MSc End of Year Presentation with Gaia U – Agroecology, Prison Aboltion and more

After five long, hard and incredible years, I am finally about to graduate with an MSc Applied Agroecology!

On the 13th November 2018 at 10am US Pacific Time (18:00 UTC), I will be hosting my End of Year Presentation.

The presentation is 45 minutes followed by questions and answers and feedback. The whole call is 1.5 hours but you can stay as long or as short as you like. I would really appreciate folks being there.

The call will go over what I have learnt during my MSc in the fields of agroecology, food autonomy, prison abolition and more. It will share outcomes of my projects, as well as key learnings. It will also share the back story of how I manage my learning pathway and my life to make things happen. So it’s a good chance to also learn more about Gaia University and its approach to education.

To register visit: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/f6b841086ce0a34c8c34be5db4a05ad8

 

 

SoilHack 2018

SoilHack is back! And once again, taking place in Somerset. Feed Avalon is helping to make the gathering happen as part of the EAT project. Find all the details below. ***Click here to buy a ticket***

What: A weekend to share our passion, knowledge, and skills for building healthy soils

When: 26th – 27th May 2018 (arrivals welcome Friday evening)

Where: Brook End LAND Centre, Compton Dundon – near Street and Glastonbury in Somerset

Please note places are strictly limited – book early to avoid disappointment

About SoilHack

SoilHack was set up to provide a space for people to collaborate in sharing information to help better understand our soils and how to improve their health, having been inspired by the DIY spirit of the FarmHack movement. More details here: http://farmhack.org/wiki/soilhack-wiki

In recent years there has been a growing understanding of the complexity of interactions that have an effect on the soil and a growing awareness of the importance of our soil resource for future generations and to mitigate climate change . We are aware that some current methods that are used to manage the land are detrimental to soil health, but how can we move away from them and move towards regenerative practices?

There are increasing examples of people positively transforming their soils using novel techniques such as no-till/no-dig, cover cropping, biochar, and agroforestry.

The challenge, especially for people who are full-time producers, is to somehow get to grips with a toehold on the latest soil research which helps to understand why these practices work, as well as getting a sense of how and when they may be appropriate . SoilHack is a response to this, a self-organising network for sharing knowledge.

Contribute your experience, insight, and curiosity to this effort.

About the Gathering

Everyone at the gathering will be learners. It is a DIY event and it is hoped everyone will can help the gathering run smoothly. Please let us know in advance if you have ideas for workshops / sessions you would like to be involved in organising. Sessions should be participatory, science and evidence-based, and practical where possible. There is support available for designing sessions. There will also be space on the programme for self-organised workshops and sessions that arise as needed and relevant over the weekend. As well as practical workshops, there will be time set aside for discussions and strategy sessions on how to build the SoilHack movement.

How to offer a workshop

Make sure you have booked your place at the gathering. To share your idea for a session, to assist with the planning and delivery of a session or to keep up with developments please join and post to the SoilHack mail-list www.s.coop/soilhack or alternatively email the organising team soilhack@mailo.com

Please note no one is paid for giving workshops at the gathering. If you need financial support to participate, please let us know when booking.

Cost

The gathering is a not-for-profit event with financial support to enable access and participation. You choose your ticket price based on what you can afford, we ask £15 – £75 for a day ticket and £25 – £125 for a weekend ticket, which includes meals and camping. For folks who cannot afford the lowest rate, please let us know and you can be allocated one of the free places. It is hoped that individuals coming from universities, established businesses or other professional organisations can pay a higher rate.

***Click here to buy a ticket***

For any enquiries please email the organising team soilhack@mailo.com

Permaculture Design and the art of letting go of control

IMG_2124My introduction to permaculture was through doing a distance learning course about it when I was in prison. Working in a banal prison garden, permaculture became a sort of fantasy-escapism-therapy. I dreamt of overflowing gardens of produce, abundant food forests and deep rich soils. My formative ideas of permaculture weren’t grounded in pragmatic realism that a good teacher might convey in a face-to-face design course. When I got out, it was like finally – access to a playground. Unemployed and on benefits, I had plenty of time to build compost piles, make raised beds and pay attention to young seedlings in need of nurturing.

