Announcing SoilHack 2017

So my inner soil geek is having kittens right now. I’m SO excited about this gathering…

Soil Hack Gathering Poster Centre

SoilHack Gathering 2017

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

When: 27 – 28th May 2017 (arrivals welcome Friday evening)

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

How to book your place: Please email eat@feedavalon.org.uk
About: SoilHack is a knowledge sharing network focused on soil. It is part of the FarmHack movement and has been born out of the need to save what soils we have with the best information possible.
The first national SoilHack Gathering is taking place this summer at Brook End LAND Centre just outside Street (near Glastonbury) in Somerset. We invite you to come to contribute your experiences, share good ideas and learn about soil regeneration. This is a DIY movement where we collectively learn about soils and apply our learning in our own gardens and farms. We try to bring the best research to life and share it horizontally.
The Gathering will involve workshops led by participants with practical experience in soil biology, biochar, agroforestry, cover cropping and more. We will also create a space to explore how to build the SoilHack movement in an effort to defend, repair and build soils that are essential to life. It is a not-for-profit event with financial support to enable access and participation. Contributions are sliding scale between £25 – £125 for the weekend including meals and camping.
To book your place and offer a workshop please email eat@feedavalon.org.uk

Agroecology – from historical identity to illegal appropriation

This article spoke to me – its about the appropriation of agroecology by capitalist entities and powerholders, like the state/universities.

It’s part of a regular Nyeleni newsletter that I’d thoroughly recommend reading regularly: http://www.nyeleni.org

In a world which aims to privatise and patent everything, agroecology has been placed on the agenda of international agriculture and food governance where science, multilateral agencies and even the private sector compete for space on the playing field to have their role in the design of sustainable agricultural systems recognised. In a world which assumes to recognise the importance of small-scale food producers, agroecology seems to be becoming appropriated by others and alienated from its historical protagonists.

Eduardo Sevilla Guzman [1] says “One of the characteristics of industrialised capitalist societies is constituted by the role played by science, the institutions through which social control of change is exerted, anticipating the future with the aim of planning it. Processes of privatization, commoditisation and “scientification” of communal ecological goods (air, land, water and biodiversity) developed through the dynamic of modernization have assumed an intensification through the application of artificial physical, chemical and biological processes to cycles of nature in order to obtain foodstuffs”.

For this, it is more urgent than ever to know how agroecology was born in order to conceive public policies through the right lens. Since the origins of humanity, knowledge has been essential to life, and for this agroecology has been developed from traditional knowledge accumulated historically by peasant farmers, to which has been added the scientific knowledge of the last few centuries.

It has been peasant farmers and indigenous peoples who have identified, adapted and incorporated new elements to improve production of food, maintaining their cultural identities without damaging nature. This is the only form we should use when developing creative designs for the production and circulation of foodstuffs.

Peasant knowledge and experience, surrounded by capitalism in its distinct forms, becomes reborn from its origins and is refreshed, demonstrating real results with creativity and legitimacy and showing definitively that it is possible to have a dignified life in the countryside, maintaining a peasant and indigenous identity.

Agroecology is the social, economic, organisational, productive and political model for living in the countryside of small-scale food producers which returns the social role of food – in contrast to the capitalist system which reduces food to a commodity. It has the unique particularity of not being a homogenous model, but one which accommodates all the local agri and hydro-cultures represented by men and women farmers and peasants, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, small-scale fisheries and woodland and forest dwellers who defend their territories and the land, seeds and all natural resources, food sovereignty and buen vivir.

However, agroecology also implies a change in the paradigm of social, political and economic relations, as well as the relations between nature and society – transforming the patterns of production and consumption to build food sovereignty from the peoples of the country and the city. We know that agroecology is the only model capable of feeding the peoples of the world, but only through its protagonists – peasant farmers and indigenous peoples.

Agroecology is on the agenda and is quickly becoming the key issue in many spaces which have forgotten the real protagonists of this agricultural revolution. For this reason, government recommendations should ensure it is small-scale food producers who implement political, economic and agri-food changes of and from their territories.

[1] Eduardo Sevilla Guzmán, Agroecología y agricultura ecológica : hacia una “re” construcción de la soberanía alimentaria, Revista Agroecológica, University of Murcia, Volume 1, 2006.

