Devon council has taken the enlightened step of not cutting them and leaving them for the bees and other life.
The town itself is a beautiful tourist location with a castle, dozens of independent traders, gurgling river, rare breeds farm and steam train. I like to do a ‘smile test’ in places and see how many people smile back and how long it takes them. Totnes is a big 9\10 on my totally random measure – most are already smiling at you!
Rob Burbea resident Buddist meditation teacher at Gaia House shared some of his thoughts on meditation and climate change as well as introducing us to DANCE (Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement). It is wonderful for me when I see a spiritual respect for our existence being translated into how we live in the world. More on this wonderful aspect will be in the documentary of the Buzz Tour.
The people and organisations of Totnes have engaged with positive change to such an extent that despite the towns small size there are several environmental event going on every day! The South Devon Green Living magazine Reconnect is an astonishing collection of news and views, many of the achievements right here in Totnes.
One event we were able to attend was the Community Conversation organised by Schumacher College. With key words like ‘Exploration’, ‘Transformation’ and ‘Subversive thinking’ groups made a collage on the theme, discussing the issues it raised. Schumacher College offers courses on sustainable living by using active participatory learning – doing rather than listening. Their courses focus on three systemic areas of our society – economics, design and food. If you are thinking you need some learning to help you move forward, their courses would be a great choice.
The Community Conversation draws allies together and one of the interesting people I met was Josh from Network of Wellbeing where they support putting wellbeing into practice.