After finding work, my time available reduced and I just had to do my best in the time I had. Over the years the responsibilities continued to pile up. More paid work, ever-growing caring responsibilities supporting my family and people I love to die, intensifying numbers of prison visits for my friends left behind inside. I began to feel a sense of grief that I had lost this time on the land. I’d look out to my garden while working on the computer, contending with bureaucratic necessary evils. At this point, I still had the physical energy to try to do it all – gardening after work, waking up early to sow seeds, spending my day off each week on my hands and knees planting out and harvesting.

Finally, two years ago, I got sick. Really sick. In-and-out-of-hospital-weeping-regularly levels of pain and sickness. I could barely get out of bed let alone attend to any kind of garden. And so I developed a different relationship to the land; one where if I made it out to have a cup of tea outside, my day was a success. My herb garden, once my biggest source of pride and joy, became overgrown. Plants moved into paths, grasses invaded beds and I could not pull them out because of my inflamed rib cage. I just had to sit there and watch over time how certain plants dominated and these delicate-beautiful-heart-throb like plants who needed extra TLC to survive, they died. They were overwhelmed, just like me. It was like seeing the grief I was feeling in my body about losing my health, right there in my herbs. My herb garden bench became the place where I went to cry.

My Herb Garden in its second year
My Herb Garden in its second year

Even though my Mum who, to be honest, has always been the main gardener, did an incredible job keeping things going. I started to feel a sense of shame or embarrassment about the untended land. It is meant to be a permaculture demonstration site. I felt myself over explain to people about my illness and how I haven’t been able to do things but will ‘sort my herb garden out soon’. I found myself when giving tours, bypassing certain areas, because I felt so embarrassed about how they looked. I stopped posting beautiful pictures on Facebook of my favourite plants. Some days I wouldn’t even want to go outside because the whole place just made me feel like a massive failure and the thought of making any interventions to regain some control felt too overwhelming to think about. Yes, we could have got volunteers or woofers or friends who kept offering to help, but I could barely get out of bed let alone coordinate a group of people. My Mum had her hands full basically caring for me, looking after guests felt all too much.

And so the land changed. Brambles succeeded enveloping trees they had always had their eye on. Bare soil I was too exhausted to mulch was covered by weeds (their own kind of mulch, for sure). Beds in need of a sowing of green manure went unsown and any form of rotation or design for the vegetable garden just went completely AWOL. A lot of fruits and nuts went unharvested, and nettles that I normally dry by the bucket load went undried.

IMG_3535You know what I learnt? Nature doesn’t give a shit. Like, seriously. Yes, it feels problematic to let land ‘go to waste’ when so many people are denied access to it, and when so much of our food comes from industrial soil-destroying systems. But really, the only thing being actually harmed was my ego – my desire to have a beautiful demonstration site, my subconscious desire to show the world look how on top I am of my life and aren’t I wonderful. The apple trees weren’t grieving the fact that I hadn’t pruned them. I was grieving a sense of control that I thought I had. And letting everything go wild – it made me realise how even with a wonderful embrace of permaculture ethics, and attentiveness to ecological principles – I still had a domesticating force within me. Or at least, a desire to cultivate (and I think having a desire for a proactive relationship with the land IS really healthy).

My burnout and chronic illness that resulted from it was my body’s way of showing it cannot cope anymore. I couldn’t keep trying to control everything – to repress the feelings of grief from my dead friends, to keep pretending that prison hadn’t deeply traumatised me and wasn’t entering my dreams each night, to believe that if I just got more efficient in designing my workflow that I could somehow manage to keep a million projects going… The body said no. I cannot control everything. I have to let things go. Desire for control has been generated in me after a childhood feeling more often than not out of control, unsafe, unstable. Coupled with dealing with trauma through workaholism, you can see where this toxic mix has got me.