Source: http://www.nyeleni.org/spip.php?page=NWarticle.en&id_article=480

New overview of Agroecological Research in the UK

The Ecological Land Cooperative have produced an overview of research on ecological agriculture in the UK. They commissioned this synopsis in order to inform their own work, and to provide a shared information resource for others in the field. The project was crowd funded back in 2011 via BuzzBnk.

A new section of their website provides an overview of research, both completed and underway, linking the browser to institutions and papers. They’ve also complied a directory of UK research institutions who engage with agroecological issues.

Check it out here: http://ecologicalland.coop/uk-agroecology

Food Sovereignty: A critical dialogue – Plenary Session Two

Starting the second plenary was Jennifer Clapp from the University of Waterloo, Canada talking about the ‘Financialization, Distance and Global Food Politics’ (conference paper # 5).

Unfortunately I missed a lot of Jennifer’s session but I did hear her describe the concept of extraction – in relationship on the microscale of food & nourishment for our own bodies, and the macroscale of extraction in terms of capitalism.

http://therealnews.com/media/trn_2012-04-01/vprashad0409pt2-240.jpgShe described how the financialisation of food allowed greater distancing between production and consumption, allowing actors to externalise the costs involved, and obscuring linkages between elements. She also said how the system hides responsibility and also blurs narratives e.g. The industrial agricultural food system as saviour (we can feed the world with our GM etc) rather than cause of injustice.

Marc Edelman from Hunter College/City University of New York (CUNY), USA then talked about ‘Food sovereignty: Forgotten genealogies and future regulatory challenges’ (conference paper # 72). He said how ‘Food Sovereignty’ as a phrase was actually used by the Mexican Government for a program in the 1980s, with similar concepts being used over the last three decades also.

He also made a key point in relation to the term ‘sovereignty’. Somebody needs to administer sovereignty – who? Nation? State? Region? “The people”? Which I liked, as this is something problematic I am continuously exploring as an anarchist.

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg from Wageningen University, The Netherlands then spoke about ‘Peasant-driven agricultural growth and food sovereignty’ (Conference paper # 8). I really liked his talk because he was very succinct and made seven key points. These were that:

  • We have Food Empires which are governed and controlled by networks, the elite and other power holders. These food empires have the ability to de-active areas of food production. They induce precarity in consumption and production. They impose development models (think structural adjustment) and affect what and how much we can consume, and who can consume it.
  • Food Empires induce precariousness and disassemble resource bases.
  • Bypassing markets controlled by food empires are nested markets and agroecology. Resistance is everywhere and is interlinked.
  • He said that food production needs to be and can be productive, resilient, dynamic and sustainable, it should be part of society.
  • The search for and construction of food sovereignty is a long-term process.
  • We need to build a Chayanov everywhere
  • Our movement is stronger than we think. We are weakening food empires and supporting repeasantisation.

Following Jan was Michael Windfuhr of the German Institute for Human Rights, Berlin, discussing his paper ’Food Sovereignty and Human Rights. What type of a relation is possible?’

Michael pointed out, what I feel is an elephant in the room, that there is a conflict for us when asking for something sovereign, which often means the state, when it is complicit in so much harm, and in his framework, human rights abuses. He said food sovereignty therefore is about a search a good governance.

He talked about all the potential conflicts at play and our need to identify them, for example conflicts over land ownership. He also said how the right to food can be misused, such as with the foodbank model.

Finally, Ludwig Rumetshofer spoke from the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC). Ludwig was a breath of fresh air, a delight of authenticity listening to someone who spends their time on the streets and with the soil.
Ludwig said that there are some key questions facing the European Via Campesina movement which are:

  • How to access land?
  • What will be the production model (e.g. Agroecology)?
  • Under which social conditions is food produced (e.g. Without worker exploitation)?
  • What political framework do we need?

Ludwig made us laugh when he said his comrade had been writing an article about “How to become a farmer without marrying one”. Even though I’m not married, the only way we’ve accessed land in our family is through my Mum meeting my step dad so I couldn’t chuckle at its relevancy!

Ludwig’s key point however is that more than anything, we need a radical shift. He also emphasised the necessity of having a plurality of struggles, and this is a big strength of our movement.

There was then a discussion and a few further interesting points were raised. One was about the difference between industrial agriculture and peasantry. The main objective of Industrial Agriculture being capital accumulation and the main objective of Peasant Agriculture objective being feeding people.

