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.
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.
When walking the country you might wonder, how do we find somewhere safe to camp? Or how do we find help?
Almost every village still has a church and a pub, and as a traveller I’m really coming to appreciate the refuge they offer. Going to the local village pub is a great way to get information and calling up the local church warden helps you find somewhere safe to camp. Churches also shelter you from the rain whilst libraries welcome you to sit, use the computer and get information. They want nothing from you, only your presence. One of the things I’ve noticed which is so important is the availability of toilets and public drinking fountains. Many places have gotten rid of them, which means that you have to go into a commercial space, like a café, and if you’re not buying something you may not be welcome. To have free public access to the most basic things like a toilet, water and a shelter make the difference between feeling part of society and safe, or excluded and insecure. As water, toilets, shelter are all privatised and the government is trying to privatise our healthcare, are we saying that we want those without the ability to pay to cease to exist? Simple things are enough to make you feel welcome, accepted, valid.
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.
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.