IMG_3504Then one day recently, I was sat on my bench and I looked at my herb garden. The wild mess that it is. And I just started to laugh, so hard. Who the hell did I think I was that I could somehow control that space? That with a little bit of effort it could look super-beautiful and enable all these unusual medicinal plants to somehow flourish in a situation beyond what their own preferred habitat is? I teach that plants are self-determining, I study plant ecology and I talk about self-willed animals and working with nature. So it wasn’t my knowledge getting in the way – it was my ego. It was the desire to impose my ‘creative order’ (in the words of Bill Mollison) on the land.

My illness has been humbling and generative of more wisdom than I could appreciate at first. So right now – yes my herb garden is a mess, yes there is bare soil around that really should be mulched, yes there is a compost pile that really needs a cover, yes there are fruit trees that could do with a prune, yes we really need to make the use of the greenhouses more, yes I need to install some gutters on the polytunnel… But right now, there isn’t. And there won’t be until I’m better. Even then, I might not do it out of laziness, lack of desire or skills or because I’m kind of gleeful in the fact that I really don’t give a f*ck right now because I’m focused on getting better. And the land? It’s fine. It’s SO fine doing its thing – and if all I can do is sit outside and drink tea and cry and appreciate its wild beauty – then it’s still doing it’s thing really damn well.

So tonight I toast to all the unkempt gardens, all the half-finished projects, all the tired-and-stressed permaculture designers and gardeners. Compost your shame, your secret areas or your guilty pleasures of mail-order plants because you failed to sow the seeds on time. We are all doing our best to survive (and hopefully destroy) capitalism – so don’t sweat it right now if your permaculture project is not what you want it to be. It never will be. But learn from what it is, help it understand your place in this rather ginormous and wonderful web of life. And it’s even more liberating when you apply this learning to your life – that you can’t manage it all, you can’t control everything. In wildness there is freedom. Sometimes you just need to let go.

Deconstructing & Decolonizing Science for Agroecology

Deconstructing & Decolonizing Science for Agroecology

Next week I will be giving my Middle of Year Presentation with Gaia University. You are super welcome to join the webinar! It’s 4pm UK time.

“During this webinar, Nicole will share her work on deconstructing science – specifically how applied agroecological science, such as soil science or plant ecology, is inseparable from agrarian social thought and social movements. This call aims to begin conversations on deconstructing science, exploring its historical and contemporary relationships to the state, capitalism, and colonialism while still embracing critical research and inquiry.

There will be a short presentation follow”

Fantastic Day learning about Fungi!

Last weekend, we had a fantastic day learning about fungi with Feed Avalon at the Red Brick Building Community Garden. As part of the Avalon Fantastic Fungi Day, volunteers inoculated logs, made mushroom bags and learnt about plants at the Avalon Wildflower Park.

A huge thank you to the Grow Wild Team who supported the event and shared their knowledge! A big thank you to all the volunteers and helpers during the day.

If you are interested in getting involved in growing mushrooms and remediating the morlands site please contact Bon. Email bon@feedavalon.org.uk

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Polytunnel Course this May

My worker’s co-op Feed Avalon is organising this Polytunnel Course that is taking place in May. Check it out!
When: Wednesday 3rd May 2017, 9.30am – 4pm
Where: Paddington Farm, Maidencroft Lane, Glastonbury, BA6 8JN

What: Don’t miss this hands-on practical course taking place at an Organic Market Garden in Somerset. Learn about all aspects of polytunnel growing.

The course will cover the basics of:

• Crop selection
• Crop rotation timing and planning
• Soil health and fertility in a polytunnel
• Watering and irrigation
• Disease and pest control (including slugs!)
• Propagation
• Planting, sowing and harvesting
• Making use of space around the outside of the tunnel

The course will also touch on construction and maintenance. The day takes place at Paddington Farm’s thriving organic market garden, which works with volunteers and groups to produce food for the Glastonbury area.

About the Tutor: Robert Macbeth is a self-taught organic market gardener. He has been running a successful 1.5 acre garden for 7 years at Paddington Farm Trust in Glastonbury, with lots of help from the trust, volunteers, and children. He also sells the produce at affordable prices at Glastonbury’s Tuesday market and a local food co-op.

Cost: The course costs £50 for the day. There are some subsidised places available.

How to book:  Please email Nicole: eat@feedavalon.org.uk

Polytunnel Course