Oxford Real Farming Conference

The fifth Oxford Real Farming Conference is taking place January 6 & 7th in the UK.

I will be on a panel talking about Reclaim the Fields. Its an inspiring event if you can make it. Don’t be put off by the privilege or the meat fest, we need all the radicals we can get present to keep asking the right questions and proposing ideas beyond capitalism and for libertarian agricultures.

The Oxford Real Farming Conference gathers farmers, activists, researchers and consumers to discuss the future of food and farming. It is full of interesting speakers, workshops & farm visits and looks at all the social, economic and ecological issues involved in transforming our food system.

Click here for full information about the Conference: http://www.oxfordrealfarmingconference.org

Inspiring Incredible Edible Somerset Open Gardens

Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th September 2013 saw the second Incredible Edible Somerset Open Gardens weekend. More than 22 workshops took place involving over 190 people across every district of Somerset, while over 21 sites were open to the public to inspire others to get growing.

Saturday

In Minehead, Transition Minehead & Alcombe helped organise an entire day on getting the best from your plot, with workshops on extending the growing seasons, seasonal sowing & winter protection, as well as a shared lunch and cooking session in the afternoon looking at what to do with your glorious glut. More than 15 people made it along.

Meanwhile, Master Gardener Michele Darnell-Roberts was introducing 20 people to food growing at her workshop at Glastonbury Harvest Show.

Organiser of Burnham on Sea Food & Drink Festivals Sarah Milner-Simmonds lead a free garden design workshop on how to use edible ornamentals to make your garden more productive, with many keen participants.

In Frome, Aliss led a willow weaving demonstration and the Mount Community Garden led a storing and preserving vegetables workshop. Unfortunately due to the howling weather not many people made it and the organisers have decided next year to run a how to pickle your mother-in-law workshop that may be more popular.

Amanda Clay from Bishop’s Palace Communty Garden led an introduction to vegetable growing skill share at South Petherton Allotments and Axbridge Community Allotment had a successful open day and bug hunt happening for kids.

15 keen community gardeners also joined Louise Brookes from Feed Avalon on a walking tour of Glastonbury’s incredible edible gardens.

Sunday

On Sunday a small group made it to Street to see Mark and Sarah’s amazing home garden, with its creative recycling and growing practices that make the most of the space.

Master Gardener Michele Darnell Roberts led a Super Simple Soups workshop at Crispin Community Centre in Street with more than 17 people taking part.

Also open to the public were Dragon Willows Farm near Godney, a traditional Somerset levels smallholding. A council house garden on Windmill Hill in Glastonbury was also open to the public to help inspire other householders with how to make the most of their space to grow food for their families. Jane Walker from Crew HQ led a food resilience workshop and showed people around her garden in Coxley.

Louise Brookes also led a perpetual edible garden workshop, with nine people taking part, showing how a community garden can be created on neglected wasteland.

Meanwhile in South Somerset, two permaculture workshops took place led by Peter Clark. Over 15 attended a workshop in South Petherton, as well as six at Somerton Allotments. They were all inspired by this design system and how they can re-design their spaces to save time, energy and money and enhance biodiversity.

Nicole Vosper also led a workshop on Medicinal Landscaping in Compton Dundon, showing visitors around her 30m2 herb garden and introducing them to diverse medicinal habitats on the four acre smallholding where she lives. To see some resources from the workshop, click here.

Axbridge Community Allotment also gave their own introduction to forest gardening workshop with a tour of their forest garden on their second shared allotment site.

Over in West Somerset, Master Gardener Charles Birch and Liz Passmore showed people round in the rain and Charles illustrated his fantastic no-dig vegan organic vegetable bed system.

Overall it was a fantastic weekend, which would have not been possible without the grassroots support of people leading workshops for free, advertising events and getting their hands dirty on the day. The weekend is a great chance to get people involved in your community project and inspired by food growing.
If you would like to take part in the Incredible Edible Somerset Open Gardens 2014 please email nicole.vosper@somersetcommunityfood.org.uk

More photos:

Participants at the Perpetual Edible Gardens Workshop

Bridies Yard Forever Food Forest

Super Simple Soups Workshop

Pictures from Mark & Sarah’s edible back garden

More pictures from Minehead:

Some produce from Axbridge Community Allotment:

Pictures from West Somerset:

Medicinal Landscaping workshop: